By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Don’t like being angry with those closest to you? Do you try to hide it? Or, do you feel guilty about it? Well, it might be a relief to know that anger has its place in relationships. It is healthy to feel anger; though what you do with it is the difference between enjoying a happy relationship and being out on your own again.
It can help to think of your anger as a warning system that’s telling you something is wrong. So, when you feel it, pay attention. It’s best if you can detect it early, when it is annoyance or frustration – before it’s a serious threat. For this reason, it’s very helpful to practice being aware of your emotions. When you do, you’re likely to realize that along with your anger, you are often feeling other emotions that need attention, too. For instance, you might also feel sad, hurt, disrespected, or emotionally abandoned. As you become aware of these experiences, take note of what is triggering them.
Now you can begin to address your feelings and the problems that caused them. If the problem is really within you, work on addressing it alone or with the help of others. If the problem truly resides in your relationship, then you would do well to think about an effective way to express what you are feeling along with why you are feeling this way. This thoughtful approach is likely to get the other person to engage with you to resolve your problem – a much better approach than just blasting the other person, who will then become defensive or defensively aggressive.
As tempting as it is to see the issue as totally the other person’s fault, this is not helpful and rarely true. So, if you want to accomplish anything other than venting, you will benefit from approaching the other person when you are reasonably calm. Your goal to is to get your message across and to truly listen to the other person’s response. This gives you the opportunity to understand them better – whether this means hearing their sincere apology or their difficulties with you.
Without acknowledgment, understanding, and constructive discussion of your anger (and other emotions), your distressing feelings can eat away at your relationship until there isn’t much left but negativity. So, choose to respond to these feelings in a constructive way. Use your anger to guide your understanding of your experience and as a motivation to work through problems. In this way, you can turn it to your advantage, improving your relationship and making you happier.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.