You love him/her deeply and so they do love you. And yet, you are unhappy, maybe you are considering leaving them. It is not the lack of care that makes you think that way, but the sheer despair at having to once again experience one of their anger flares. The pain of it is now exceeding the happiness of the sum of all the good moments you have with your partner.
Anger is natural, and if expressed within bounds, is an enriching experience for all involved. Natural anger is rightful: it is the one that directly relates to someone’s questionable action, and you express that anger at them. It will call for expressing the feeling, taking time out to calm down, resolving the flare up by talking it through and then forgiving and letting go, by closing and never revisiting the matter again. These steps allow both of you to positively handle anger and use it as a vehicle of growth and greater emotional maturity and sharing.
I am referring to another kind of anger in this article. One that is not rightfully expressed, one that hurts you and the people around you when expressed impulsively and explosively; anger that is:
- expressed out of context, at the wrong target or recipient, generally the closest people around you
- expressed as pent-up release of inner frustrations and dilemma, such as fear of failure, rejection, abandonment, not being in control, shame, guilt, etc.
- stored up over time and released by over-reacting to something your partner just did, and is not much related to the original cause for anger
- related to untreated depression and blowing up suddenly as tension release
- learned to be an effective means to bring people in line through creating fear or other strong emotions in them, such as intimidation.
That kind of anger destroys reputations out of a single action enacted in a raging, out of control moment; it kills relationships, as trust is replaced by fear.
As the impulsive actions of anger are expressed, and the angry one goes at war with the persons he/she loves most, love and respect disappear and are replaced by anxiety and confusion in the loved ones.
Some causes of angry blow ups:
- unresolved past issues, triggered by memories, stress and tiredness
- getting struck in a current situation that reminisces of a past negative experience
- lack of assertiveness toward the rightful recipient of the anger (e.g., the boss, because of power relationships) and deflecting the anger to the next available or safe person, generally a family member.
- Frustrations just past ( e.g., being caught in a queue or traffic jam earlier in the day) deflected to close ones
- Misunderstandings with a person, and interpreting their actions
- Bottling up feelings, building tension and needing to release in safe settings (the home)
- Anger about the anger, not feeling able to express it. This is especially true if expressions of anger were strongly punished by adults, in your family of origin
- Fears about relationships, involving insecurities, jealousy, abandonment issues.
Do you recognize yourself in the following situations?
When you are not the angry one:
- Your partner comes home and screams at you for no clear reason – chances are he is angry at someone at work, or something that happened just before he came in the house, as you may learn later.
- You no longer feel as relaxed as you used to be around him or her, and you feel you must walk on eggshells to avoid triggering all his/her known buttons
- You are exhausted, for being so careful and second guessing all the time, avoiding any action of your own, that you know will risk triggering an anger impulse
- You feel you are becoming resentful and angry, as you feel your partner does not allow you to express yourself in safety
- You catch yourself adopting some of his /her behaviours, which you do not like, and you know you did not have them in the past
- You say something you think innocuous, and the anger lash back is out of proportion with what you expressed or did. You feel over punished and over victimized through critical words, silent treatment, violent words or actions, raised voice, etc.
- You can no longer talk about the anger bouts without feeling fear or being threatened
- You are getting depressed.
When you are the angry one:
- You feel unwell and don’t quite know why, and before you know it, you scream at your partner or child in total frustration because the light switch is on
- You feel intense guilt afterward and can’t cope with it
- You try to make up with gift or by saying sorry after it
- You rationalize that they made you angry and it is their fault
- You think they deliberately created those feelings in you and deliberately pushed your buttons
- You get angry at being angry
- You are upset that they can’t take it after all you do for them
- You feel the urge to punish and retaliate for the wrong they’ve done
Things you can do to manage the anger
If you are the angry one:
- understand anger is an emotion, not an action. Action follows and derives from emotions. The stronger the emotion, the more the resulting action can harm.
- Anger is addictive. It gives you the feeling that you are, for that moment, in control and you’ll seek that high more and more.
- Anger does not make you a bad person. It makes you behave badly if not destructively.
- Your close ones will be too afraid possibly to tell you how your anger makes them feel and how it hurts them. After all, they don’t want to provoke more anger and more pain. Don’t blame them for avoiding.
- You can learn to manage your anger. Standard courses of 8 sessions in counseling and anger management are highly effective.
- Learn to protect your close ones as you learn the skills to handle the anger. Walk out when you feel the urge.
- Possibly seek the cause for the anger through therapy. If not willing, learn the techniques to diffuse it.
- Develop compassion for your partner who has to cope with the effect of your angry actions, their own grief and mixed feelings and the explosion of your emotions, which can be highly traumatic to them.
- Know your triggers; work at identifying your hot buttons.
- Learn to calm your physiological responses.
- Broaden your repertoire of responses in a variety of situations, find other ways to deal with a situation (e.g., take time out)
- Identify what feelings underlie the anger (fear of hurt, rejection, or real threat)
- Take the time to listen to your partner, about why angry behaviour is not acceptable in this relationship, even if it was so in your family of origin.
- Understand that you learned anger in your family and that which was acceptable to your siblings and parents, may not be acceptable to your partner, friends and colleagues.
If your partner is the angry one – beginning of a relationship:
- Know that if you let your partner get away with such anger, it will repeat, growing in intensity and frequency. Address the problem immediately. Once one situation of conflict is established, it is immediate and lasts forever unless you correct it. Use any of the techniques listed below as in an established relationship.
If your partner is the angry one – established relationship:
- Don’t ask yourself why he/she is angry. Don’t try to appease. Don’t assume responsibility for the anger and blame yourself.
- Leave them where they are at, and,
learn to walk out and not stay in the situation of anger as it happens. Come back later, give them space.
- Take this incident as time off to look after yourself.
- Don’t force them to talk about it immediately but….
- Do not brush the anger event under the carpet, hoping it will not repeat. Because it will and may lead to abuse. Discuss it as soon as possible. Give yourself a chance to discuss, resolve, forgive and let go. Express how you felt when you had the anger directed at you. Not doing this will result unavoidably in resentment and retaliation, in loss of self-esteem, fear and/or depression over time.
- If your partner refuses to engage in that talk, and brushes you off when you try to discuss this topic, consider seriously where your relationship is going.
- Try not to retaliate nor make him/her feel guilty. It will make the situation worse.
- Take a class in assertiveness skills if you feel you have difficulties implementing any of the above tips or go for counseling
- As you change the way you handle the situation, expect more anger blow up for a while: your partner may be confused by the way you now change your responses.