More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Dealing with Anger in Relationships
More people are injured by the violent acts of someone they live or work with than from any other source.

Anger, itself, is a normal emotion that everyone feels at one time or another. Experts say that anger develops more often in the family--in marriage and with children--than in any other human relationship. However, angry episodes are often experienced at work, with colleagues and supervisors. When people spend lots of time together, it can, and often does, generate anger.

The frequency and degree of angry episodes vary from person to person. It is when unresolved anger is coupled with workplace and family stress, that it can cause a person's emotional, physical and spiritual health suffer. Eventually the anger can turn to a violent lashing out at the nearest person.

Managing anger successfully can make the difference between misery or happiness. Some experts say that the most critical issue in the success or failure of a marriage may be the way a couple copes with their anger toward each other.

As much as we like horses, few of us would be willing to ride one without a bridle. Using a bridle doesn't deny that the horse exists, nor does it mean that the horse is a bad animal. Quite the contrary. Bridles allow us to manage and guide the horse to accomplish our purposes, like packing deep into a Montana mountain wilderness!

Anger is like an unbridled horse. Unless we govern it, we are at it's mercy. The consequences of uncontrolled anger aren't the ones we really want. Here are some suggestions for bridling anger.

A useful approach is the AREA approach. AREA is an acronym to help people remember a better way to resolve anger. The A stands for "Admitting your anger;" R refers to "Restraining your anger," E stands for "Expressing your anger;" and the last A refers to "Action planning."

It's important to admit to yourself and others that you are feeling angry. Admitting anger also involves noticing signs of hidden anger, such as sarcasm, feelings of frustration or tensed muscles.

You may have been taught to deny your anger feelings, or that they don't matter. But feelings do matter, and feeling angry and acting destructive toward another are two very different things.

Now is the time for great self-honesty. Realize that anger is normal emotion. There's no need for you to feel ashamed or guilty about it. Whether at home or at work, give each other the right to be angry.

Restraining anger involves checking to make sure the bridle is on your intense emotions. Before sharing feelings, ask: Am I in control of myself? If not, you need to first decrease the intensity of the angry feeling. Some strategies that might help are prayer and meditation, deep breathing, vigorous exercise, writing your feelings down in a letter (for yourself), or a good night's rest.

Setting ground rules help restrain anger, too. For example agree that you won't yell at each other unless there is an extreme danger. A firm "no yelling" policy helps keep others from feeling defensive or retaliating in anger. Difficulties can be solved without bickering and strife.

Once in control, express angry feelings calmly and with an attitude of respect, without attacking or blaming the other person.

Explain to the other person why you are angry. This can be done using "I-statements" that have a "Feeling-When-Because" format. For example, I FEEL angry WHEN the barbeque is left on BECAUSE it wastes gas. By expressing anger calmly, you are more likely to be able to explore with the other person the sources of your anger and how such a situation may be prevented in the future.

Be sure to include yourself in the problem. Most problems that cause negative feelings between people are the result of interaction between them, rather than a single person's actions.

Action planning refers to doing something about the cause of the anger. For instance, you may find that your anger was based on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of someone's words or actions. Or, perhaps the anger resulted from one person being pushed beyond their limits of tolerance.

When anger is recognized and approached calmly, respectfully, with the intention of strengthening the relationship and not hurting it, anger can actually encourage growth and intimacy.
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