Do you sometimes get angry with people who are closest to you? Do you ever wonder why we often treat total strangers better than we treat our families and loved ones?
When couples and family members are close, one partner may feel it’s “safe” to let go of their emotions when they’re feeling stressed or hurt. Simply “being in a bad mood” can open the door to higher-than-usual responses to small triggers that would otherwise cause no reaction.
There are two negative responses to anger: expressing it in a harmful way and stuffing it.
Neither way is healthy where anger is concerned.
Expressed anger that is unhealthy can show up in a few ugly ways:
- Physical violence: aggressively bullying, throwing objects, physically hitting or kicking something or someone.
- Verbal expression: the most common expression, saying hurtful things, raising your voice.
- Indirect or passive aggressive behavior: giving someone the “cold shoulder” or “evil eye,” ignoring phone calls and conversations, taking anger out on someone else.
These responses are common; almost everyone snaps at some time or another and inappropriately reacts to conflict at some point or another.
But many people simply repress their strong negative feelings because they don’t have any other way to deal with them. One example is self-loathing: turning anger inward and punishing oneself in reaction to external things that upset you. The most common way people stuff anger is to simply pretend (to themselves and others) that they aren’t actually angry. This, too, can take its toll on your health and well-being. It does no good to simply repress your anger.
When anger is not expressed, it can lead to all kinds of physical problems. Studies show that suppressed anger is linked to cardiac problems, high blood pressure, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, colds and flue, stroke, and cancer. A tendency toward overeating, drinking, smoking, and sleeplessness are also connected to women who stuff their anger in a drawer.
Results of a 10-year study by Wisconsin epidemiologist Elaine D. Eaker of 1500 married women, showed that women who stuff their feelings during a conflict with their spouse are 40 times as likely to die of all causes than women who spoke up about what was bothering them.
The Toaster Theory of Psychology
My very first psychology professor taught that you can push things down all you want, but like a toaster, it always pops back up! The answer is conflict resolution. The couples that learn skills in conflict resolution will stay together longer and enjoy calmer, happier lives.
Healthy people put energy into managing conflict. Then they let it go.
Think of how anger takes it out of you if you don’t deal with it well! Anger is energy. You can spend time and money lashing out and destroying things and relationships; you stuff it down so long that it takes its toll on your body and health; or you can deal with the problem with logic and respect for yourself and your mate.
The Healthy Alternative: Exert Energy To Resolve The Conflict
Healthy conflict resolution is the alternative to flying off the handle or simply squashing your feelings. The opportunity to resolve a problem exists even before the feeling of anger occurs, right at the moment when we feel upset about some situation or person. What’s that trigger? Maybe it’s frustration, betrayal, confusion, the feeling that we’ve been wronged, even surprise; all those feelings may pre-exists before the feeling of anger.
And it’s a really good idea to simply deal with those emotions before they escalate!
How do you do that when you’re seeing red with another person? You must see the opportunity in it. As you put your energy into managing conflict, several benefits show up as a natural consequence:
- The relationship grows stronger after working through conflict
- You learn how to compromise and come up with solutions that serve both parties, which often delivers a better outcome than one person getting their way.
- The work you put into co-existing makes your life happier, calmer, and more productive.
- Both partners get to practice and learn listening skills
- You understand more deeply what’s important to you and your spouse.
How do you resolve the conflict in a way that serves both parties?
Just as most anger is expressed verbally, talking it out is the best way to diffuse conflict, too. Unfortunately women tend to like to talk about things a lot more than men do, so this may seem like an unfair “battle ground.” However, women who can deal with their emotions and men who can engage in a give and take of words and ideas, are able to manage conflict better than people who let their conflict escalate into anger and tear the relationship apart.
Communication problems are the main reason couples come into therapy, and learning how to do it well with your spouse is my best recommendation for preventing therapy. But even couples that communicate well get angry and frustrated sometimes. Their choices are: Fighting and showing anger, repressing anger, and resolving conflict before it turns into anger…
Unless they choose another route…
Ask this question, and instantly settle conflict
Triggers for conflict can occur every day if you let them. A careless comment, a dish left in the sink, a disagreement over which sport your son is going to play next season; anything and everything can cause some issues with one or the other partner.
But remember, not everything is worth a fight. Some things are better dropped than brought up. My advice to my clients is this:
If it’s something that you won’t care about in the morning, let it go. Is there a way to see a bigger picture that might be helpful to you both?
If it’s something that’s going to bug you until it’s resolved, then by all means get it on the table. Just remember to do your best to stay calm, make sure it’s a good time for both of you and listen as well as speak.
I promise, if you get really clear about what matters to you, you can keep peace and happiness in your house and relationships.
Another Healthy Channel For Anger
I bring this up last because this management tool doesn’t fall under communication styles, or even the experience of being in a partnership. However, it’s still very potent!
You can creatively express anger through exercise, journaling, art, or even starting a movement of like-minded people.
Anger directed at a positive, constructive outcome transfers the energy to a work of creation that did not exist before. Many great works of art, and sweeping reforms of states and institutions, germinated from the seeds of anger in communities and individuals.
The feeling of anger is not the problem; It’s what you do with it that matters.