Have you ever been talking with your partner and suddenly it feels like things went from zero to 100 in about two seconds? Suddenly you’re confused, surprised and overwhelmed. You have no idea why things escalated to such a bad place so quickly. What the hell happened? What went wrong?
It sucks to feel trapped in that negativity and pain. All you know is that from your perspective, something went from a basic conversation to an ugly exchange that leaves you feeling bad and wanting to get away.
I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be like that. How you chose to react to your partner’s anger is incredibly powerful. While you cannot control their anger, you can decide how to respond to it.
1.) Do not verbally engage with destructive, negative or abusive statements. The way conflict builds is from the energetic push and shove of each person saying negative things to the other. You push me, I push you back, you push harder, then I push harder. This cycle will escalate until hell breaks loose and you hit a boiling point where physically separating is the only option. By not responding to the anger, the other person doesn’t have anything to push back against and is more likely to stop.
2.) Set boundaries before things escalate. This means agreeing to “fight fair,” which includes leaving things like name calling, bringing up past issues, and any physical contact completely off the table. If either of you breaks these rules it often is best to physically leave each other’s company to ensure things don’t get worse.
3.) Recognize that anger is a secondary emotion and underneath it is always a primary emotion like fear or sadness. It’s important to keep in mind that beneath their dysfunctional behavior, your partner is actually in a lot of pain, which is driving the anger. The anger feels empowering and easy. Delving into that deeper emotion can be hard and vulnerable.
4.) Hold your partner accountable for awareness of their anger. It is his/her responsibility to identify the root cause for that underlying primary emotion (fear, sadness). It is not your job to guess or fair to assume you know. There’s an amazing video by Brendon Buchard on how to deal with Anger; pass it along to your partner if they can admit they have some issues around anger.
5.) Write it down. It’s tempting once things have died down to “move on” without addressing the pain that angry conflict causes. While this may lessen anxiety in the short term, it often perpetuates misery in the long term. Once the intensity has subdued, grab a pen and paper and write out your feelings. What happened? Is there any part of the conflict you can take ownership for? How did you partner’s actions/reactions impact you? How do you feel about that? What are your values/beliefs around the relationship? How does what’s important to you match up to what’s playing out? What’s your emotional reaction to that? IF it makes sense, consider giving this letter to your partner. It may help him/her understand where you’re coming from, what’s important to you and the impact his/her anger is having on the relationship. There is no way for the other person to know how the anger is impacting you unless you speak up. And even if you choose not to share the letter, writing your feelings down is an incredibly useful way to process them on your own.
From time to time everyone gets angry. But consistent anger is toxic, especially in intimate relationships. Don’t get sucked into a trap of destructive fights because you don’t know what to do about it. Being a good partner is about creating long term, positive change and often takes work. But in the words of Brene Brown, “You are not a jackass whisperer.” If you have made repeated attempts to address your partner’s anger and he/she is not taking responsibility, start setting limits or consider walking away. You deserve better. Giving another person the pleasure of your company when they won’t give your feelings basic respect allows them to take you for granted at best and emotionally abuse you at worst.
Need more ideas on how to deal with a difficult conflict in your relationship? I’d love to help out. Click here to schedule a free 20 minute Love Blocks call.