Anger in Relationships: Owning Yours, Softening Your Partner’s

young man and young woman with backs to each otherAnger is not a sign that your relationship is doomed to fail.

Anger is an emotion that we all experience, and it signifies that something has to be done. Anger makes you aware that there is a problem. How you deal with your anger can become a big part of the problem. For some couples, anger can make it nearly impossible to figure out what the problem is and how to fix it.

For most couples, anger itself is not the problem. What becomes problematic is how partners deal with their anger and how well they deal with their partner’s.

Dealing with Your Anger

  • Take time out to calm yourself enough to think about what you are angry about.
  • Own your anger. Remind yourself that your anger belongs to you and that it is telling you something about yourself. Anger is often directed at your partner, but it’s always more about you than about your partner. You can have valid complaints about your partner’s actions, but the emotion is yours.
  • If the anger is your own, then it follows that you are in control. Accept that you are in control. Your next step is to think about what your anger is about. Again, try to focus on yourself, not your partner’s wrongdoing. I’m not saying that your partner is right. I am saying that you need to focus on yourself so you can express yourself to your partner, allowing you to work together to find solutions.
  • See your thoughts and emotions as your perspective, and at the same time try to keep in mind that your partner has his or her own perspective that will always be different from yours—after all, you are two different people with different experiences. Thinking like this will help you stay calm through the process of dealing with your emotions.
  • What are your angry thoughts? Try to follow your thoughts to get a full picture. It may help to write down what, exactly, happened that led to you feeling angry.
  • Consider what other emotions are involved. Anger is a secondary emotion that often hides the primary or softer emotions. Examples of primary emotions are feeling sad, afraid, hurt, or rejected. Anger is often a defense against feeling vulnerable. Vulnerability is often seen as weakness; many of us were brought up to ignore vulnerabilities and push through problems.
  • Anger can feel like relief as emotional energy is released and vulnerabilities are pushed away from awareness. Being angry at your partner is sometimes easier than facing fear of rejection. However, the consequences of reacting with anger in a relationship can be severe. We know this at work; screaming at colleagues is most likely going to get us fired.

Dealing with Your Partner’s Anger

  • Dealing with your partner’s anger is a totally different process. I suggest that you help your partner calm down and go through the process described above.
  • Your part is to be supportive, listen actively, and ask clarifying questions. (See other articles I have written on The Good Therapy Blog about communicating effectively and especially active listening.)
  • Remind yourself that your partner is coming from his or her perspective and personal experiences. Your own perspective and feelings are not important at this time. If you are able to do this for your partner, I can assure you that you will see big, positive changes in your relationship. Perhaps your partner will initially react with surprise and even anger that you are changing your steps of the dance you have danced together for so many years of fighting. However, if you keep up your end of the relationship and focus on being the best partner you can be, your partner will eventually follow and give you the same courtesy when you are upset and need support.

In an ideal world, partners will take turns being upset. In the real world, we often get upset at the same time. This is where repair work becomes important. Practice apologizing, stay calm, and remind yourself why you are in the relationship and that you are in control of how you express your emotions.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Irene Hansen Savarese, LMFT, therapist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • caroline

    September 19th, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    I have found that the angrier that I get the angrier my husband gets. It’s as if he kind of feeds off of my anger and my feelings and what I feel exacerbates what he’s feeling. Does that make any sense? I don’t think that I do that- my feelings are my own, no more or no less, but I have to be super careful how I let things on to him because he can escalate in a second depending on what I have going on and that is kind of unfair if you think about it. In some ways I don’t even feel like I am allowed to feel what I really feel because I am having to be so careful to not show everything to him. That is so frustrating to me, to have to hold it all in for fear of how he will react.

  • Seth Farber,Ph.D.

    January 9th, 2017 at 5:51 AM

    Caroline, What you “really feel” is not anger. Beneath the anger is feeling of sadness, disappointment, hurt. Your anger is largely a defense against these feelings. If you share these vulnerable feelings with your husband, he is not likely to get angry., He us likely to be receptive and then your anger will disappear …
    Seth Farber, Ph.D

  • Frank Yasi

    September 20th, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    So let me ask you this- why is it my responsibility to lessen the anger of my partner?
    I get it that I have to take ownership of my own anger.
    But why do I then have to try to soften his? Shouldn’t that all be a part of his taking ownership of his own anger, and if I go behind him trying to soften all of that up, aren’t I enabling him to continue with his anger management issues?

  • Jennifer

    September 20th, 2013 at 11:30 PM

    @Frank: No. If you show your partner support in dealing with his or her anger, he or she will more likely reciprocate. This would ensure that both of you are accommodating one another throughout difficult times.

    Indeed, your anger belongs to you (much like your partner’s belongs to him or her), but each of you play a role in stimulating the way each of you feels. For instance, if your partner is angry and you begin playing the “Blame Game”, he or she may feel angrier and disrespected. In short, apart from ‘owning’ your emotions, you also ‘own’ your reactions and behaviours.

