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  • Writer's pictureHeather Gibson, MA, LMFT

How to Use Anger Constructively in Your Relationships

By: Carol Dawidowicz, MFT

Whether you have been with your partner for several months or many years you have likely

experienced a myriad of emotions. These emotions range from early feelings of limerence and “falling in love” to anxious feelings when your call/text has not been answered, to sad feelings when you feel alone; and undoubtedly, anger.

Anger is a natural emotion. Anger is valuable. It activates us and propels us to seek change. It calls out injustice. Anger’s function is to protect us. Unfortunately, however, if anger is not

approached wisely, it can become destructive.

When hit with a wave of intense anger we tend to react without thinking clearly. Our message then gets distorted into a criticism, attack, or passive aggressive remark. This leads our partner to react in defensiveness, attack back, or shut down. There are biological reasons why anger blocks clear and logical thought. Our bodies get flooded with cortisol, a stress hormone, and other physiological changes occur which put us in a “fight or flight” state. We feel a sense of threat and a drive to “protect” ourselves. This helped humans from an evolutionary standpoint but it hurts us in modern relationships where emotional safety and understanding are crucial.

Here are some tips for dealing with anger wisely.

1. Anger needs to be heard and understood. It typically doesn’t work to dismiss the anger

or say “Let’s just forget this”.

2. Anger needs curiosity. There are other feelings along with the anger reaction. Reflect on

what these feelings are and why you felt them (For example, I felt hurt and unimportant

when my partner offered to pick me from the airport but canceled at the last minute).

3. Anger needs time to settle. Once you have figured out the feelings under your anger and

why you were triggered, pause and ask – How am I feeling now? On a scale of 1 to 10,

how intense is my anger? If you are above a 5 or 6 you may still be in a reactive state. It

can help to take a little more time to “cool off” or engage in a calming activity.

When you are calm and your partner is ready, initiate a conversation aimed at repair.

It can help to start with an apology. For example, “I am sorry for the hurtful things I said when I was mad. This is what I wish I had said instead...” Give your partner a clear explanation of your emotional experience during the incident that led to the anger. Use “I statements” and approach your partner gently. Your partner may be feeling sensitive and also needs to be heard. It is important to take turns talking and to validate the perspective your partner had in the situation.

Hopefully these steps will help you to feel more confident in dealing with anger. Learning to

have constructive discussions about anger and other feelings is key to a secure and fulfilling relationship.

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