dealing with an angry partner

Dealing With An Angry Partner

Anger is a difficult emotion. By nature, it tends to create intensity, intended to push people away or to drive them into action. Moreover, if experiencing anger in ourselves is uncomfortable, dealing with an angry partner can feel exhausting, hopeless, and even scary.

At the end of the day, adults are all responsible for regulating their own emotions. However, knowing a little bit about what anger really is and how it works can equip you to respond to your partner’s anger in a way that does not further the escalation.

I’m going to break down anger from a psychological perspective and give you some back-pocket communication strategies for dealing with an angry spouse.

However, please know that this information is intended for relationships where anger is present but safety is known. Therefore, if you are in need of support or have been on the receiving end of emotional abuse or physical violence, please visit the national domestic violence hotline (1-800-799-7233).

Dealing with an Angry Partner

In order to effectively manage anger and apply manage anger tips, let’s first address anger itself.

What is anger?

Anger is (usually) a secondary emotion. As a result, its function is to protect the person from feeling something more vulnerable, deep, or scary underneath.

For example, a person might feel embarrassed, shameful, or hurt, and quickly begin to feel rage. The anger activates to protect the person from feeling hurt.

This anger exists first in the limbic part of the brain and is communicated to the individual through physiological sensations. For instance, the body markers for anger can include:

  • Tightness in chest or stomach
  • Heat throughout the body
  • “Seeing red”
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Teeth grinding
  • Increased heart rate

In the heat of the moment, the person may express the anger through verbal or physical aggression, passive aggression, or even feeling out of control.

Management of anger

The entire point of the emotional system is to inform the body of an unmet need. Likewise, anger in relationships most typically reveals a need to for protection from a vulnerable emotion that could lead to rejection.

In order for the physiological symptoms of anger to subside, the brain must receive a signal back that the message has been heard. Consequently, once someone feels that their anger has been understood and acknowledged by someone they love, the intensity naturally decreases.

management of anger

Strategies For Dealing with an Angry Partner

In relationships, emotions move quickly. If you are dealing with an angry partner over a period of time, it might not be clear why they are angry or where it comes from. Additionally, they might even be misdirecting anger about something else in their life onto you. They project because you are the person they trust to stay around.

You don’t deserve to consistently be on the other side of someone else’s anger. However, knowing about what’s happening for them can help you. Therefore, here are some tips for dealing with anger issues in a relationship for when your partner has anger issues.

Again, please use your own discernment on the level of safety and intimacy in your bond for whether these steps for how to deal with an angry partner feel safe and appropriate. If physical or emotional violence exist regarding an angry husband or angry spouse, I would recommend suggesting professional anger management rather than trying to apply these steps yourself.

Anger in relationships is common, but not reacting to anger can be extremely difficult in the moment. Understandably, who wants to be on the receiving end of someone else’s big uncomfortable emotions?

If you reactively push back against their anger, the emotions are going to continue to intensify on both sides until it blows up or shuts down. Instead, take a moment to regulate yourself. Remember that their anger is not your responsibility and you are entitled to step away from it to keep yourself calm.

Naming emotions is an effective way to begin to reduce the intensity of the feeling. Reflect back to your partner what you are seeing in a neutral way.

Tell them that you see they are angry and that you are willing to hear about what they need if they are willing to tell you about it in a safe and respectful manner.

Here’s the hard part. To really calm the anger down, we have to validate why it’s being felt. This means finding empathy in yourself to have compassion for the part of your partner that gets activated and tries to protect themself.

Validating anger does not mean that you validate the ways the express their anger. It also does not mean that you agree with their anger. It simply means that you acknowledge that there is a place in the relationship for the way they feel.

Here’s a hack for when this is hard. Instead of thinking about how your partner behaved, consider how they perceived the situation and why they may have become angry. From this frame, your validation could sound like, “I can see how if you saw the situation X way, you would have been angry.”

This approach leaves space for two distinct but equally valid experiences.

Intimate relationships move in cycles. If your partner reveals that they were hurt by the way they perceived the way you responded or cared about them, see if a part of you can understand what they mean.

Remember, you never take responsibility for your partner’s actions or expression of their anger. If it feels genuine, you can acknowledge responsibility for your behaviors in the relationship that hurt them, if your partner shares that with you.

Hopefully by this point, your partner is much more regulated. You’ve named their anger, validated it, and given it tons of space.

Now, share with your partner what it’s like for you when you see them express their anger in this way. Let them know that you want to hear about their needs so that hopefully, next time they can express them without having to resort to high emotional intensity.

Agree on what you both can do to keep situations diffused and regulated if anger pops up in the future. Consider what you both need in the intense moments.

Can you stay regulated enough to work through it together? Do you both need to take 20 minutes to breathe, walk outside, and calm down first? Explore what works best for you and agree how you’ll support each other, while holding self-accountability, when big emotions come up again.

If you find yourself getting stuck dealing with an angry partner alone, know that it’s totally normal. Emotions are complex and they move extremely fast. Plus, partners are bound to trigger each other.

Working with a couples therapist can help you understand your own emotions and how to manage them in a relational context and overcome anger issues in relationships. Emotion focused therapy is a modern therapy method that gets to the root cause of dealing with anger in relationships for sustained healing.

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