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Being Right or Being Happy: The Consequences of Anger in Your Relationship

The Consequences of Anger in Your Relationship

Anger is a primal emotion that all of us have experienced. While there are positive and negative effects of anger, the feeling itself is neither good nor bad. What matters is how we respond to anger. The consequences of anger can profoundly affect the course of our lives with our partners. When we mismanage our anger, we can damage not only ourselves but also those around us. For people in relationships, it is vital to understand your anger and how to fight fair with your significant other.

Anger And Expectations

Almost every culture on Earth assigns unwritten rules to everyone on the gender spectrum. These "rules," also known as social norms or mores, are what society accepts as expected behavior. For example, a standard social norm is not sitting next to a stranger in a movie theater unless no seats are left. There are social norms about anger, too.

Masculine or "male" anger mores allow for externalizing anger through rage or frustration, and it is expected that men are assertive, independent, or aggressive.

Feminine or "female" anger mores are the opposite. In our society, women are expected to be very emotional when happy, sad, excited, or afraid but are not socially permitted to show anger, so they internalize feelings of rage and frustration.

Generally, everyone on the gender spectrum gets angry with the same frequency and intensity as everyone else. People also don't always deal with anger in the way society expects, either. Masculine-leaning people don't get mad more often; they are just allowed more leeway to express it. And while research shows that feminine-leaning people may stay angry for longer, it is usually because they are encouraged by societal norms to repress it.

These anger behavioral expectations can complicate relationships with friends, families, co-workers, and significant others. When dealing with anger, it is helpful to understand these social norms and review your own expectations, so that compassion starts at the most basic level.

Anger and Your Relationships

There will be anger in every relationship. No one agrees about everything all the time. Couples commonly fight about communication issues, money, and feelings of loneliness and isolation. But some fights come from something deeper that gets projected onto the significant other or ourselves. Outside influences that create stress or anxiety, personal issues, or a cycle of anger from your family of origin can create unhealthy ways to respond to anger or anger mismanagement. The problem isn't anger itself; it is expressing anger appropriately.

Positive Effects of Healthy Anger in a Relationship

The positive effects of healthy expressions of anger in a relationship are:

  • Stronger relationship bonds
  • Opportunities to learn more about your partner
  • Growth and change for the better
  • Increasing the overall happiness of everyone in the relationship

Negative Effects of Unhealthy Anger in a Relationship

The negative consequences of expressing anger inappropriately can:

  • Build resentment
  • Build walls between partners
  • Force couples to drift apart
  • Lead to infidelity, distrust, separation, or divorce
  • Create a bad example for children in the household
  • Perpetuate cycles of anger
  • Create feelings of danger
  • Result in physical abuse and emotional, mental, or sexual abuse

A Note About Abuse: Abuse is never ok. If you are experiencing any abuse in your relationship, seek help immediately. Call the police or reach out to Goodman Psychiatrist Associates at 1-630-377-3535 or The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

The foundation of any working relationship is trust. When we get angry, we get defensive. We build walls between us and the person(s) we love if we don't stay open, honest, and show vulnerability. Instead of seeing an angry partner as someone who may need help, our defensive stance forces us to engage negatively, and the anger escalates.

Signs of Mismanaged Anger

Mismanaged anger is any anger that repressed, suppressed, or expressed in a negative way or with negative consequences. There are real-world consequences of becoming so full of rage that you lose control. You can lose your relationship, your job, friends, and freedom. You can spot mismanaged anger by watching for some of these signs, that range from subtle to extreme:

  • Making impulsive choices when angry
  • Ending friendships or relationships over minor issues
  • Overwhelming pessimism
  • Hurtful, sarcastic, snarky comments
  • Changes in the way we think or problem solve
  • Disproportionate responses to small issues, over-reacting
  • Physical symptoms or health problems like headaches and stomach issues
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Explosive rage
  • Nitpicking
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Mental health issues like anxiety and depression

