Healthy Ways to Express Anger in a Relationship

By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | January 29, 2016

No matter how much we love our partner, or how happy we may be in our relationship, feelings of anger are inevitable. Bottling up your anger or expressing it in the wrong way can damage trust and result in a loss of intimacy in your relationship. However, expressing anger in a healthy way will help you feel relief, but it can also actually bring you and your partner closer together.

Anger is a natural, normal part of any relationship and exists to provide us with valuable information. Anger can actually be helpful because it can clue us into things that need to be changed, and motivate us to create change. But there is a big difference between being assertive in expressing our anger, and being aggressive. Aggressive ways of expressing anger include “telling them off” or “unloading” on someone else.  Telling your partner how you are feeling and what you need does not have to come out as nagging, criticizing, complaining, or worse, physical or verbal abuse.

Expressing anger in a relationship can be overwhelming and scary; however, it is necessary if you want the relationship to continue. A healthy relationship includes open communication, so it is important that you speak up to have your needs met. When expressing anger, don’t immediately blow up at your partner for things he or she has done. Instead, take some time to think about the issue so that you can explain it calmly and rationally.

The next time you’re inclined to either “tell them off” or “hold it in”, follow these steps to learning to express your anger in a healthy way:

  1. Take a time-out. Take the time you need to cool down and de-stress your body. Try deep breathing techniques, taking a walk, or distracting yourself with some light tasks or entertainment.
  2. Identify the “core” emotion. Underneath anger lies one of the following “core” emotions: hurt, sadness, fear or loneliness. Take the time you need to identify where exactly your anger is coming from. It may be helpful to take some time to reflect by journaling, talk to a friend or speak to a therapist about what is truly making you upset.
  3. Organize your thinking. Before talking to your partner, organize your thinking into this three-pronged formula: (a) Clearly describe the problem, (b) State how it makes you feel using your “core” emotions and (c) Make a specific behavior change request. Make sure to use “I” statements like “I feel disappointed, sad or upset.” This will help your partner get less defensive and more motivated to solve the problem with you.
  4. Be Patient. It is okay to express yourself directly and firmly, if needed. Once you have expressed yourself, step down and give your partner space to process what you have just said.
  5. Take Care of Yourself. It is not easy to be vulnerable and express the reasons behind your anger. Be gentle with yourself and treat yourself with a healthy activity that is relaxing or something that brings you pleasure.

Now that you know how to express yourself continue to do it; expressing your anger in a productive way will help you feel better about yourself and ultimately feel more intimate in your relationship. It takes practice to change long-standing patterns, so be patient with yourself as you try this new approach. If you find yourself feeling stuck, and unable to make progress with your partner, consider seeking the support and guidance of a trained Psychologist. The Psychologists at Therapy Changes are highly skilled in helping individuals and couples learn more about themselves, each other, and discover new ways of expressing difficult emotions. Don’t let anger be the reason your relationship does not last. Conflict is a normal part of any healthy relationship, but unhealthy expressions of anger do not have to be.

Image: Trianons Oficial on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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