Anger and Relationship: Where Anger isn’t the Main Issue

by simon on March 28, 2017

If you are in, or have been in a relationship then you’ve most likely been angry and have had anger directed at you. And we’ve all been in relationships, even if the latest for you is child with parent. However, it may be that anger isn’t the main issue.

Anger is painful, both for the person angered and the person they are angry at. Even witnessing anger, if it’s close to you or the angry person is important to you, can be painful.  And yet anger is a very important emotion: it’s there in its simplest form to energise us, to mobilise body and mind, to defend ourselves, our space or our interests.

When Anger is Unacceptable

Let’s be clear: we are all entitled to feel our emotions when they arise, even anger. However, we are NOT entitled to express them to or at others in ways which threaten, frighten, denigrate or otherwise try to dominate them. This article is NOT about anger that is expressed in those harmful ways but about the normal ranges of anger that occur in almost all relationships.

We, of course, complicate anger; when we are angry we may be in a much more complex state than simple self defence. Our complex brain-body makes inevitable a complex interplay of our basic emotions, social conditioning, moral values, expectations and desires. This can lead us to be angry as an end result of a mass of entangled causes. This is especially true in relationships with those who are important to us.

The Anger Iceberg (Gottman Blog)

Check out the blog The Anger Iceberg on the Gottmans’ web site  which looks in detail at the sub-texts of anger in relationships and gives some techniques to deal with your own anger.

Let’s also look a bit more deeply into the relationship issues the blog hints at. We often become angry when our partner’s deeds or words have stirred other, perhaps more vulnerable, emotions in us. In the example in the blog Dave got angry when his wife, let’s call her Amelie made a request of him.

As the blog explains, Dave was reacting to feelings of helplessness in being unable to meet what he felt as excessive demands from Amelie.

A Deeper Look at the Relational Dynamics

The causes which have their result in Dave’s anger are deeper and more relational than simple anger. If Dave simply does an anger management course, he will still feel helpless and put upon, Amelie will feel perhaps a lack of the involvement from him that she’s looking for, Dave may simply stonewall and the relationship will continue to suffer.

Moving Towards Healthy Relationship

The route to improving the relationship needs at least

  • Dave to be able to talk to Amelie directly about his feelings of helplessness,
  • Amelie to be able to hear and respect his feelings.
  • Amelie to be able to explain what she’s trying to accomplish by her requests (what are her expectations of his help in the relationship and what’s missing).
  • The two of them to discuss respectfully how they each can come closest to meeting the expectations of the other without surrendering their own vital interests.

Very often however, we arrive at adulthood without the knowledge or skills to initiate and continue conversations like this, which are packed with emotion for us, without falling into behaviours which destroy the possibility of reaching or building mutual understanding and which, over time wear away at the fabric of our relationship.

The heart of couples therapy for me is exactly helping couples to learn and build the skills that allow disagreements to become relationship enhancing experiences instead of being the grit that wears away at the love and liking that got them together in the first place. If anger isn’t the main issue, why let it wear away at your relationship?

Are You Looking for Help?

If you would like help dealing with difficult emotions and strains in your relationship , then please CALL me to see if we can work together!

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