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6 Ways to Respond to a Partner’s Temper Tantrums

We need to go beyond behaviors such as setting boundaries or leaving the room.

Key points

  • Temper tantrums coming consistently from a partner can be distressing.
  • Popular approaches are to help the person focus on behaviors, such as correcting and boundary-setting.
  • Yet, there is more to do, including a willingness to forgive people from the distant past who were unjust.
  • The "more" can also include helping the person grow in humility if narcissism is present.

Janice was perplexed. The smallest issue on her part would send her partner, Joshua, into a rage. He would stomp around and even throw things within the home.

Although Janice knew that all of us are imperfect and can get angry, this was different. Joshua showed frequent displays of temper, about once every two weeks and over a long period of time. The anger tended to be intense and much stronger than the situation warranted. For example, she once served pancakes for dinner, and Joshua exploded, blaming her for inadequate nutrition as he stormed out of the house. After over a year of enduring this, she realized that a change had to occur.

Tantrums in a partner are challenging episodes based on the advice one finds on Google. For example, people are advised to set boundaries, which is good because it protects you. Saying you will leave the room can quiet the tantrum if there is no one else there toward whom the partner can temporarily vent the anger. Yet, these are behavioral approaches for temporary relief. The point of this essay is to discuss ways to eliminate the tantrums altogether or at least to make them very infrequent.

Here are six ideas worth considering:

1. Offering insight into the not-so-obvious cause

So often, the person having a temper tantrum is responding to something in the immediate environment or at least to something that happened recently. For example, the partner might have been frustrated at work four hours ago. Now comes the tantrum.

If these are frequent, look beyond the present and the not-so-distant past. Look even farther back. Did the partner’s father show similar behavior? Did the partner develop anger at injustices while in childhood or adolescence that are not yet healed?

It may help if the partner sees that he was disrespected in childhood, and so resentment remains. Yet, this is not a final solution to the tantrums because this focuses only on insight. Once a person has insight, the point is to move toward healing from both the insight and the substance underlying the insight.

Pojoslaw / Dreamstime
Source: Pojoslaw / Dreamstime

2. Suggesting forgiveness of others from the distant past who wounded your partner

Here, the point is to actively work on the insight from number 1 above and to forgive those who planted the idea: “You are not worth that much” or “You are a bad kid.” This pathway to forgiving takes time and practice because these wounds from parents can run deeply within a person. After all, a parent is supposed to love and protect, and when there is even subtle condemnation, this can leave deep emotional wounds.

3. Suggesting forgiveness of others who modeled tantrums

Perhaps the issue from the past is not about direct disrespect. Perhaps there is a modeling effect here in that one of the parents demonstrated tantrums; your partner observed these, internalized these, and now displays them to you. This still is a forgivable offense because your partner was deeply hurt by these actions, even though they might not have been directed specifically in the partner’s direction. It is still unjust to display this in front of the young person, so moving forward with forgiving now is appropriate.

4. What if the tantrums stem from narcissism and not from unjust treatment?

It is possible that your partner has no issue of major injustice suffered in the distant past. Instead, perhaps the partner was spoiled by the parents, who gave the developing child everything ever requested or perhaps even demanded with little sanction for inappropriate behavior. This may be more difficult to uncover because it is very challenging for the one who has narcissistic tendencies to admit these. So, patience and finding the right time to gently point out displays of narcissism are important.

This, again, is insight—if the partner is willing to eventually accept this situation from the evidence you present. You will need to move more deeply than insight alone because insight will not necessarily alter behavior.

5. Under the condition of narcissism by the partner, begin to bring up the moral virtue of humility.

I have discussed the moral virtue of humility at some length in a previous Psychology Today essay. In that previous essay, I defined humility this way: “It thus is a view of the self as mortal and therefore imperfect, yet capable of higher moral accomplishment, without putting oneself first or being dominated by pride.”

Humility, at least some of the time, seems to be able to lessen anger and boost good attitudes toward other people as a person honestly assesses their own justifiable inadequacies (Ruberton, Kruse, and Lyubomirsky, 2016). Further, acknowledging one’s own shortcomings and being humble could make it easier for a person to forgive oneself. According to research by Onody, Woodyatt, Wenzel, Cibich, Sheldon, and Cornish (2020), those with greater humility were more inclined to forgive themselves and stop being overly defensive of the offensive action. The study had 194 participants.

6. Suggest that you both work as a team on self-improvement in forgiveness and humility.

If you ask your partner to be the only one to improve in forgiveness and humility, it may give the message that you are perfect and the partner is far from it. Take a different approach and admit that both of you need to forgive people from the past, and both need to grow in humility and self-forgiveness. Make it a cooperative effort in which you support each other as you grow in your humanity.


I am suggesting a switch from the popular remedy of focusing on insight alone or on behavior alone, such as calming oneself, setting boundaries, or temporarily leaving the room. These are important skills, but at the same time, they are temporary. They are not going deeply enough into the life of the one showing the tantrums.

Instead, I am suggesting here that you encourage the following in your partner and in yourself: a) growth in the moral virtue of forgiving others from the past, b) appreciating and practicing humility, and c) growth in self-forgiveness for the wrong caused to others and to the self. To grow in any moral virtue takes effort, patience, and practice, but these can lead to an internal transformation that changes the character of the one who was consistently letting loose with temper tantrums. The free will to practice these moral virtues, with your support, may just temper the tantrums in your partner.

Facebook image: oneinchpunch/Shutterstock


Onody, A.P., Woodyatt, L., Wenzel, M., Cibich, M., Sheldon,A., & Cornish, M.A. (2020). Humility and its relationship to self-condemnation, defensiveness and self-forgiveness following interpersonal transgressions. Journal of Psychology and Theology,

Ruberton, P. M., Kruse, E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2016). Boosting state humility via gratitude, self-affirmation, and awe: Theoretical and empirical perspectives. To appear in E. Worthington, D. Davis, & J. Hook (Eds.), Handbook of humility. New York: Routledge.

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