    I hope this helps. :)

  • Joseph y

    September 23rd, 2013 at 3:58 AM

    I try to look at what is really causing the anger. Is it that particualr moment or is it actually coming from something else and this is where I am choosing to express it?

  • Samc

    September 24th, 2013 at 6:01 PM

    I am a huge advocate for EFT. I learned so much that has helped me in growth. I was thrown a curve ball about a year ago with a new boyfriend. I was not used to getting angry and upset and when something bothered me I always asked if we could sit and talk (one time rubbing each other’s feet). However, anytime I expressed an issue or asked a question of him pertaining to an issue he would blow up almost instantaneously. I would tell him I wasn’t angry and keep an even tone even though I was in shock at his response. I tried to tell him I loved him, asking him why he was so angry, asking him to take a minute and calm down. Every time he would storm out and go home, tell me he was angry because he felt by me being calm I was being condescending, get angrier the more I tried to defuse it. He is 22 years older than I am and I am tired of being blamed for everything. He makes excuses and blames constantly. He will say he knows he’s wrong, but only after I’ve made him spend days away from me and he feels he will lose me. After he admits to wrong doing he adds that he doesn’t think it’s wrong because of something I did or said and tries to loop hole every conflict we have. I started to feel like I was going crazy. Is this a normal anger situation? It got to the point where I was so frustrated that I too started to yell Back and exchange in the same verbal abuse. I don’t like who I became and I have cut contact to a minimum so that I am not triggered. I recognize that I have to control what I am responsible for but it is so hard when I am hurt and his response is “well u did this..”.

  • erin

    October 11th, 2013 at 6:31 PM

    Samc, you correctly identified your partner’s behavior when you referred to it as “verbal abuse”. If you are still in this relationship (and even if you’re not) I would recommend you read Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He Do That?” for more information about this type of behavior.

  • Kat T

    February 22nd, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    What about when your partner’s anger is an issue and he has lost friends and family members because of it? Walking on eggshells because you don’t know what will set him off?

  • Pauline

    August 3rd, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    My parteners anger is getting out of control. Im on antidepressants for my insomnia and anxiety but I don’t know if I can take much more. I love him and always will since the day I met him but when he believes he is right about something there is no changing his mind, I’ve went from being an independent woman with my own mind to his lacky, I do everything for him, he was recently in an accident and even tho there was another woman with him when It happened I still went to the hospital and stayed with him and got sacked from work.. It’s as if he doesn’t want me to have contact with any of my old friends of people I’ve met over the years. I feel like I’m loosing myself and loosing the power to stand up in what I believe in. People have told me for years to get rid of him but now everyone has got rid of me as eye give up trying with me. He’s mentally abusive to me but then hours later he will apologise and dclaire his love for me. I hide away from my family as I worry what they’ll say when they see me. I love him and want him to change but I’m starting to think after 4 years maybe it will never happen. I’ve ran out of ideas, if I move out I’ll only regret my choice as I’ve done it before and always end up back with him but I’m honestly loosing all hope for life at the moment. Not sure how this will help but can someone please sort my head out, he has physically hurt me in the past but he hasn’t for a while so I feel like there is a chance he will change but if I argue with him and state my point he hates it but if I agree with him someone I’m still wrong. I don’t know how Togo about fixing this please help

  • Irene Savarese

    Irene Savarese

    August 4th, 2014 at 5:31 AM

    You need to get help Pauline. You are in a domestic violence relationship, which can be very difficult to get out of. The first step is to ask for help. Contact a therapist in your area for help!
    Sincerely Irene

  • cmc

    October 12th, 2014 at 2:08 AM

    Pauline, I agree with Irene- you have a controlling and psychologically abusive partner and you are at risk of violence. It is clear that you are in a relationship that is very unlikely to have a happy ending. Perhaps there is an organisation in your area that can help you. Here in the UK we have ‘Women’s Aid’ check out their website for some excellent advice. Please be careful when posting things online – you need to work out how to do it privately, for example clearing history on your browser.
    It doesn’t sound like you are quite ready to take the permanent step away, but when you are, confide in a professional and/or someone close to you and take all the help they offer. Then in a couple of years down the line, you will realise it was the best decision you ever made. Go and find rediscover your independence.
    Best of luck.

  • pn21

    May 26th, 2015 at 9:02 PM

    Hi
    In my relationship I almost like always feel that I am not allowed to express my anger. Each time I get angry, so does he because of the fact that I am mad at him. It takes me a few minutes or hours to cal down but he takes days at times. So every time its me who has to go back to make amends, irrespective of who was anger and cuz of whom in the first place. What must i do because I feel that I have a right to express my anger equally as my love for him but he does not agree to that. Suggest me a way out..

  • Irene S.

