Anger is a natural emotion — it alerts you that something is wrong. It also provides the requisite energy to take immediate action. The problem arises when your impulsivity overrides respect for your partner’s feelings, and you express your ire in hurtful ways.
It’s challenging to bring up emotions most people think of as negative. However, it’s necessary if you hope to have an open and honest relationship, not one where you and your partner treat each other like polite roommates. Here are five steps for preventing unproductive arguments and expressing anger in relationships in a healthy way.
1. Diffuse the Bomb
Like the band Public Image Ltd. once sang, anger is an energy. When it seizes you in its grip, you can find yourself flying off the handle, doing and saying things you would never imagine when you feel calm.
Think back to elementary school. Your teacher wisely employed time-out techniques with a purpose. As an adult, it’s your job to put yourself there before you cause irreparable damage.
Identify your triggers when you feel calm and create a catchphrase with your partner that tells them when you need a time-out. For example, if you tend to explode when your partner bombards you with a to-do list the second that you arrive home from work, set a boundary that your first 15 minutes after walking in the door are for relaxation alone — unless the house is on fire.
2. Write It Out
Writing is the ideal way to identify negative thoughts and behaviors and reframe them more positively. It also helps you prioritize your concerns. Maybe it wasn’t the one time that your partner neglected to empty the dishwasher that ignited your ire — it’s the ongoing pattern of assuming you’ll bear the brunt of the second-shift labor.
Some partners communicate better through writing but use caution before sending an inflammatory email or message in the heat of ire. Leave the address bar blank and make yourself wait 24 hours before hitting send no matter how tempted or justified you feel. You might reread your words with horror in the morning after the emotional storm subsides.
3. Talk to a Neutral Party
Your partner trusts you, so spilling their deepest, darkest secrets to your best friend isn’t the best idea. However, a neutral third-party can help you gain perspective on whether you are overreacting or have a legitimate beef.
Choose someone whom you know will respect your confidence and remain objective. While it’s validating to have someone say your anger is justified, some folks thrive on conflict and gripe sessions. Instead of processing your emotions and working toward a resolution, you could fuel the flames if you confide in someone who has a negative attitude toward relationships in general.
4. Determine What You Want
Remember, anger is your body’s clue that something is wrong, and you have an unmet need. However, you don’t want to fall into the old dinner round-and-round. You know, the one where you complain about hunger, your partner asks what you want and you respond with, “I don’t know.”
As you reflect in your journal or with friends, contemplate what outcome you want. In some cases, such as conflicts over political ideology, you might decide that agreeing to disagree is the wisest course of action.
As much as you need to pick your battles, you must also set boundaries or risk harboring resentment. If you can’t handle the pressure of juggling a full-time career with homeschooling your children, identify that you need your partner to pick up the slack. Then, get specific — is it acceptable to alternate days? Do you need to hire a nanny?
5. Set a Date to Talk
Once you diffuse the worst of your anger and determine your needs, it’s time to talk with your partner. Set a date when you both feel calm and unrushed — don’t meet for lunch if it will mean one of you has to rush back to the office.
Please remember that your partner isn’t a child in need of a stern lecture. Keep things conversational and practice active listening by giving nonverbal feedback when your partner speaks and paraphrasing their concerns. It helps ensure that both of you feel heard and respected.
It’s okay if you have to table the discussion and return at another time. However, before you end the conversation, reconfirm that you want to work together to find an equitable solution to the conflict as a team.
5. Touch Base Frequently
If you find that you and your partner frequently repeat the same arguments, that’s a clue that you haven’t resolved the conflict. Take a teamwork approach — evaluate what failed in the past and brainstorm new ideas for improving your relationship.
It’s a wise idea to set a weekly date night. Too often, you run out of energy for caring for your relationship between work and household responsibilities. Setting aside time for the two of you shows that you honor your commitment and consider your partner equally important to your 9 a.m. conference call.
Use These 5 Steps to Prevent Arguments When Expressing Anger in Relationships
Expressing anger in relationships in an impulsive way can dissolve your union. Follow this 5-step guide to get your needs met while preserving harmony.