Angry with your partner? Here are some steps you can take to prepare before talking it through
If you’ve ever made it past the honeymoon phase of an intimate relationship, you’ve probably experienced anger towards your partner and a fight or two. Even people in healthy, loving relationships can get so angry that they consider breaking up. Once we calm down, it can feel tempting to stuff the feelings and hope they don’t show up again. Unfortunately, anger towards a loved one does not simply dissolve with time. Left unattended, it can begin to boil inside you until it erupts like hot lava. In cases without an eruption, the miscommunications quietly remain, negative patterns form, and the hurt underneath the anger grows. Apologies go unsaid, and seemingly manageable disagreements become more and more difficult to resolve.
When there is a seed of anger growing inside you, it is important to find the right way, and the right time, to talk to your partner.
When and How to Speak Up
In cases when your anger only amounts to mild irritation, it can be helpful to express it in the moment. For instance, if you feel annoyed when your girlfriend leaves her coat on the floor, don’t avoid mentioning it until you’ve begun to toss glares in her direction every time this happens. Mention it when it happens remembering these key steps:
- Name your feeling
- Name what causes that feeling
- Ask for what you need
In the case of the coat, you could say, “I feel irritated and disorganized when things aren’t hung up. Can you please hang up your coat when you come in from outside?” Stating this upfront may feel uncomfortable if you’re not used to this approach, but you’ll avoid ongoing negative emotions; it’s a lot less work, and it’s more comfortable than letting the issue fester and build.
How to Prepare to Talk
When larger issues arise, it may take time to calm down and identify what you’re feeling and what you need. To make sure you can talk to your partner in a way that is healthy for you and for the relationship, first focus on letting out your feelings in a productive way, identify the feelings underneath the anger, and then plan ways to manage the feelings that may come up when you talk it through.
Letting Out Your Feelings
What does it take to let your feelings out when anger threatens to take over? The answer is different for each person, but there are some practices that tend to help most people. Researchers have found the following coping skills help people feel more emotionally stable, each due to different but important benefits:
- Journaling is helpful when you’re hoping to take a deep dive into what is bothering you. Attaining clarity is sometimes all we need to begin to feel a sense of calm, as we begin to understand what exactly we are feeling and what we need to do.
- Talking to a friend can also bring clarity and comfort, thus lessening your suffering. When someone with a sympathetic ear listens to what we’re going through, the effects can be so profound that our hearts beat more regularly and our brain functions more fluidly. These impacts tend to make our problems feel much more manageable.
- Exercise is helpful for providing space from the situation and a necessary mood boost. Because exercise releases endorphins—natural feel-good hormones that block pain and lead to feelings of euphoria—it can be very effective at making the positives in your life come into clearer focus.
Against the backdrop of clarifying, comforting, and mood-boosting activities, you’ll be able to have compassion for yourself and uphold your values. At this point, you’re ready to start making some decisions about how and when to have the conversation.
Identify the feelings
Anger typically serves as the hard, prickly exterior protecting a more vulnerable emotion. Feelings like hurt, pain, sadness, fear, embarrassment, or shame can make us feel naked when they are exposed, so we often encase them in anger, a more socially acceptable and seemingly “tough” emotion. Yet getting in touch with these emotions can be very helpful, as they enable us to gain a better understanding of our needs. For instance, if you realize that underneath it all, you’re afraid your partner will leave you, you know that–emotionally–you need some verbal reassurance, or perhaps an action, to demonstrate that they plan to stick around. If you’re experiencing embarrassment about something you’ve done, perhaps what you need is to express your remorse about your actions so that your partner knows you aim to do things differently in the future.
Define how you want to show up
Now that you’ve identified the deeper emotions, it’s time to figure out how you want to show up during this conversation. With respect for your partner? Respect for yourself? With the capacity for compassion for both parties? You may consider your role models or the values that have helped you to get where you are in life. Let your values be your guideposts throughout this process.
Identify potential triggers and corresponding coping skills
Part of upholding your values is identifying how you will overcome the barriers that may arise–your triggers. Perhaps you fear your partner will react in a way that makes you feel they don’t care. Or they might respond by telling you something they think you did wrong, leading you to feel unheard. Be prepared for these reactions, as it is common for people to feel defensive when we are sharing something we don’t like about their behavior. You can learn how to stay calm and assertively communicate the feelings that show up during the conversation. (We’ll explain more about assertive communication, so stay tuned for our next blog post.)
Plan when to talk
Logistics often determine how difficult a serious conversation between partners becomes. When thinking about when to talk to your partner about a difficult topic, consider the time of day as well as your partner’s emotional communication style. If you know that your partner or you are more tired in the morning, wait until later in the day. Make sure that there is enough time to talk; don’t try to start this conversation right before you have something else to do. As for their emotional communication style, if you think they would feel better knowing that you want to talk later, ask them when they’d like to talk. If you think they are likely to feel more anxious, and then possibly more defensive, if they know the conversation is coming in advance, you can decide when you think would work best for the two of you and bring up the conversation at that time.
If you need support in communicating calmly and effectively, call us at 267-317-8817 or schedule your free phone consultation using this link. You can have a healthier relationship with your partner.
“Anyone can become angry. That is easy, but to become angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not easy.”-Aristotle