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Dealing with Anger in a Relationship

Part of the Improving Your Relationship For Dummies Cheat Sheet

We all get angry with our partners from time to time. Try the following tips to help you to minimise the destructive effects of anger on you and your relationship:

  • Address anger immediately. When you first start noticing the signs of anger, ask your partner what’s happening. Leaving an angry person to nurse her hurt makes things worse, not better.

  • Keep calm. Anger fuels anger, so the calmer you can remain, the quicker your partner’s anger subsides. Shouting at a partner in a rage escalates her anger, and joining a passive aggressive partner in sulking can make the situation continue for ever.

  • Acknowledge your partner’s feelings. Openly saying ‘I can see you’re angry’ and, if appropriate, ‘I understand you’re angry about . . . ’ prevents your partner from feeling that she has to prove how she feels either by throwing her weight around or retreating into silence.

  • Show that you’re listening. People often continue to be angry because they don’t think they’re being listened to or taken seriously. Use active listening techniques to be sure that your partner feels heard.

  • Share your feelings. If you’re feeling angry too, then say so. If you’re feeling nervous, upset or frustrated by your partner’s anger, then share that also. This is especially important with passive aggression, when a partner may want to deny that her behaviour has any impact on you.

  • Be conciliatory. Behave in a way that demonstrates that you want to make peace. That may mean saying you’re sorry or acknowledging your role in a problem, or reaching out physically.

  • Use the broken record technique. Someone in the middle of a rage often jumps from one point to another without taking time to listen to what you’re saying, and someone who’s passive aggressive may continue to make the same jibe over and over again.

    The broken record technique can help you to stick to your guns, and to the point. Simply repeat, calmly but assertively, what you want to say. For example, ‘This was a misunderstanding, I didn’t mean what I said the way you heard it’ or ‘I know you’re angry, but I can’t change my work commitments.’

  • Try fogging. This is a helpful technique to fend off unreasonable criticism, whether that’s through the nagging of passive aggression or in the midst of an angry outburst. Rather than arguing with your partner, you take the wind out of her sails by agreeing in part, or fogging.

    For example, if your partner’s accusing you of being selfish all the time, say, ‘I agree that sometimes I don’t think about the impact things have on you and I should try harder.’ Or if she’s angry with you for being late, you can say, ‘I’m sorry I was unavoidably late, and I should have rung you earlier to let you know.’

  • Make a negative assertion: When criticism’s deserved, however it’s expressed, you may often be tempted to become defensive or try to justify yourself. Negative assertion stops an argument in its tracks by calmly and seriously agreeing with what’s been said. You say, ‘You’re right, I was wrong, I shouldn’t have . . . ’

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