To kick this Rebuilding a Relationship Series off, let’s look at an issue so many couples struggle with, namely unhelpful emotions, anger, in particular. When you struggle to control your anger in a relationship the likelihood of constant conflict but unresolved issues increase. A lot of words might be thrown around but that doesn’t necessarily mean any are being heard or acted upon.
The first step in rebuilding a relationship, therefore, has to start with this common notion of controlling emotions and more specifically controlling your anger.
Here’s a fact that’s hard to deny – many, if not most, people have to learn to control their anger in conversation with others. And, if asked, most people would also most likely tell you that learning to do that is a definite important skill.
This is probably even more true for those of us in serious romantic relationships.
Learning to control your anger is absolutely vital if you want to stand any chance of creating a relational environment that’s conducive to healthy communication and conflict resolution.
No doubt about it.
However, this is where it gets interesting with couples, in that although you may recognise the necessity of controlling your anger you may NOT YET recognise 1) when you lose your temper (frequency, even if just perceived by others) or 2) how devastating it can be to your partner (whether you agree with that or not).
If there’s one thing I need you to take from this post on controlling your anger it’s this,
Relationships can be won or lost by your skills to disagree with your partner.
Why? Because it’s never THAT we disagree with our partners that matters, but always HOW we disagree that does.
How you choose to disagree and manage conflict can literally make or break you.
Now, a logical question at this point is, what do we do if we’re at a point where EVERYTHING seems to set us off and lead to huge arguments?
And the shortest, simplest answer to that would be, learn to get very good at calling and taking time out and cooling down before re-engaging to resolve whatever issues need to be resolved.
This might not sound like a big or even helpful strategy, but anyone who has ever been in relationships where their partner has been disrespectful and hurtful when angry will appreciate the importance of a person who knows how to walk away from a disagreement when anger flares up until they can control their anger.
I want to make this very clear – taking time out or walking away when anger is the overriding emotion and a partner is being disrespectful or hurtful, does NOT mean you’re avoiding the issue on the table.
It just means that you have a better chance of resolving that issue when you’re in a calm, collected, and helpful state.
Taking time out can give you that.
And, if you are in a relationship now which needs a bit of repair or rebuilding because of built-up resistance, it’s even more important to recognise if or how one or both of you are expressing yourself when you’re angry when it matters most.
Now, anger is not the issue here. I need to make that clear.
It’s just an emotion like any other emotion.
The real issue is appropriateness.
Is anger the most appropriate emotion to generate when you need to be able to think clearly in times of stress or when a solution is needed?
The answer is, no.
Just from a pure brain perspective, it’s not appropriate or helpful at all.
When you’re in fight-or-flight mode it’s highly unlikely (I want to say impossible) that you’ll tap into your “higher” brain regions responsible for problem-solving and solution-finding.
This means you’ll most likely resort to a reactive type of behaviour rather than proactive thinking and acting.
It’s also important to understand that anger is not something you have to get out of your system in order to avoid blowing up.
Again, it’s just an emotion like any other emotion.
But, as I’ve said before, it’s a matter of situation appropriateness.
For most people, venting anger either physically or verbally only builds the anger and actually makes it more difficult to calm down.
And, the more you generate a certain emotion the easier it gets to trigger it again and again.
That’s why some people might feel that they’re a certain “type” of person – angry, happy calm laid-back etc.
However, it’s actually more a matter of how well practised you are in expressing a certain emotion – the more you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes to trigger that feeling again and again and in different situations.
So, if it feels like you’re “go-to” emotion at the moment in your relationship is anger (or versions of it), it’s NOT because you’re that type of person but rather because you’ve mostly become very good at getting angry very quickly and about anything.
Listen, if the only tool you have in your toolkit is a hammer, every problem will be seen and treated like a nail.
But the actual truth is that although you can’t always control the situation in which you find yourself, you can always control your own emotions.
You CAN control your anger.
Let me prove it to you with a simple example …
Imagine that you’re fighting with your partner and it’s on – yelling, screaming, tears, the whole shebang.
Suddenly the phone rings and it’s a call from your biggest client you’ve been expecting or your boss.
Have you ever noticed how quickly you can shift your state and move from one extreme emotion to another in a matter of seconds?
