As a therapist, I am always emphasizing the importance of communication. Being willing to express and hear each other's feelings is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship. However, some feelings are harder to take than others. Take anger. Anger can be hurtful and scary. It is normal to want to retreat and protect yourself from another's wrath. However, if you want a strong and intimate relationship, all feelings need to be expressed and received. You can't include the nice feelings and exclude the hard ones. It just doesn't work that way.
Some people are better at dealing with anger than others. Some of you may have had anger directed at you in hurtful and damaging ways growing up. Others may have had little experience dealing with anger, having grown up in families that didn't express negative feelings at all. And some of you may have grown up in families where anger was an acceptable emotion that was dealt with in fairly healthy ways. So whichever category you see yourself in, I'd like to give some helpful hints on how to hear—and I mean really hear—your partner's anger in a way that leaves you and your relationship whole as opposed to fragmented.
When your partner expresses anger, consider the following:
- Remember, you are only hearing a feeling. Feelings cannot maim or kill you. They are simply a form of energy that needs to be released.
- Just because your partner is angry with you does not mean she does not love you or want to be with you. Anger, disappointment, frustration, etc. are emotional responses to a situation or event that has occurred and from which something needs to be communicated, addressed and resolved.
- When your partner is angry, it says more about your partner than it does about the person she is angry with. Your partner has reacted in a way that reflects her boundaries, values, beliefs and assumptions. The anger may be very justified or an over reaction based on her past experiences.
- Anger acts as a signal that something is wrong. Anger is the psyche's way of letting you know something is at risk or some injury (usually psychic or emotional) has occurred. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn and understand what that is from the perspective of your partner. This is the time to get to know your partner better. Learn what pushes her buttons and why.
- This is also an opportunity for your partner to heal any past emotional wounds. Truly listening to the pain and hurt that lies underneath the anger allows your partner to self-reflect in a way that results in gaining new perspectives, practicing forgiveness, healing a past wound and letting go of the negative emotions.
So the next time your partner (or anyone for that matter) expresses some anger, try to implement the following process.
- Listen without interrupting. Let you partner say all he needs to say and release the emotional energy. If the energy becomes potentially abusive or begins escalating into physical violence, set a clear boundary and let your partner know you can resume the conversation when the intensity has settled down. In other words, take a time out.
- Let you partner know that you understand he is angry and why. If you're not sure why, ask for clarification and test your understanding. Don't judge. Remember, your partner's feelings feel very real and justified from his perspective.
- Take time to reflect on what your partner has communicated. Take responsibility for anything that belongs to you. Apologize if necessary. Make amends or restitution as needed. Explain things from your perspective if it feels right to do so.
- Ask your partner what he needs from you in order to feel like the matter is resolved. If you are able to provide this (such as a hug, to refrain from criticizing his family, to be more sensitive to his work demands, to help around the house) then agree to make the effort to meet your partner's needs and requests. If you need to say no to the request or disagree with his position, do so in a gentle, yet clear manner. You can explain why you need to say no or you can choose to simply say, "I can't do that for you." Either way, be honest even if that means your partner will be disappointed.
- Let your partner know you care about him and how he feels. Then move on. Let it go.
Remember, anger is a normal part of relationships. Learning how to deal with anger constructively and lovingly is vital to a long standing healthy relationship. Anger doesn't need to be feared, avoided, or acted out destructively. It is a normal human emotion that deserves to be treated with respect and care. Doing so can take your relationship to the next level.
If you or someone you know is struggling with dealing with anger within their relationships, please don't hesitate to contact me. I am here to provide personalized guidance and coaching. And if you want to start right now, go and purchase The Pathway to Love at-home program. You don't need to wait. You can begin the process today. Take advantage of the opportunity receive the support and guidance you deserve.
As always, I'm here to support you in creating a transformational life and strong and powerful relationships.
P.S. Don't forget to catch my radio/TV show Pathways to Love w'Julie Orlov LIVE every Sunday 1:30pm PST on LATalkLive!
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery.
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