How Uncontrolled Anger Destroys Relationships

Anger is a normal emotion. It stems from feeling hurt, anxious, shame, or powerlessness. Although it’s a natural emotion, it is often seen as a problem, even evil, bad, or wrong. However, it’s important to remember that feeling anger is an internal experience.  How anger is expressed is an external issue that can affect others, including those who are close to us and who we love the most. Without control, anger can destroy our closest relationships.

Holding in Anger vs Lashing Out

Of course, some people never express anger at all and hold it in. It’s a short-term strategy that doesn’t work for very long. That’s because, when someone holds in all their emotion and doesn’t express it appropriately, it will eventually bubble up and turn into “last straw” experiences. Then, it is explosively and inappropriately let out. Sometimes those who’ve experienced an angry or abusive parent can follow this ineffective approach. As a child, one who learned to keep their anger inside in order to avoid the wrath of that parent. Of course, this can lead to a host of problems as an adult that are just as serious. The key to remember in both cases is that there are productive and destructive ways to express anger and all negative emotions.

Helping vs. Hurting Relationships

When we attack or yell at our partner constantly we are slowly destroying our relationship. No one likes being attacked, physically or verbally. Using anger as a way of attacking our partner only leads to them feeling:

  • Less physically and emotionally safe.
  • More reluctant to be vulnerable and open.
  • Less likely to trust their partner.

However, when we express anger productively without attacking our partner, those emotions can actually contribute to having a productive dialogue. To get an idea of how to express yourself appropriately with your partner, go here.

Research into Anger and Relationships

The Gottman Institute in Seattle, WA has done research on the topic of anger and relationships. They investigated what happens when couples get really worked up and angry with each other.

They discovered when you are angry enough- which they define as emotion that causes your heart rate to rise above 100 beats per minute –   (they refer to this as being emotionally flooded) – you cannot process information effectively. Being emotionally flooded means you become so overwhelmed with your feelings that you simply can’t process everything around you. You become less able to look at things objectively and make good decisions. I tell couples that when you are emotionally flooded you can easily express (usually yell) your side of the argument, but you can’t understand them. It’s as if they are speaking a foreign language.  

When this happens there is that breakdown in communication that damages or destroys relationships. Yet there are ways that couples can calm down and self-soothe to ensure their anger doesn’t become destructive.

Ideas to Avoid Uncontrolled Anger

Couples who struggle with anger have several options available to keep things under control. These include:

  • Rescheduling the argument for another time. Being specific when picking out a day or time.  The sooner the better, if possible.
  • Learn to be more mindful and aware of your emotional state.
  • If you get too upset, don’t continue. Go back to step 1 and reschedule! Keep things from getting too heated. Otherwise, it becomes impossible to take back things you regret saying or doing.
  • Learn self-management and emotional soothing strategies. Besides mindfulness, learn relaxation techniques, listening skills, and being able to see things from the other person’s perspective.

If you or your partner is still struggling with anger that negatively impacts your relationship, then you need to see a therapist and possibly participate in an anger management program.

Although anger is a natural, human emotion, it can be the source of a lot of pain and anguish in relationships. All too often anger when left unchecked leads to hurt feelings, a lack of understanding, and in the worst cases physical and emotional harm. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way!

By learning some simple coping strategies combined with therapy, couples can experience anger without having to act on those rage-filled feelings. This means less destructive relationships and better communication between partners.

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