Since when had her marriage become like a powder keg just waiting to explode? Rita could not remember. But it seemed like ages since she and her husband had had an amicable conversation or shared a laugh. In fact, conversation was limited, as both partners feared that words would lead to a fight. But surely there had to be better ways to manage anger in a relationship than silence?
Anger management in relationships is like a tightrope walk. Anger itself is like a double-edged sword. If not processed properly, anger can lead to verbal, emotional abuse, and even physical abuse.
On the flip side, if anger is expressed appropriately and conflict is managed in a healthy manner, anger can bring a couple closer and strengthen the relationship.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality explains the ‘mutual cyclical anger in romantic relationships’. It describes how being mistreated by one’s romantic partner evokes anger, and that can motivate a reciprocation of mistreatment resulting in a cycle of destructive behavior and rage. To break the cycle, at least one partner has to act mindfully and refuse to participate in destructive behavior.
5 Causes Of Anger In Relationships
According to experts, more anger is generated in a marriage than in any other relationship. Friction may arise in a marriage or live-in relationship simply because of constant proximity, especially in these days of work-from-home! Nobody is perfect. Differing expectations from a long-term relationship can also lead to anger issues.
However, there could be specific causes for anger in a couple’s relationship too. The causes could be internal or external. For effective anger management in relationships it is important for both partners to acknowledge these reasons. Here are some common internal causes of anger in relationships:
An affair can trigger extreme anger in the cheated partner. Even if the couple manages to thrash out the issue and stay together, there may be continuing loss of trust and residual anger. You constantly question yourself whether you should forgive a cheating partner or not, which may lead to a rage spiral.
Maya and Dev had been married for five years. When Dev discovered that Maya was having an affair, he was devastated. Though the couple decided to give their marriage a chance, Dev could not really forgive or forget. This led to frequent angry outbursts over small things.
Who is controlling finances and making money-related decisions can lead to considerable conflict and resentment. Usually, the partner who is earning more and contributing more to the household funds makes the decisions. This is not really fair.
Related Reading: When The Wife Makes More Money Than The Husband
For instance, homemakers may not have much of a say in what money is spent on. But we know that there has been a debate for years that the contribution of homemakers should be monetised and added to the national income.
3. Sexual problems
If a couple is not able to discuss their sexual problems freely and seek resolution, it can become a source of festering anger. Naomi had a higher sex drive as compared to David, her husband, who was a workaholic. Often, her husband was too tired or preoccupied to be interested in sex. This left Naomi dissatisfied and unhappy. What made her really angry was that she had brought up the matter several times but her husband tried to minimize the problem.
4. Lack of respect and understanding
When one partner mocks or belittles the other, it shows a lack of respect. Sometimes there is an unequal power equation in a relationship. The dominant partner may express disrespect and anger more often. But this does not mean that the submissive partner does not feel it. A low emotional quotient in one partner may leave the other feeling poorly understood.
Related Reading: 21 Signs Of Lack Of Respect In A Relationship
Some other internal factors are political or religious differences, unfair distribution of household chores and childcare responsibilities, in-law trouble, and disagreements over parenting.
5. External causes
Job frustration is a common external cause. Helen felt she was not appreciated by her boss. She also felt exploited because she always seemed to be the last person to leave the office. This not only tired and stressed her out, the sense of injustice made her very irritable at home. If she found a mess at home when she got back from work, she would fly into a rage.
Lack of self-esteem or being a control freak may lead to anger issues. Growing up in a dysfunctional or violent family, substance abuse, health issues like high blood pressure and depression, are other external factors. Even the heat can make a person more prone to anger!
How Anger Can Be Processed Inappropriately
There are five ways – venting, the silent treatment, passive aggression (veiled barbs, sarcasm, nagging), suppression, and turning the anger inwards. Losing control and venting impulsively and thoughtlessly means you say or do things that are both hurtful to your partner and damaging to the relationship.
Another harmful way of processing anger is suppression. This way the anger remains below the surface ready to explode at the slightest provocation. Suppressing anger over long periods could lead to indifference and emotional distance between partners.
How To Deal With Anger Management Issues In A Relationship
The best way of managing anger in a relationship is by processing and expressing it appropriately. According to Bengaluru-based clinical psychologist and parenting coach, Dr Meghna Singhal: “Avoiding unhealthy behavior in a relationship like attacking your partner directly (blaming or physical violence) or indirectly (through sarcasm or body language, like rolling your eyes) is the first step to process anger appropriately.”
Second, she says, it is important to keep the communication open and direct and use ‘I’ statements to convey your feelings to your partner. For instance, saying: “I feel unheard when I make a request and it is not heeded” shifts the focus to your feelings rather than accusing the other person.
