Anger is a normal part of daily life. We all get angry every now and then. It’s how you manage this emotion that can make or break your relationship. Consequently, it’s important to know what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to relating to an angry partner. The good news is, anger management is possible.
Carrie Askin, a therapist and co-director at treatment center Menergy, said people who struggle with anger usually have difficulty dealing with emotions that make them feel vulnerable. As a result, these softer emotions are expressed aggressively. “Anger is rarely just anger; it’s usually secondary to vulnerable feelings such as disappointment, shame, anxiety, and sadness. Most of us would much rather feel powerful than helpless or anxious. People who act out in anger can change. The first step is taking responsibility for the behavior,” Askin told The Cheat Sheet.
Are you in a relationship with a partner who has difficulty regulating anger? Here are some reliable strategies for managing a loved one with anger issues.
Allow your partner to vent
If your partner is angry about something that happened at work, for example, don’t immediately jump at the chance to offer advice. Allow him or her to vent these frustrations. You can most effectively show your support by giving your partner the space and freedom to express these emotions.
It’s nice that you want to help, but not every problem needs to be solved by you. Just having an opportunity to talk things out might be all your partner needs. “Sometimes people just need to vent and want someone to hear them out,” said Kimberly Hershenson, a New York City-based therapist who specializes in relationships.
Validate your partner’s feelings
Instead of shaming your partner for being angry, acknowledge how he or she is feeling. Let your partner know that you’re there to help work through whatever is troubling him or her. Remind your significant other that you’re a team.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a relationship therapist and founder of The Marriage Restoration Project, told us validation is a tool that can help diffuse a tense situation. “When you validate your partner’s feelings by letting your partner know he or she makes sense, you’re on your way to learning how to control anger in a relationship and provide a calm presence for the storm that is the anger. It doesn’t mean you agree with your partner, it just means you’ve decided to be the first person that will create the calm necessary to proceed,” said Slatkin.
Don’t engage in similar behavior
If you and your partner are arguing and he or she becomes noticeably angry, it’s important for you to remain calm. One thing you don’t want to do is escalate an already volatile situation. “Don’t engage. It’s easy to fight back when someone explodes. Use your self-discipline and stay cool. It’s a lot harder for someone with anger issues to stay angry when you’re calm. Meet anger with understanding, not rage,” said relationship expert April Masini.
Talk when you’re both calm
One of the worst times you can address your partner’s anger is during an angry outburst. Wait until you’ve both calmed down and then carve out some time to talk. Take time to gently bring your partner’s anger to his or her attention. Let your significant other know how the behavior makes you feel and seek solutions together.
Marriage and Family Therapist Lisa Bahar recommends creating an action plan that outlines what you will each do if the anger begins to escalate. “Communicate with your partner prior to an angry outburst on strategies you’ll use ahead of time when the emotion of anger escalates. So, when you do something different — for example not reacting to anger, but rather leaving the situation — he or she will know [things are getting out of hand],” said Bahar.
Know (and enforce) your boundaries
You don’t have to accept bad behavior for the sake of keeping a relationship intact. If your partner is being disrespectful or your interactions are getting to a point that is not tolerable, it’s time to reinforce (or set, if you haven’t already) your boundaries. Let your partner know what is and is not acceptable in your relationship. Make it clear that you won’t stick around if your boundaries aren’t respected.
Although it’s important to make your boundaries clear, it’s also important not to ignore red flags. “Just about every case of domestic violence involves someone who has demonstrated anger issues. Maybe you watched them explode over being cut off in traffic, punch holes into walls, throw things across a room, become loud and indignant in public, engage in fast reckless driving, or even fight someone. These are all warning signs we should end the relationship. Verbal abuse usually precedes physical abuse,” said Kevin Darné, relationship expert and author of My Cat Won’t Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany).
When to get help
Although you might love your significant other dearly, there comes a point when a professional needs to get involved. However, also understand that your partner has to want to get help. You can’t force him or her to seek assistance from a mental health professional. If you notice that your partner frequently has angry outburst and can’t seem to control his or her temper, it’s time to suggest seeking assistance from a mental health professional. Both individual and couples counseling might be necessary.
When to leave
Although it’s OK to get angry, there is a point when anger can become dangerous. If your partner becomes abusive toward you (whether it’s verbal or physical), it’s time to end the relationship. Hershenson said it’s a red flag if your partner blames you for his or her angry outbursts and suggests you’re the one who needs to change. “If you are blamed for your partner’s behavior — for example their anger is always because you ‘did something wrong’ or you wouldn’t fight so much ‘if only you didn’t act this way,’ it is time to move on from this relationship because it may be toxic,” Hershenson told The Cheat Sheet.
You don’t have to live in fear
It’s also a problem if you feel the need to change your behavior so that you don’t suffer the consequences of your partner’s anger. You should never feel unsafe with your partner. Life is too short for you to live in constant fear.
Askin had this to say: “If you notice you’re habitually making yourself smaller so your partner doesn’t get angry with you, that’s a sign the relationship is in real trouble. If you’re fearful to tell your partner things that he might not want to hear, that’s a problem. In a healthy relationship, we shouldn’t be afraid of our partners and we shouldn’t feel responsible to rescue them.”
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