    Irene S.

    May 29th, 2015 at 5:07 AM

    The way out is to find a way to express your feelings so that he can hear you. Se article here on GoodTherapy about how to initiate a conversation:
    irenesavarese.com/blog/?page_id=4512

    Best of luck.

  • chrismat

    June 27th, 2015 at 8:06 PM

    Hi, Im at the other end of the spectrum. Im more hurt to see my wife hurting because i stress over everything, even though my goals are entirely for her and the kids. I have had enough of my own problems. I always pick out the bad in my life, and not the good. I always talk about bills or whatever may be tense. I’ve tried so many times to change how I act. Is it possible or healthy to keep my frustrations to myself? Is there any advice for someone like me who feels trapped inside a mean person when I love and adore her so much? I know she hurts but is such a good woman, and never argues. I just know I am always pouring negativity and being a grouch. In a nutshell, I’m sick of myself and need advice.

  • Courtney

    July 23rd, 2015 at 5:48 PM

    Hello,
    In my relationship, I’m that one that gets angry. And I’m very emotional, so instead of shouting/yelling, I’m crying. It usually happens because of my insecurities. I do realize once I start to get upset, and then I get mad at myself even MORE because I know he loves me, and I know he wouldn’t leave me for someone else and here I am mentally not trusting him. I think most of the influence was from my mother. In her relationships as I was growing up, she never trusted the guy and always thought he would find someone better for him. I trust my boyfriend, it’s just I’m afraid someone can give him more happiness than I can, so I get worried every time he hangs outs with a girl I don’t know. And he knows all of my friends but I don’t know his, so I think that’s another thing. I’ve started writing in my journal every night to go through my day, to try to love who I am, and truly accept his love for me, so I don’t have to worry, because if I gain love within me, I believe our relationship will be golden. Anybody have any suggestions onto loving myself for who I am, and accepting myself?

  • Sean

    July 24th, 2015 at 12:15 PM

    Me and my partner have 2 kids today we got into an argument about money as I treated myself thinking we were fine. She starting packing the kids stuff and said she was going to her mum’s, I completely lost it, I was screaming at her infront of my kids, and I punched our kitchen wall numerous times. I think about it now, and how stupid I was flipping out infront of the kids, I’ve probably scared them to death and now feel that they would be better off without me. I love my partner and kids to pieces, but I don’t know how to stop when I lose it like that, it’s not the first time, but I want it to be the last. Not that it matters much now as I think that’s us done.

  • Marissa

    August 18th, 2015 at 1:33 AM

    Oh my readers! We are all searching for answers! Maybe I can help!
    If you feel as if you are always having to guard your emotions or are “walking on eggshells” then this article may be for you. This is for an intense narcissistic dynamic, in my opinion but please spare your judgement until you read the first paragraph; it is worth the read and gave me perspective on the worst and most intense relationship of my life (of course I didn’t think of my relationship like that at the time, but I sure do now). heartless-bitches.com/rants/manipulator/emotional_abuse.shtml

    And to everyone else, keep searching with an open mind; you will find answers.

  • Jose A.

    April 18th, 2016 at 1:19 AM

    superb blog, love it specifically this line that I will remember for the lifetime.
    “Practice apologizing, stay calm, and remind yourself why you are in the relationship and that you are in control of how you express your emotions.”
    I had these issues for long time by researching many blogs like yours I have overcome this a bit.Anger management therapy helps individuals who are prone to violent temper and struggle with controlling their temper. such individuals can take control of this emotion

  • Sukanya D

    September 28th, 2016 at 7:31 AM

    I’m in a relationship since 1 nd a half yr. My partner is very well behaved nd love me very much as I know. Bt since a month I become angry in a smallest matter. Often he is wrong, but before a month I forgive his mistakes nd he never do that again. We were happy. But now I can understand its totally my problem. I become angry for a simple matter. I dare It would break my relationship. We can’t live without each other. Now he can’t handle me as I always blame him. I want solution. PlzzZ HELP ME…

  • chitra

    February 12th, 2017 at 5:28 AM

    I get angry on my partner for small things. as he is out on tour due to his job, I have to look after full family of two kids and in-laws. our relation is in danger. how to control my anger

  • vinita s

    April 3rd, 2017 at 1:16 AM

    Very indepth and fact article. But no matter how much i try i lose control of my emotions when i get angry. Yes you are right often anger is when you are upset or hurt. Can you help me how best i can control my reactions so that i do not regret on my action and what i am saying

  • praveen

    May 14th, 2017 at 5:20 AM

    I m not getting angry every time but my anger keep storing in my mind and after few days or months it’s go out of control and I loos my control and do destructive thing so can u help me so that I shld not link old problems with new one and could control myself

    Next problem is that I easily get influence by other person if someone keeps saying something bad abt other person and of in near future he did something wrong then I could not control my self and things goes byound my limit

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