It happens to all of us. One day you find yourself looking at your partner in disbelief, the first flush of anger crawling up your neck like the mercury in a summer thermometer.
How can you do/say/think that?
Why did I ever decide to be with you? What in the world was I thinking?
You’re so aggravating/frustrating/self-centered/stupid/annoying.
It’s normal. Two imperfect and different people will collide sometimes.
And learning how to handle your frustrations towards your partner is one of the most important aspects of a relationship.
And, no. That doesn’t mean that he or she should change to match your expectations.
It means you learn how to manage your expectations and your reactions. That you accept that your anger has as much (if not more) to do with you as it does with your partner. And that you shift from blame, which only escalates anger, to responsibility, which can mitigate ire. These strategies can help release your anger and can also help to reset the dynamic in the relationship.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Write Him/Her a Note of Appreciation
When we’re angry, we have a tendency to demonize our partner, seeing only the negative and assuming the worst. Help to restore emotional and cognitive balance by making the effort to write a note of appreciation to your partner describing something that he or she does that you are grateful for. You don’t have to deliver the note immediately, although it would nice to hand it over at some point. After all, silent appreciation isn’t really appreciation at all.
Release the Energy
Anger has an energy to it. It demands action. And if we don’t release it physically, the anger tends to come out in our words. So give in to its demands. Strap on your walking or running shoes and get moving. A tired brain is a more rational brain.
Increase Your Efforts
I love the idea that in a good relationship, both partners strive to give just a little more than their partner. So make the commitment to put in 10% more than your partner. Not out of spite or martyrdom, but out of a true desire to feed the relationship. Now, this is difficult to do when you’re already angry because you’re feeling taken advantage of or under-appreciated. And that’s also when it’s most important, as long as you’re truly doing it because you want to see the relationship thrive.
Talk Yourself Down
One of the first skills taught to infants is the ability to self-soothe. Revisit those lessons and talk yourself back from the edge. When cortisol and adrenaline are coursing through your body, you are literally unable to process and problem solve effectively. Recognize your (over)reactions and calm them.
Engage in Life
When the situation becomes more chronic, we have a tendency to become stuck in anger. Allow life to be a distraction and a passion. Just like you don’t have to wait to live until you are healed, you don’t have to wait to live until the anger is gone. Jump head-first into things that bring you fulfillment and excitement. Besides, sometimes anger at our partner is really misplaced anger because we are not living our own lives fully.
Refrain From Grasping
Sometimes, especially in those of us with abandonment issues, anger walks hand-in-hand with panic. It can lead to a crazy push-pull dance of “leave me alone, but don’t leave me.” Recognize if this is your response and learn to calm your anxiety before it controls you.
Give Space, Not Distance
When anger sparks, the flames jump from one body to the next when they are in proximity. As a result, it can be helpful to give (and receive) space when anger is present. Be careful, however. There is a difference between space and distance. Space says, “I’m still here with you and for you. I may not be by your side physically, but we are still in this together.” In contrast, distance declares, “I’m out. I’m done.” Space gives both people room to breathe, whereas distance sucks the life out of the relationship.
Explore Your Triggers
Often what we’re angry at is not what we think we are angry at. Take the time to explore your triggers with an open mind. Follow the threads of the anger and see where they lead. Their roots are often in the past and often not related to the current partner. Make sure that you’re not blasting the current relationship with flames from an old one.
Burn the Scorecard
Nothing fuels a fight (or degrades a relationship) like scorekeeping. It pits you against each other instead of for the marriage. Burn (metaphorically, I assume) any used scorecards and refuse to partake in any future scorekeeping. Use strategies to evict any thoughts of tit for tat from your mind. Because if you keep score, it’s your relationship that loses.
We’re often told to “never go to bed angry.” Yet sometimes sleep is exactly what we need to provide rest and perspective. So, sleep. And count to ten while you’re counting sheep.
Assume the Best
When we’re angry, we often jump to conclusions and anticipate responses before we hear them. We construct a narrative that feeds the anger and assumes the worst. Turn it around. Instead of assuming the the worst, try assuming the best. It’s still based on your expectations (and so may be false), but it primes the pump for a better experience.
Assume He/She Wants the Best For You
And while you’re busy assuming, go ahead and assume that your partner wants what’s best for you. Even if he/she isn’t always great at showing or expressing it. After all, wouldn’t you want them to do the same for you?