Anger De-Escalation

De-escalation is the first step to conflict resolution in every relationship. It stops the fight from getting worse and allows the parties involved time to calm down and reflect. You can de-escalate a situation by doing the following:

  1. Make sure you are safe by respecting personal space and keeping distance between you and your significant other.
  2. Remove yourself from the situation with a time frame by saying, "I need a breather; let's meet in the living room in ten minutes," or "I need to calm down. Can we talk about this before work tomorrow?"
  3. Mitigate your body's physiological responses. Try practiced, controlled breathing to lower your respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. Visualize calming, happy memories. Clench and unclench muscles throughout your body, starting with your feet and working upwards. Cool your body with a fan or cold water on your face.

Conflict Can Be Healthy: Here’s How to Fight Fair

We know every relationship will have arguments. However, learning to fight fair by expressing anger or frustration appropriately will create positive relationship effects and avoid damaging the relationship and the people involved. Use these tips to express your feelings:

1. Identify The Real Problem

Are you really upset that your partner forgot to replace the empty toilet paper roll, or are problems at work creating stress? Or are you more upset that your partner doesn't seem to listen to you when you continually remind them to do this chore?

2. Learn Your Triggers

Triggers are words or actions that "push your buttons." Common triggers are being interrupted, feeling disrespected, injustice, or reminders of past traumas. Triggers create an immediate emotional response, so learning what your triggers are and how to control them are essential skills for anger management.

3. No Judgements and Use "I" Statements

Listen to your partner without passing judgment. Attempt to understand what they are trying to tell you without becoming defensive. "I" statements represent feelings, not facts, and therefore you aren't accusing the other person of anything, which could make them defensive and less likely to listen. Use "I" statements like "I feel that you aren't respecting my choices" rather than saying "you don't respect my choice.”

4. Pause

The age-old adage "think before you speak" is excellent advice. In the heat of the moment things can be said that are damaging, hurtful, and may never be forgotten. Pausing also helps you be mindful of your own emotions and reactions.

5. Get Help

Anger is one of the most challenging emotions to regulate because it affects ourselves and the people around us. Anger management and couple's counseling provide safe and effective methods to manage our anger and strengthen relationships. Get help immediately if abuse is involved.

Above all else, remember you and your significant other are on the same team. Don't keep score, and try not to feel the need to be right or "win" the fight, because what is most important is that you and your partner feel respected and safe.

Trying to gain control and change anger behavior on your own and failing time and again becomes a shaming and depressing cycle, but there is hope. Contact us to schedule a consultation for anger management, couple's counseling, and family or individual therapy today.

Perry D. Weingart, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist working in the St. Charles and Oak Brook offices. He is a skilled marital and relationship counselor and with a particular interest in anger management.


How to Deal with Fear

What we do with scary information is my point in writing today. Patients frequently express to me that they just do not know what to do with a problem facing them: whether it’s a worry about their job, their marriage, their child, etc. 


How to Stop Regretting Your Decisions

How to Stop Regretting Your Decisions (And What to Do When You Feel Regret)

You’ve made a plan. You’re going to do it. Maybe you're going to the gym tomorrow, you're meeting a friend for dinner, or you're finally going to ask your boss for that raise. But then something crops up, and you end up doing exactly what you didn't intend—sitting on the couch and letting another day pass you by while you feel guilt and regret.

If you're wondering how to stop regretting your decisions, the short answer is twofold: make choices you won't regret and accept your choices for what they are. In other words, when you set out to talk to your boss, go to the gym, or hang out with a pal, follow through. Likewise, whenever you do something, follow your values to avoid actions you'll later regret.

But for most of us, the answer is a bit more complex. When procrastination and willpower come into play, our choices are less black and white. Here's how to avoid the anxiety that can come from making decisions and how to stop regretting your decisions once you’ve made them.

Why Choices Overwhelm Us

Most choices aren't binary. No answer's clearly right or wrong. Decisions are often complicated, and life can throw roadblocks our way.

