Anger is an emotion that can prove to be challenging to manage, especially within the context of a relationship. It is often viewed as threatening and destructive, which can lead to its repression, ultimately resulting in internalised depression.
Let’s explore the different expressions of anger, reflect on their presence in your family, and uncover effective conflict resolution strategies that can strengthen communication and relationships.
The basics of anger and its triggers
There are typically two categories of anger expression, which we will liken to natural disasters for the sake of illustration. First is volcanic anger. This type of anger is characterised by an intense eruption, complete with sparks, steam, and lava. While the outburst may be intense, it is usually short-lived and followed by a period of dormancy.
And then, there’s seismic anger. This form of anger may seem deceptively calm on the surface, but unseen forces are at play beneath the facade. Without warning, the anger can suddenly crack and split open, resulting in chaos and uncertainty before eventually settling down.
Both types of anger can be experienced as overwhelming, frightening, or even something to dread. Volcanic anger can be marked by noise and heat, while seismic anger may result in an inability to trust the stability of the relationship.
Take a moment to think about why you’re feeling angry
To better understand your own anger, it’s helpful to examine how anger was managed in your family. Reflect on the following questions:
- Was anger expressed or repressed in your family? Was it hot or cold?
- Did anger manifest as shouting and gesticulating, fights and violence, or days of silence and sulking?
- Was there a single family member who consistently displayed a bad temper on behalf of others?
- In trivial arguments, what is the true source of your anger?
- When you feel constantly angry with your partner, who are you really angry with?
- Does your partner remind you of someone else?
- Are you aware of projecting your anger onto others?
- Does your partner act out your anger on your behalf?
The power of questions in conflict resolution
Effective conflict resolution is crucial for navigating anger in relationships. The key lies in open communication, active listening, and ensuring that both partners feel heard.
Here are 15 guidelines for fostering healthy communication:
- Use “I” and “me” statements instead of “you”.
- Refrain from making assumptions about your partner.
- Don’t speak on behalf of your partner.
- Avoid using words like “should”, “could”, “ought”, “you always”, and “you never”.
- Ask open-ended questions that go beyond “yes” or “no” answers.
- Take responsibility for your feelings.
- Focus on the issue at hand.
- Address present concerns without dredging up past resentments.
- Transform complaints and criticisms into constructive requests.
- Check-in with your partner’s expectations and ensure your own are realistic.
- Practise assertiveness without aggression.
- Avoid defensiveness and retaliation.
- Distinguish feelings from judgements.
- Know when to apologise and offer forgiveness.
- Strive for a win-win situation, where both parties feel satisfied with the outcome.
It’s essential to recognise and accept differences in the way anger is expressed within relationships. Employ the ACT approach: accept differences, compromise wherever possible, and tolerate what cannot be changed. Transform this into the FACT model by adding forgiveness.
By understanding the roots of your anger, enhancing communication, and applying these conflict resolution techniques, you can foster healthier, stronger relationships.
Carol Martin-Sperry is a sex therapist and the author of three books about couples and sex. Carol is a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.