Dr Singhal emphasizes how important it is to choose the right time to discuss contentious issues. It is better to postpone the discussion than have it when you are stressed – for instance, when you are in the middle of preparing a presentation!
Related Reading: How To Control Anger In A Relationship: 12 Ways To Tame The Temper
“The third important aspect is clarifying in your own mind what the goal of the argument is. What do I want? Do I want validation – for my partner to acknowledge how hurt I am feeling? Or, do I want to find a solution to the problem? Communicating this goal to your partner is also important,” she says.
Here are other suggestions for how to manage anger in a relationship:
1. Recognize the signs of anger
The first tip for anger management in relationships is to recognize when you are on the way to getting angry. These are some of the common warning signs – clenching or wringing of hands, rapid breathing, feeling flushed, shaking of voice, pacing around the room, choking feeling in the chest, tensing of the neck and shoulder muscles, and pounding of the head.
2. Leave the zone of conflict
This is similar to giving a child a ‘timeout’ to cool down. Before you leave, tell your partner that you need time alone. Don’t leave in a huff banging the door behind you. And, remember cutting off communication in a relationship gets you nowhere.
Rhea found the ‘timeout’ strategy very useful in her turbulent marriage. If she had not left the room most times an ugly fight was looming large, her marriage would have probably collapsed years ago.
3. Adopt these exercises
These are some simple anger management exercises you could practise. Go for a brisk walk as exercise can help diffuse anger. Practise deep breathing. Count slowly till a hundred. Try self-talk – telling yourself to relax. It helps to write down what is triggering your anger.
Listening to soothing music, spending time with your pet, or just getting yourself a cup of tea (that cheers!) may also help.
Long-term strategies to manage anger include yoga, meditation and practising progressive muscle relaxation to counter stress.
4. Avoid complaining to a third person
When you are angry with your partner there is a tendency to share details of the fight with a confidant – a close friend or family member. While this may give you temporary relief, your partner may become defensive. It is better to sort out the matter between the two of you. At times, when one partner is very upset, it may be necessary to share. A third person’s perspective may also be useful to get clarity. The jury is out on this point…
5. Understand the real source of anger
Sometimes the trigger for anger may be something small but there may be a deeper underlying cause. For instance, you may get angry because your partner is keeping you waiting.
The real cause for the anger may be a feeling of insecurity as you may feel you are not really important in his or her life. Or, the anger may be masking your anxiety that you will be late for an event. In that case, controlling anger and anxiety are both important.
6. Identify negative thinking patterns
‘Cognitive distortions’ may be the cause behind anger at times. Some of them are generalizing, taking everything personally, blaming, discounting the positives, jumping to conclusions, exaggeration of the situation, and blaming the spouse over petty issues. Becoming aware of these distortions will help you reframe your thinking more positively and realistically.
7. Shed the tendency to brood
Don’t fuel your anger by brooding about hurtful incidents in the past. Let go of grudges. This will ensure that the past does not intrude on the present and compound your anger. Whenever Richard and Rene fought, it was flashback time for Richard.
He had the unfortunate habit of remembering all the hurtful things Rene had told him during previous fights. This only made him angrier.
8. Speak once you have calmed down
Once you have calmed down and figured out things in your head, it’s time to talk to your partner. Ensure that your partner is also ready for the discussion. If an apology is due – make it. Be assertive but not confrontational. State clearly what you want and describe what your solution to the problem is. If you feel the mood is right, you can try using humor to diffuse the tension. Apart from speaking, listen to your partner.
9. Don’t focus on winning
Ultimately, it is not important that one person wins the argument. It is important to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of both partners. However, if you cannot come to an amicable agreement, learn to let go. Know when to stop fighting.
10. Seek professional help
If you feel anger is proving destructive to your physical and mental health and to your relationship, it may be time to seek help. Anger management classes will equip you with useful techniques. You could opt for therapy (or couple’s therapy) where, you can understand the deep-rooted causes of your anger better.
As mentioned earlier, anger can prove constructive in a couple relationship. Says Dr Singhal, “If you ventilate in a healthy way then anger can bring a couple closer. It can lead to more affection and intimacy. For this, a conversation about feelings is very important as this will lead to a better understanding of each other.”
Related Reading: How To Let Go Of Resentment And Anger In A Relationship
It’s a misconception that anger is not a part of healthy relationships. But how a couple deals with anger in their relationship may be the difference between staying together or go their separate ways. Healthy anger management involves recognizing the emotion in yourself and conveying your angry message to your partner in an appropriate, constructive manner.