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"Managing Anger: Key Strategies for a Healthy Relationship"

Is your partner often blowing up and becoming angry? Or perhaps, you realize that it is you that has trouble containing your anger? This often shows up as a very distressing problem in the couples I work with. Why do so many people have trouble managing their anger? How you behave when the anger shows up can be concerning and very problematic in a relationship. It can often escalate and turn to rage. It may result in saying and doing very hurtful things to your partner, and sometimes to yourself.

Many try to suppress anger…but this often leads to a pressure cooker situation where eventually there’s a big blow up.

Anger is a valid emotion. Just like any other emotion, it is meant to send you a message. It needs to be paid attention to and expressed in a way that is assertive and healthy. Therefore, anger in and of itself is not a problem. It's ok to feel angry. It’s when it is expressed in ways that are aggressive that it becomes problematic.

Why do so many people have problems with anger? Here are some possible reasons:

-they have not learned how to regulate their emotions-including stress, anxiety, shame or fear.

-they may have a history of trauma, and they become triggered

-they may have attention deficits such as ADD or ADHD

-they may have mental health concerns

-they do not feel heard by their partner

What do you do with your own anger? How do you respond to your partners anger?

Here are some suggestions:

Find a calm moment when you can talk to your partner about how the anger is impacting you, your relationship, and your family (if applicable). Use non-blaming, non-judgemental language. Share using “I statements” such as “I feel….”

If you suspect there are mental health concerns (PTSD, underlying anxiety…), encourage your partner to attend individual counselling. Sometimes, encouraging them to attend couples therapy together, so that the 3rd party can suggest they seek individual therapy, is the best place to start. They may be more likely to agree to attend individual therapy if your couples therapist recommends it (instead of you).

Together, commit to adhering to ground rules when the unhealthy expression of anger shows up in your relationship. Agree to take a “healthy time out” when your own anger is starting to escalate. Tell your partner that you need to calm down and leave the room. Go for a walk or do something that will help you soothe yourself. If you have little eyes and ears watching and listening, this is especially important. Do not tell your partner that he/she needs a time out. You each need to be responsible to manage your own anger. Telling an angry person they need a time out will likely make them angrier. When your partner takes a time out, do not follow them.

Try not to respond with anger. Stay calm and listen to your partner. Listen to really hear them and understand their perspective. Let them know you hear them. What often occurs is that people listen to respond. While their partner is sharing, they are forming a rebuttal in their head. No one is really listening to what the other is saying.

Notice that often there is a cycle at play where one is trying to avoid either their own or their partner’s anger. Avoidance can look like physically leaving the room, zoning out, or dismissing. Unfortunately, when this happens, the angry person does not feel heard or understood by their partner, which will likely made them angrier. If the anger escalates to a place where there is a lack of safety (intimidation, physical violence), you need to disengage and distance yourself from your partner. But where there is safety, try to avoid disengaging entirely. Disengaging leads to the partner feeling more unheard which will likely make the anger louder.

Seek support from an experienced couples therapist, who will help you communicate in a way that helps you and your partner feel heard and understood. Often where there is anger, there are a range of other emotions that are often not being communicated.

Therapists at Couples Therapy Centre are qualified to help you and your partner manage anger. If you or your relationship suffers from anger issues, make an appointment with one of our therapists on today or call 416 949 9878 for more information.


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