Is it really hard to deal with healthy anger in a relationship?
Have you ever wondered why we get angry?
According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, “Emotions are, at their core, motives for action, the immediate plans for dealing with life that evolution has instilled in us.”
in his book emotional smartnessGoleman tells us that anger causes blood to flow into our hands, making it easier for us to hit an enemy or carry a weapon.
Our heart rate speeds up and the rush of hormones—including adrenaline—surges energy hard enough to take ‘powerful action’. In this way, anger is embedded in our brain to protect us.
The purpose of anger
Think of Fury like an iceberg, I found a big piece of ice floating in the open ocean. Most of the glacier is hidden under the water’s surface.
Likewise, when we are angry, there are usually other emotions hidden beneath the surface. It’s easy to see a person’s anger but it can be hard to see the feelings behind the anger.
For example, Dave thought he had an anger problem. When his wife asks him, he criticizes her.
He didn’t like his reactions, but he felt he couldn’t help it. As he worked on mindfulness and began to notice the distance between his anger and his actions, the door opened to a deep realization.
He didn’t really have an anger issue. Instead, he felt that his wife was placing impossible demands on him.
By seeking to understand and accept his anger, rather than mending or suppressing it, he began to improve his marriage by acknowledging his anger as a signal that he needed to set healthy boundaries for what he would and wouldn’t do.
Dave’s story points to an important concept. as such Susan David, Ph.D.The author of Agility Agility says,
“Our raw feelings can be the messengers we need to teach us things about ourselves and can motivate us to gain insight into important life directions.” Her point is that there is something beneath the surface of our anger.
Anger is the protector of raw emotions
Anger is often described as a “secondary emotion” because people tend to use it to protect their raw, weak, and stressful feelings.
Under Dave’s wrath was pure exhaustion and the feeling that he wasn’t good enough for his wife. So his anger was protecting him from an extremely painful disgrace.
Learning to recognize anger as a protector of our raw feelings can be incredibly powerful. It can lead to healing conversations that allow couples as well as children and parents to understand each other better.
Below is what we call the Iceberg of Rage because it shows the “elementary feelings” lurking beneath the surface. Sometimes it’s embarrassment, loneliness, exhaustion, or fear.
You can download a free PDF of Anger Iceberg here.
3 tips for listening to anger
One of the hardest things about listening to a child’s or lover’s anger, especially when it is directed at us, is that we act on the defensive.
We want to resist because our anger boils to the surface. If this happens, we get into a heated verbal battle that leaves both parties feeling misunderstood and hurt. Here are three powerful tips for listening to anger.
1. Don’t take it personally
Your partner or child’s anger is usually not about you. It comes down to their basic core feelings. Not taking this personally requires a high level of emotional intelligence.
One way I do this is to be curious as to why they are angry. It’s easier for me to become defensive, but I found the thinking,
“Wow, this person is angry, why is that?”
He leads me on a journey to see the raw feelings they protect and bring us closer to each other.
2. Never tell your partner to “calm down”
When I work with couples and one partner gets angry, I’ve watched the other partner say, “Calm down” or “You’re overreacting.” This tells the recipient that their feelings are not important and that they are not acceptable.
The goal here is not to change or repair your partner’s feelings but rather to sit on the iceberg of anger with them. Tell that you understand and accept their feelings.
When you do this well, your partner’s anger will subside and underlying feelings will rise to the surface. Not to mention, they’ll feel like you’re hearing them, which builds trust over time.
Perhaps you grew up in a family where anger is not allowed, so when your partner expresses it, you feel paralyzed and you freeze.
Or maybe you are trying to resolve their anger to them because their anger scares you. Open yourself up to experience the full range of feelings for you and your partner.
3. Obstacle identification
Anger is often caused by an obstacle that prevents the goal. For example, if your partner’s goal is to feel special on their birthday and missing a loved one for their special day makes them angry, identifying the obstacle will give you insight into why they are angry.
The bottom line is that people get angry for a reason. Your job is to understand them and sit with them.
By doing this, you will not only help them understand their anger, but you will become closer to them in the process.
Apply these 3 ways to deal with your partner’s healthy anger and also preserve your relationship
Written by Kyle Benson