Relationship Anger

Is the anger in your relationship healthy or dysfunctional?

Posted Jan 27, 2019

Anger in a relationship is normal, however, if it is not understood and resolved, it may lead to ambivalence and resentment. Distinguishing whether the anger is healthy or dysfunctional is critical. Generally, there are two kinds of “relationship anger.”

The first type is frequently experienced when one person in the relationship continually feels like they are not understood. For example, a husband is angry because his wife arrives home late on his birthday.  She repeatedly explains to him why she is late but her justifications fail to convey a sincere understanding of how he feels. After awhile she demands he forget about it and move on.  In essence, she is only able to operate from her own perspective, disavowing an awareness of her husband's feelings.

A second example transpires when the crisis exists outside of the relationship, but negatively impacts it. For example, Lisa expresses anger and hurt about being skipped over for a promotion, yet her partner, Tim, does not offer understanding. Instead Tim takes an, “I told you so” or “this is what you should do to fix it” stance. He communicates what he thinks and feels without attempting to consider how Lisa feels, leaving her feeling more alone.  Feeling misunderstood by the outside world is difficult but coming home to a person who doesn’t “get it” or refuses to try, makes things far worse.

The continual experience of rarely feeling understood causes intense anger. Moreover, the process of attempting to re-explain feelings when they fall on “deaf ears” often escalates a person’s agitation. In this situation, a person’s anger is warranted because they are not feeling respected and understood by the one person in life who “signed up” to do that. Although the anger a person feels in this situation is understandable, the dynamic should be addressed immediately. The person’s partner needs to be made aware of his or her lack of understanding and glean incite on how to do things better.  

The second type of anger, which is less about a person’s emotional needs and more about superficial wants, may be dysfunctional. Usually, it resembles an adult temper tantrum centered around things not going a person’s way. 

For example, say Pat returns home and finds toys strewn around the house, a crabby child, and Sunday dinner burning in the oven. Pat is angered, reprimands her partner, and retreats to the bedroom.  Pat refuses to pitch in and help her partner because she is angry things are not going the way she believes they should go. Unfortunately, Pat is only able to think about what she wants in the moment, and may be displaying a type of anger that is dysfunctional. 

A second example involves a situation when one person, Tom, identifies that he is hurt by something that his partner did. If his partner becomes angry and attempts to flip the script and blame Tom for things, the anger is defensive in nature and may be unhealthy. Although it’s natural for a person to be unsettled when they hear they did something that impacted their partner, reacting defensively, deflecting responsibility, and projecting blame on the partner, may not be healthy expressions of the anger.

Anger is a healthy and necessary emotion. However, the manner in which a person acts on the anger may be problematic. If the anger arises because a person does not feel consistently understood by their partner, it may be justified. The dynamic should be addressed quickly, so love, closeness, and fun are restored. On the other hand, if a person expresses anger because things are not going their way and they refuse to try and understand their partner’s perspective, it may be a highly defensive display of anger. Either way, it may help to get counseling in order to help sort it out, so the relationship remains healthy and happy.

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