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
- Withdrawal and isolation
- Mental health issues like anxiety and depression
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:
- Make sure you are safe by respecting personal space and keeping distance between you and your significant other.
- 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?"
- 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.”
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.