Anger is an emotion that we all experience. Some express it aggressively. Others brew silently, and often in isolation. Some passive-aggressively express it.
Understanding what’s behind the anger will help. It has an overwhelming presence that can sit over your relationship like a storm cloud. You both see the dark clouds. Nothing is happening, but you know the shouting match, or cold silence is coming.
How Anger Can Be Harmful
The cold silence can be just as intense as the shouting matches. Both, build walls that create barriers for connection.
When you’re angry with your partner, you tend to only focus on your hurt, your pain, or how you’ve been wronged. Gaining clarity takes the backseat. Rational thought wanders off in the distance.
You and your partner will say things that are intentionally unfriendly. Angry words leaves you both feeling emotionally exhausted from its impact.
The same complaint resurfaces over and over again. Blame and accusations make their all too familiar appearances, leaving you no space to sort out what the conflict is really about.
Anger Is Important
Anger is an important emotion — a necessary one. Your partner’s anger is trying to tell you something. His or her delivery can, rightfully, be called into question, but what’s behind the anger is worth tuning in to.
Anger doesn’t travel alone. It’s often covering up vulnerable feelings like loneliness, embarrassment, or shame. But it never rolls solo. If your partner is angry at you — assume it’s something underneath it.
Assume you’re missing what they’re having difficulty saying.
It’s not uncommon to want to punish your partner for being angry. Ignoring him or her — dismissing his or her complaint may send the message “whatever you’re upset about isn’t important, get over it.”
Rejecting your partner’s emotions opens the door for bitterness, and he or she may end up suppressing it. This ends up delaying the opportunity for your partner to fully express what he or she desperately needs to say.
When you hurt your partner with angry words or silence, you’re invariably hurting yourself. How you express what you’re angry about will either build barriers, or tear them down.
Something to consider is that healthy anger goes hand in hand with vulnerability. Meaning, you need to emphasize your hurt, more than you’re emphasizing your anger.
That comes with a questioning process: “why am I angry?” “what is this really about?”
Getting curious about your reason for being angry, and opening up about those underlying feelings invites your partner to listen. At this point, you’re coming from a place of reflection.
It probably should be said, this type of observation, and curiosity doesn’t happen while you’re angry. It’s usually after you’ve had time to calm down, and consider the feelings that’s been hidden behind the anger.
As a reminder, anger is not bad. It’s a natural response to feeling wronged, misunderstood, dismissed, or shamed. Feel it, then take time to question it. Expressing it in a way that comes across threatening to your partner sabotages your goal of being heard.
Expressing anger in a healthier way takes practice. The next time you get angry, pause and consider why you’re angry. How you choose to express it will either create emotional distance, or build up emotional connection.
Redirect your focus from the anger to the underlying feelings that may be feeding it. Once you have a sense of what it might be, invite your partner into a conversation about it — “You know, yesterday I was really embarrassed when you made that joke about my weight in front of our friends.”
Sure, it’s longer, but it expresses your anger in a way that your partner is more likely to hear you.
Disclaimer: I want to be sure this is clear. In no way are you obligated (as a partner or spouse) to accept, or be okay with, verbal or physical abuse. The emotion of anger is acceptable — the destructive or abusive behavior influenced by it, is not.