When we are upset, our anger protects our hurt, our vulnerable feelings, and can lend us a momentary sensation of strength.
This sensation can be intoxicating; when hurt, the impulse to reach for anger can be as strong as an alcoholic’s impulse to reach for a drink.
And unfortunately, like alcohol, anger doesn’t provide lasting relief or solutions.
In fact, when we indulge in anger, it creates problems that we’ll have to clean up once we come to our senses. Thus, it’s in our best interest not to reach for the “bottle” of anger, but to find ways to calm ourselves and connect with our partner.
If you are motivated to prevent anger from negatively affecting your relationship, here are three ways to mitigate your anger in the moment.
1. Take space
Taking space can mean leaving the room, leaving the house, or simply asking your partner if you can return to the discussion later, when you’re more calm. Conflict often triggers a defensive state that is as much physical as mental, and taking a breather can allow us to return later with greater clarity, calm and openness.
Taking space is an underutilized relational move because it can be difficult to do skillfully. I often hear people in my office say they’ve tried taking some space; the problem is that they may have tried to do so without signifying why and when they’ll return. The latter is particularly important.
When you take space, let your partner know when you’re returning, because they may be triggered by you taking indefinite time away. They may be responding to the unresolved anxiety and despair of being left or abandoned stemming from their childhood. But if you are able to take appropriate space, you’ll potentially save the heartache of saying or doing something you’ll deeply regret
2. Share you vulnerability
If you can get to a place where you can identify what is upsetting you in terms of your own fears, insecurities and needs, and speak as a representative for your anger and not from it, you may be in a spot for your partner to hear you. When your partner can hear you, you can connect – and often the lack of connection is the main source of the struggle.
If you can get over the intoxicating ego-pull of your anger, and give your partner a hug or any other appropriate non-threatening touch, you can regulate each other’s anger. Accepted touch can be the quickest way to get each other back to the friendly zone. The primary difficulty with this is actually doing it when you are upset. But if you can manage it, you’ve done relationship judo, and you deserve a black belt for your skill!
In order to grow emotionally, we need to be with what is upsetting and not to run away from our despair, or displace it on our partner through anger. If we can stay with our vulnerability and share it without anger, we can be truly intimate. We will be able to share what bothers us, which will ultimately be a means to connect, thus making the relationship stronger. This is a key foundation of relationship health.
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