How to manage anger and rage within your relationship
Anger is one of the most difficult - and often frightening - emotions to manage in a relationship. At one end of the anger spectrum, couples may be openly embattled with each other manifesting such as shouting, name calling, frequent bickering, wanting to have the last word, insisting that you're right, blaming, criticising or verbal and physical abuse. These types of behaviour are the more obvious expressions of anger and can be highly destructive in a relationship and it can, if prolonged, be difficult to recover from.
At the other end of the polarity, anger is a more internal experience and is not overtly expressed. In some cases, a person may not even be aware that they are angry. Others are aware of feeling angry but either fear expressing it or don't know how to do so constructively. This type of passive anger goes underground but may leak out as sarcasm, undermining comments, sulking, walking off in a huff, petulance, silent standoffs and avoiding your partner. All this leads to a highly tense atmosphere as the issues are not talked through and resolved.
Here are some pointers to follow which can help you to express your anger more appropriately:
- No physical contact.
- No name calling, swearing or shouting at your partner.
- Don't interrupt your partner when he/she is speaking.
- Respect your partner's personal space and boundaries.
- No facial expressions that communicate disapproval.
- Don't walk out on an argument, unless you feel unsafe.
- When you are arguing, decide if you will also deal with other calls on your time like the phone ringing or will you leave these interruptions until you've worked things out?
- Take some deep breaths and try to calm yourself before expressing your anger.
If these techniques do not make a sufficient impact on your anger towards your partner, you may find that some sessions of couples therapy will help. Sometimes it's more an issue of understanding why the anger is present within the relationship and couples therapy can help you and your partner to explore this.
It is also useful to understand the difference between anger and rage. Anger tends to arise in response to a situation that's happening now, in the present. The feeling of anger, at a simple level, tells us something is wrong in this situation. For example, we may feel that:
- We're not being taken seriously.
- We're being taken advantage of or worse, abused.
- We're not feeling listened to or understood.
- We're feeling criticised, humiliated or belittled.
- We're feeling put down.
In these instances, our anger is healthy and an appropriate response to feeling or being mistreated in some way. It is information that something needs to change.
Rage arises when the event in the present moment triggers an unmet childhood need and unexpressed childhood rage. Often, we are unconscious of this happening. All we know is that we feel excessively angry. The clue to rage (as opposed to "healthy" anger) is that it feels very intense and out of proportion to the present trigger. You may also feel it strongly at a physical level, often in the gut or solar plexus. If you're aware that rage is arising and you're unable to manage it, individual counselling and psychotherapy sessions can help you to explore and understand its source, express it safely in the session and find other ways of releasing it so that you can express here and now anger more appropriately.
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About Delia Taylor-Brook
With 25 years of experience as an individual therapist, my role is to work empathically with you to encourage greater personal awareness and insight in order for you to make the life changes that you long for. As a couples therapist, my role is to act as a mediator helping you to improve your communication and to better understand your partner.