Perhaps you planned to talk to your boss today about that promotion, but then the quarterly numbers came in, and you realized that your timing wasn't right. Maybe you planned to go to the gym, but you're feeling rundown, and self-care was a better choice for your body. Or maybe you had to cancel on your friend because another obligation came up or you weren't feeling emotionally up to social interaction.

When we have a lot of goals, even positive ones, we can start to feel overwhelmed, and it can trigger a “shut down.” We might make poor or impulsive decisions to do what feels good or comforting in the moment, rather than actions that will move us toward our targets. Then those feelings of anxiety and regret creep in, and the circuit is complete. We play it over and over, beat ourselves up, feel guilty, ashamed, or sad.

So how do we make the right choice? How do we discover our inner motivation and make decisions that won’t lead to regret? And what about those bigger regretful choices—when we make a mistake and feel bad that our actions hurt someone else?

No matter the size of regret, they still take up energy and brain space. Little regrets may feel like "no big deal" on the surface, but then we can find ourselves fixating on them and replaying them over and over. It all relates back to anxiety. When we experience anxiety, it prevents us from seeing things in proportion. We have a harder time measuring how big the problem really is and how much it will (or won't) impact our lives. How many of us have replayed a cringy comment or embarrassing gaffe over and over when we know that probably no one noticed, or it's already forgotten?

When we experience anxiety, we have difficulty distinguishing between little inconsequential choices like, “should I wear this outfit today,” and big life choices like, “should I accept this job offer?” If all our problems—big and small—occupy the same emotional weight, we can easily get overwhelmed.

Make Decisions You Won’t Regret

If you’re wondering how to stop regretting your decisions, there are a few exercises and tools you can employ to help you feel less overwhelmed by choice.

1. Identify Internal Triggers

When we feel overwhelmed by the decisions on our plate, it can help us to identify those internal triggers that make us feel overwhelmed. For example, when we believe that every decision must be the "right" one, even small decisions can paralyze us.

When you start feeling overwhelmed by choices, take your emotional temperature. How are you feeling right now about this decision? Try to examine where your emotions are coming from and how they may cloud your choice. Think of the bigger picture. Will this matter in the long term? When short-term emotions overtake long-term considerations, consider how you would advise your best friend. When we step back, we can gain some clarity on the situation.

2. Break it Down

When there's a problem you can't seem to let go of, it can help to break it down. If something is really bothering you, or you regret a decision, break it down, examine it, and tackle the solution piece by piece. You may have heard the saying, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." If your problems and regrets feel insurmountable, pick an action you can take now to bring forth a resolution. Break it down into 4-5 pieces and set a timeframe to tackle each.

Breaking down your problem may be as simple as triaging your regretful choice to see how you could prevent it in the future. For example, if you feel bad you didn't work out this morning, consider the steps you could take next time to get out the door and break a sweat. Maybe it means putting your running shoes by the bed, queuing up a favorite playlist, or even sleeping in your workout gear. Find ways to motivate yourself next time and write today's setback off as a learning opportunity.

3. Do Some Research

Faced with an important choice? Carefully research information before you decide to avoid regretting your choices later. When we educate ourselves upfront about something, we go into the situation with greater clarity and knowledge. We often have more significant regrets about decisions that have gone awry if we didn't consider all our options beforehand.

It's also important that you consider the sources of your information. Look at multiple sources and try to make decisions not to please others but rather to focus on the best possible outcome. For example, your father-in-law may offer advice about the type of car you should buy, but it can also help to read Consumer Reports, research the background, and get a vehicle you actually like.

4. Weigh Your Options

Once you've researched your decision, write it down. Make a simple pros and cons list. It may seem like a silly exercise, but it can be an unbelievably powerful tool when we're trying to make a choice. As you write the list, really assess the impact of your choice. Is this such a big problem or decision? What priority should this take?

