When disagreeing with your partner, are you sometimes quick to anger? Do things seem to escalate rapidly? Are both of you left feeling upset or dissatisfied?
Anger often feels urgent. But acting on this feeling immediately doesn’t always lead to the best outcome.
Anger can feel overwhelming and make it hard to think clearly. If you are feeling angry, take time out to make sense of what you are feeling and what it means to you. Then decide how to act. Stop, think, do.
1. Can you give yourself some space?
Excuse yourself from the situation by saying you need to step away for a while. Give yourself time to calm down. Take a walk. Have a shower. Listen to music. Whatever works for you. (Over time, these steps will become more fluid as you get to understand yourself and the dynamics in your relationship and you may not need to step away first anymore.)
2. What is causing your anger?
Remind yourself that your anger belongs to you. Your partner did not make you angry. They may have said or done something you don’t like, but the emotion is yours. It is telling you something about yourself. Accept you are in control and own what you are feeling.
3. What are you really feeling?
Anger often masks other emotions such as feeling afraid, hurt, guilty, inadequate or rejected. Try identifying what you are feeling beneath your anger. How is it affecting you? Recognising these feelings will help you to respond.
4. Why are you feeling this way?
Explore what is causing you to feel like this. Is it just about the present or are things from the past being triggered? Is it from a build-up of previously unexpressed needs or frustrations? Is the emotion bigger than the current situation? Give yourself a chance to understand what is upsetting you and why.
5. What are you telling yourself?
Think about any assumptions you might be making. Are you adding another layer of meaning to the situation? Do you feel you can mind-read what your partner is thinking? Could you be overgeneralising or jumping to conclusions? Check the validity of what you are thinking and give yourself a chance to refocus.
6. How can you better communicate your viewpoint?
By focusing on the feelings beneath your anger and the actual issue at hand, you can communicate your wants and needs more clearly without assigning blame, guilt or hurt to your partner. Instead of starting a fight, you can pave the way for increased empathy and understanding.
7. What do you want to achieve?
Always hold your end goal in mind. Is it to get a particular need met? Or to make your relationship stronger? Recognise that getting angry is unlikely to achieve your aim. Clearly identifying what the issue is and negotiating calmly and respectfully with your partner is much more likely to lead to a better outcome for you both.
Wendy Roncolato and Prue Foster