- Patience empowers you to tap into the space between an event and your response to it to become more mindful.
- Compassion invites your partner to understand their anger and express it in a less-explosive manner.
- Assertiveness allows you to express your wants respectfully while considering your partner’s wishes.
This is Part 3 of a three-part series in which I offer strategies for relating effectively with an angry partner.
For many of us, experiencing anger—our own or our partner’s—is one of the biggest obstacles to communicating. We may feel that our needs and emotions are unacceptable and suppress our responses as a result, leading to resentment and a feeling that we have betrayed ourselves. We may find our partner’s anger disconcerting in a way that sends us into a fight-flight-or-flee mode, where it’s difficult to form coherent thoughts and respond confidently. Or we may become so caught up in the power and righteousness of our own anger that we blast our partner with words and actions we later regret.
In the first post in this three-part series, I presented some strategies for heading off anger. But that isn’t always an option; sometimes the fuse is already lit, and we just have to face anger and do our best. Communicating in the context of anger is a varsity-level relationship skill, so, in this post, I’ll offer some time-tested strategies for listening and expressing yourself when tempers have flared. My hope is to equip you to be the partner you mean to be, no matter what.
Patience is the ability to refrain from reacting to anger-provoking situations. It is about waiting—not speaking or doing anything that you would later regret. With patience, you build the resiliency to face your partner’s anger as well as your own. Patience empowers you to tap into the space between an event and your response to it. I mention it first because it has great power; it’s not an exaggeration to say that it can serve as the antidote to anger. It is patience that allows you to pause, so you can respond rather than react.
Facing anger with patience can seem torturous. Yet, patience allows you to experience anger in a deeper, more nuanced way. It gives you the opportunity to stay with the underlying fear, pain, and sorrow you feel rather than releasing them in impulsive action. It also offers the chance to be with your partner’s underlying emotions. Patience and compassion are the foundations of positive energy and cooperation in relationships.
Communicate With Care
When one person communicates calmly and without judgment, others feel safe and free to honestly share their feelings, thoughts, needs, and desires without pressure. Communicating with care invites your partner to focus on the true reason for their anger and express it in a less explosive manner.
Before you speak, ask yourself the following questions about what you wish to say to your partner: Is it true? Is it kind? Is your partner willing and ready to listen? If the answer to any of these questions is no, consider not saying it. In some moments, silence can be more powerful than words.
When you learn the art of communicating with care, you’ll be amazed at how many conflicts can be solved. This is the roadmap for how to listen to others: with respect, courtesy, and kindness.
Actively Listen, Understand, and Validate
People often act with anger because they believe they are being ignored, not being taken seriously, or not being appreciated. Validating your partner can help them calm down. Often, we think we are listening to our partner when, in fact, we are deflecting their message or preparing to defend our position. As a result, the other person understandably doesn’t “feel heard.” To avoid amplifying your partner’s anger, it’s important to actively listen to them until they feel heard and understood.
Validation requires you to be present and make a genuine attempt at understanding their position. Try to comprehend their deepest needs, feelings, and experiences. Validation is a powerful way to communicate acceptance of others; you are recognizing and considering your partner’s perspective. At the heart of active listening is mindful acceptance—that is, the ability to accept your own thoughts and feelings, and to accept other people as they are, not as you would like them to be.
Active listening occurs when you make a conscious effort to not only hear the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to try to understand the complete message being sent. Asking questions is a powerful way to clarify and probe for more information with the intention of gaining a better understanding of the other person’s perspective. Asking questions also shifts people away from their negative emotional state and can calm their partner.
Think Influence, Not Control
Don’t try to change your partner or control their behavior. It is a waste of energy. You can, however, influence your partner. You do this by creating a positive environment that is conducive to cooperation rather than control and by showing them the value of changing their behavior.
In requesting a change from your partner, it is important to convey your deep care and compassion. You may have heard the saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” When you treat your partner with sweetness, you bring them closer to you—and closer to understanding how you feel and what you wish. This approach will lead to greater collaboration and a better outcome. It is through influence, not control, that you will arrive at a win–win solution.
Being assertive is a respectful technique that allows you to express your wants directly while at the same time considering your partner’s wishes. It’s an effective way to institute healthy boundaries. Being assertive is the middle ground between the extremes of aggression and passivity. Most people respond more calmly to assertiveness than they do to either aggression or passivity.
Assertiveness allows you to find effective ways to stand up for yourself and other people. It is characterized by clear, respectful, and confident communication. You express your feelings, thoughts, and opinions in a way that is open and that does not violate the rights of others.
Assertiveness comes naturally when you communicate without blame and emphasize care. When you act and speak in an assertive manner, you are confident, honest, and open. By skillfully employing assertiveness, you empower yourself and your partner, and this promotes a collaborative environment in which the two of you can resolve the situation.
There’s no doubt that anger presents challenges when it comes to communication. Yet, it can also be fertile ground for growth. By committing to practicing effective communication skills, you soothe not only your own distress but also your partner’s. The result is more ease, peace, and harmony in your relationship.