Once you’ve written down your pros and cons, the decision often becomes quite clear, and you can move forward with confidence. None of us can predict the future, of course, but when you’ve done your due diligence, you will likely feel comfortable no matter the ultimate outcome.

5. Phone a Friend

Still struggling with worry about a potential regret? Ask for insight from a trusted person, especially someone who will hold you accountable. When we're worried about a past decision or a potential problem, we can find ourselves stuck in a feedback loop. We start thinking about our regret, and it reinforces our sense of hopelessness and helplessness. It puts us into "freeze mode," where we have tunnel vision and can't see the positive options or benefits.

A good friend can help us get back to the moment and put things in perspective. Often, they can remind us that we can handle what life throws our way, and they can help us break down our problems into manageable pieces.

Getting Beyond Our Regrets

So, you've made a decision, and you have remorse. If you procrastinated or avoided a task, how can you reframe it to help you let go of these regrets?

Consider reframing your choice to take a break as self-care rather than a failure. See your decision as an opportunity to recharge and look forward to the energy that you will have once you're firing on all cylinders. We all need a break sometimes, both mental and physical. Athletes know the importance of rest days when they're training—it's during those breaks when the body repairs muscle and gains strength.

We need days when we're structured and busy and days when we relax and rest. During our downtime, we encode our memories and refresh our emotional bandwidth—we process what's going on in our lives. Then when we come back, we're even stronger than before.

Mindfulness and being present and aware of the moment can help us clarify our decisions. It can help us stay focused, channel our attention, and be aware of our motivations and senses. Mindfulness is also a good tool for pushing aside intrusive thoughts, so we can stop replaying those regrets over and over. Finally, it helps us improve the emotional capacity that we all need to deal with everyday problems.

When we make decisions, we shouldn't fear regret too much. Feelings of remorse are an inevitable part of life. If you can say you live without regret, you may not be having enough adventures (or you may be rationalizing missteps and not examining your responsibility when things go wrong). When we anticipate regret, we tend to overemphasize how much we will feel. Often regret is quick and sharp. It hurts, but then it passes.

So, when you make decisions, think carefully and dispassionately with as much valid information as possible. Weigh it against your beliefs, and then go for it. If you regret it, well, keep in mind, there's always another choice to make down the road. Nothing in life is certain, and we don't need certainty to make decisions. We harness intuition and confidence when we accept that certainty doesn't exist. When we embrace uncertainty, we drop the angst.

But what about those big poor choices that we regret? Well, we all make mistakes. It's undoubtedly regretful and painful when our actions hurt someone else. One way we can avoid these big mistakes is to live within our value systems. If we've done something that's not in those values, assess how we can prevent a similar error in the future. Many of us fail to recognize that the things that really bother us and fill us with regret are the actions outside of who we truly are.

Align with your values and move forward. Is forgiveness part of your value system? It's crucial that you extend that forgiveness to yourself as well. We may need to apologize, make amends, and work to ensure we don't do something regretful again, but mentally beating ourselves up over and over leaves us stuck and unable to move on.

If you feel fretting about regrets has turned into rumination, it may be time to get help. Rumination is deeper than fretting or worry. It is when we think of the same thing repeatedly without relief. The constant worry of rumination can become distressing and start to interfere with your day-to-day life.

Fortunately, a trained therapist or counselor can understand and help you put things in perspective. Therapy helps us figure out why things may have unfolded a certain way. It can help us align our values with our behaviors and examine our thought patterns. Counseling can also offer us coping strategies to improve our mental bandwidth and move forward without the paralyzing sense of overwhelm.

If you need assistance working through feelings of regret, please reach out. We have a team of trained practitioners ready to listen and help you move forward with assuredness and confidence.



Risk and Failure: What to Know About Measuring Life Risk

It is curious to me that so little has been written about the four-letter word – RISK.  Those who do not take sufficient risk in life, whether in pursuit of relationships or achievement, become frustrated and resentful people.  We all know those who have stayed too long, whether in a job, in a relationship, or in a neighborhood.