You answer the phone and your voice will most likely be calm and collected.
You might even sound friendly.
You’ll most likely have a good conversation.
Yet, the moment that phone call ends, what happens?
You rapidly state your state again and you’re back into it with your partner.
How is that possible?
It’s possible because emotions are the result of an internal psychological and physiological process that we can control.
So the takeaway point here is,
You CAN control your anger and other emotions, they do not control you.
Or at least, they don’t have to.
So when you are in an argument with your partner it’s important to control your emotions and express them in a way that is respectful and honours your partner.
You will be amazed by the number of disagreements you’ll solve when you control how you express your anger.
Another thing to consider is the fact that anger is often an emotion that is covering other emotions.
You could be upset about other completely unrelated behaviours, a previous conversation or another issue in your life.
If your first knee jerk reaction is anger then you might have some underlying emotional issues that make it more difficult to control your anger during a conversation or disagreement.
And perhaps that’s something you need to explore on your own or with a professional therapist.
However, while you might have underlying issues it is NOT a reason to continue to express your anger to your partner.
Be aware of your warning signals and situations that trigger your anger and make a plan to get out of the situation before you erupt.
It’s only hurting your relationship in the long run.
Sometimes irreversibly so.
And finally, figure out some ways that work for you to calm down.
Here are some techniques known to help control your anger:
It’s important to want to resolve your anger issues.
Many people with anger management issues don’t view such issues negatively.
Many believe they’re simply being honest.
Others acknowledge that they often get their way when they show a little anger.
So, if you don’t believe that your anger is negatively impacting your life, you won’t reduce its presence in your life.
But that’s a mistake.
Unless you learn to control your anger, your relationship will pay the price in the end.
Be more accepting of others.
What makes us angry?
Generally, it’s when others don’t behave the way we think they should or we want them to.
But perhaps YOU’re being unreasonable or even selfish here.
There are a lot of ways to view the world other than your own.
So if you want to control your anger better, perhaps you need to be willing to accept other points of view, value systems, and ways of doing things.
Avoid making assumptions.
Those that are chronically angry tend to assume “hostile” motives by those who are making them angry.
Do you really know why someone did something?
In most cases, you can’t know!
So why assume their motive in the first place. You don’t read minds.
Put off judging the motivations of others until you have actual proof.
Assume innocence until you have information to the contrary.
And even then, control your anger, because it can easily lead to even more anger, defensiveness and unresolved issues when you don’t.
Take a five-minute break before responding in anger.
Once you’re angry, you don’t think very well … or at all.
So if you’re going to respond in a hostile manner, it’s best to make that decision when you’re calm.
Science has shown that the ability to think rationally is compromised when you’re feeling strong emotions.
You’re acting more from instinct than intellect when you’re angry, as I explained earlier.
So taking time out is often the best response in the interim.
There are many studies that have shown that exercise is helpful in boosting your mood, and it doesn’t even take a lot of exercise.
Just five minutes can be enough to see a benefit.
A short jog, for example, can take the edge off your anger.
But don’t leave it for when you’re angry.
Make exercise a daily routine.
Use relaxation techniques.
Deep breathing, meditation, and music that soothes you can also help.
So can a warm bath, aromatherapy, and spending time doing hobbies that you enjoy.
Try a variety of techniques and stick with the ones that work best for you.
Here is an important note, however, it’s best to make a habit of using relaxation throughout the day, and not just when you’re feeling angry.
Prevention can be the best cure.
Reduce the amount of stress in your life.
Stress puts you closer to the threshold of anger.
Think about everything in your life that causes you stress.
What changes can you make to reduce that stress?
Just doing this alone can go a long way in helping you control your anger.
Take away …
Controlling your anger is really important if you want to repair and rebuild your relationship and grow it into a healthy and strong emotional bond.
I understand that you might feel strongly about certain things in your relationship, whether they be things you value or wrongs that were committed.
However, dealing with these realities through anger is not the most appropriate strategy in the long run.
You need to learn to control your anger if you’re actually serious about resolving lingering issues and growing your relationship.
In the next post in this rebuilding a relationship series, we look at how to create a relationship plan for couples.