Anger is a natural part of being human, but it can also become destructive when uncontrolled. Likewise, anger is a natural part of conflict. It’s important that we understand how to manage anger so that we can effectively manage conflicts in our marriages and other interpersonal relationships.
Anger tends to be the result of a perceived injustice against us. When improperly processed and communicated, anger can damage relationships–sometimes irreversibly. Uncontrolled anger can muddy the waters of a good fight and prevent us from getting to the core of the issue at hand.
Let’s look at a few truths about anger everyone should know, followed by some tips on how to begin getting it under control.
1. Anger doesn’t need to be “vented.”
It’s not healthy to “stuff” your anger, but it’s equally unhealthy to vent it. Venting is the aggressive expression of anger, and it can do damage to relationships, too. It also reinforces any unhealthy patterns around anger you may have.
When you allow your anger to escalate into an outburst or a tirade, it just compounds the problems you and your spouse are already trying to solve. Instead of getting to the heart of the issue at hand, you’ll both end up having to resolve whatever new problems crop up as a result of your uncontrolled anger.
2. Anger doesn’t get you the respect you want.
Some people feel that they must put others “in their place” during a disagreement or confrontation. They might use unhealthy tactics to keep control of their spouse and the situation at hand, wrongfully believing that this will get their spouse to listen and respond the way they want.
The thing is, these tactics actually cause your spouse to withdraw from you and put their guard up. You’ve made the issue worse because of your disrespectful behavior toward them. Now, they’re not only upset at the original issue, they’re trying to defend themselves from your angry behavior, as well. Once you’ve put your spouse on the defensive, you can bet your side of the story won’t be heard–and you’re definitely not earning points (or respect) in the relationship, either.
3. Anger can be controlled.
Despite what some may believe, it’s possible to control your anger by paying attention to your body, thinking before you speak, and actively choosing not to allow your emotions to take charge of your actions. Letting momentary emotional surges define your actions and reactions with your spouse can lead to permanent damage, or even destruction of the relationship.
So how can you take the reins when you start to feel yourself losing control? Here are some ways you can tame your temper when it flares:
- Admit you’re angry. Many times, we try to redefine our angry feelings as hurt or frustration, but that’s actually counterproductive. Don’t stuff your anger; it’s perfectly acceptable to express that you’re angry in an honest, calm way.
- Don’t do anything. Instead, observe your anger. You’re in a dangerous place when your anger is just begging to burst out, so stop. Be still. Take some time to think about why you’re angry and how you might be able to communicate that to your spouse without adding to the problem. (Counting to ten is invaluable here!)
- Pay attention to the physical signs of anger. Some of these can include tension in your neck or shoulders, flushing, clenching your fists, or raising your voice. Heed these warnings and take a moment to cool down physically before continuing the discussion.
If you can’t control your anger…
…you may need to seek professional counseling or even anger management classes in order to get control of your emotions. This is especially important if you don’t know what, exactly, is triggering the anger you’re experiencing. It’s important to find the root of your anger and learn to control it so you don’t become destructive when you’re dealing with interpersonal conflict.
If you want a good primer on how to handle conflict with your spouse effectively, check out our book The Good Fight. You can get a copy here.
Have you or your spouse struggled with anger in your relationship? How did you address and overcome it? Let us know in the comments section.