The endless moaning for “the good old days” often shines a mirror on an individual too afraid to change.  Young people find this enshrinement of the past difficult to understand because of their confidence in being able to meet any challenge and this confidence is usually undented by the many potholes in life.  A balance is necessary, however, between the overconfidence of the young and the frequent resistance and reluctance of the old. 

The focus of much of our national attention is presently on the scourge of drug addiction.  One wonders if the best description for the last quarter of this century is to describe the United States as the addicted society.  Food, alcohol, drugs, sex, or money has become a source of gratification and security that is short-lived and extremely costly.

There is a correlation between the reluctance to grow through exposure to risk and the need to tranquilize the mind and heart from the grimace of opportunity. 

We worship winners. In fact, being a fan of a winning team is somehow considered more noble by many than being one of the losing participants.

Here are some things to consider about healthy life risk:

  • There is such a thing as information overload.  As a culture, we have more access to knowledge than at any time in world history.  Such opportunity can spark inertia as much as achievement.  If the expectation is that one should not move ahead until one knows everything necessary, productive movement is stopped.
  • Collecting opinions on which way to proceed beyond three trusted sources can guarantee gridlock.
  • Failure is a teacher, not a judge.  The greatest personal cost of failure is in what we think it means to other people and, ultimately, what they think of us.  Test out the truth of this by listing your five greatest failures, as you perceive them, and then ask your best friend whether he holds the same perception of you.

Risk sharpens our capacity to adjust.  It is our adaptability as a species that has saved our behinds, not our worship of “the way we were” and the “Don’t rock the boat” philosophy. 

Read more:


Too Much Instruction is a Dangerous Thing

Too Much Instruction is a Dangerous Thing: Helping Your Kids Choose a Path

Here she is, entering eleventh grade, and her father interrogates her weekly, “…so what do you want to major in and where are you thinking of going to college?”

We have moved ahead these last years.  She no longer requires a winter temperature of 70 degrees as a college selection criterion.  Her father has reduced his home lecture schedule on the importance of choosing a major by fifth grade and determining promising career paths.  Some progress, at least.

But what is there to tell a son or daughter about the future, based on our own experience?  Is any of that personal, bloody, often boring learning time relevant to the offspring? 

Let’s see, what wisdom should I impart in my note in her lunch bag for the first day of college?

A Letter to My Dear Daughter on Her First Day of College

Dear Elizabeth,

First of all, it is okay to admit that higher education is often drier education.  Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers are not retiring to deliver any monologues in the classes you’ll be taking.  There will be a few teachers who touch the soul, but many are on automatic pilot.  So find the professors by the student grapevine that knows what they are doing and like doing it. 

Get the classes you need to qualify for what you are generally aiming for.  There is a great debate between education and vocational training, between learning to think and learning a skill.  Both are necessary.  Knowing computer programs and your way around the internet makes self-expression a whole lot easier.  Using a computer makes writing a lot less laborious.  At a more advanced level, keep checking to be sure you have the courses necessary to qualify for admission to the next level of study or the certificate and/or diploma required for practiced in the field of choice.

There is rarely enough said for steady persistence.  Expect that a few people or committees will decide you don’t have “the right stuff.”  Rejection hurts, but it doesn’t kill.  Learn what you can from the disappointment.  Even though your heart says no, share it with friends and family; it normalizes the experience and everyone has been rejected at one point or another in their lives.  Remember, too, the length of this game is a lifetime and, if you’re going to play, it’s never too late to score.

Look at what works for you.  Find your groove – it may take 25 years.  There needs to be a match between what you do well (talent) and what you love to do (desire).  Once you own that connection, good things will happen.

Finally, take the above and mix it with your own experience.  Use what works and discard the rest.



Well, that is what I would put in the note for my daughter’s first day of college lunch bag; but what would you tell her?  If you drop me an email, tell me your age so I can see if wisdom alters over time. 


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