Is There an Anger Problem in Your Relationship?

Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But
to be angry with the right person, to the right
degree, at the right time, for the right purpose
and in the right way… that is not easy.

For around three years, my husband and I have participated in a couples’ enrichment program. As members of the core team, I was misguided in thinking our sole responsibility would be to share our experience, strength and hope. We were additionally required to dissect our own relationship in areas of communication, pinpoint our need for growth and apply the program’s tools to slowly move forward. (Ouch!) The lesson on anger was an unavoidable hot topic that Scott and I had wrestled with over the years. Many of our worst memories from those hostile times had been brushed under the rug, taking the opportunity for growth and healing with them.

In sharing a brief synopsis of our dealings with anger, I’ll be stepping out on a limb in an effort to relate to those with similar struggles. We have been lucky to encounter people who could guide us forward and teach us tools. Yes, most couples fight; within reason, disagreeing can be quite useful in conflict resolution and moving on to healthy decision-making. However, anger can also be a toxic, painful, heartbreaking practice that strips away at any positive emotional foundation a couple shares. The damage burrows deeper than the initial wrongdoing ever would have had the power to do. Knowing this from experience, I would like to touch on what we have learned. Most importantly: Left unaddressed, anger has the power to take from us everything that we treasure.

There are two identifiable extremes when dealing with anger, neither of which is healthy. One person may choose to hold in or ‘stuff’ their feelings to avoid conflict or keep the peace. Another, having little ability to take that route, might let loose, blow up, saying and doing things they will later regret. Men and women can vacillate between the two and couples can include any combination of these behaviors.

It is important to note that anger is an emotion which, like all emotions, is neither right nor wrong; it is the behavior that accompanies it that can be unacceptable. So, learning to deal with anger in a healthy way was something we had to be taught. We have come a long way over the years; but, this is where we began…

In my adult life, I’ve never been a stuffer. I learned early on in my relationships, men would prefer I quiet down. For them, the silent treatment would have been a blessing, so the rebel in me embraced the opposite behavior. When a situation erupted, I would lash out verbally, throw things, slam doors and take off in the car, tires squealing. Over the years, working on myself in a 12 step program toned that down… slowly. Early on when things blew up with Scott, I would angrily say things like, “Are you #{1af1d6fd20039196de8b3c623c6b1a3013651a36e10fd63d67c01c78a1ea15aa}$*& kidding me? That’s a bunch of &#@{1af1d6fd20039196de8b3c623c6b1a3013651a36e10fd63d67c01c78a1ea15aa}! You’re nothing but a {1af1d6fd20039196de8b3c623c6b1a3013651a36e10fd63d67c01c78a1ea15aa}*&@! I’m sick of your #@{1af1d6fd20039196de8b3c623c6b1a3013651a36e10fd63d67c01c78a1ea15aa}$!” Words that cut and scar, drive away or infuriate beyond measure.

Seething anger on the verge of explosion has a life of its own. Did you ever look into the eyes of a man and know/feel that he really wanted to hit you? I mean knock you out??? Some men will; some men would never. In my younger years, I had been in relationships with both. Without shouldering total blame, even I realized that I was the common denominator. There was something about the way I communicated that drove men insane! If I wanted to partner with Scott in a long-term, loving relationship, it was up to me to honestly discover what that was.

For starters, I could never keep my mouth shut. If an angry thought popped into my head, it spewed out of my mouth like dragon fire… no filter, no caution… forget counting to ten! Cleaning up my mouth was a good place to start. A man once told me, “Cussing is a crutch for conversational cripples.” Ouch!! But there was truth in his statement. I used profanity when I couldn’t or wouldn’t find the words to express my true feelings. It always put Sam on the defensive and made things worse. Just taking every nasty word I wouldn’t use in daily conversation out of an argument diffused it quite a bit.

Next, it was suggested that I look at all the accusations I threw around. YOU, YOU, YOU! If Scott is the only problem in our relationship, then I’m in trouble, because I’ve learned I can’t change him. I can only control my own actions. At first, looking inward was a foreign concept, next to impossible! It was an eye opener to own the harsh nature of my verbal attacks and my insane focus on Scott’s need to change that was fueled by my own self-righteousness. “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry” could be soothing balm for our broken condition, but for years they stayed chained to my pride and ego, never being spoken.

Unresolved anger is the most dangerous marital problem I feel we’ve confronted. It would invariably spin into feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of leaving or divorce. We are both capable of out of control behavior that can do devastating damage. Ironically, handled with some simple tools, we have seen it can be diffused before it escalates. Acknowledging the warning signs of a raised voice, tense muscles or a knot in my stomach, gives me the cue to take a breath, bite my tongue and walk away if necessary. Tabling an issue and making a specific time to talk later, after we’ve had time to cool off and reflect, has saved us from ourselves many times.

We both wanted to communicate our feelings and be heard by the other; but once out of control, our anger made that impossible. One of us may have had a valid concern to begin with, but lacking the skills to communicate effectively would leave us furious. Eventually, the original issue would take a back seat to the unacceptable behavior that overshadowed it. We learned through the pain of failure and the fear of causing irreparable damage that we could not get rid of our anger problem ourselves. Seeking out advice, suggestions and specific tools to apply where our old ways failed were vital steps necessary for making changes.

I am humbled to admit the reality of our past, but I am genuinely proud that we faced our inadequacies and found ways to rise above them. We are and forever will be a work in progress. Knowing positive change is possible, we encourage others to be open to taking the tough steps that can bring peace and contentment back into areas which may seem hopeless. I don’t believe a relationship can maintain itself on a daily basis; we are either building it up or tearing it down. It is a choice; my choice; our choice. We are resigned to the fact that there will always be more for us to learn! But we believe having to rebuild after something is totally demolished is much more difficult than taking care of the required maintenance a day at a time.