How to eliminate anger and increase compassion in your relationship

Anger directed at each other is a formidable force in romantic relationships, capable of inflicting profound damage on both partners. When left unchecked, anger can erode trust, intimacy, and communication, creating a toxic cycle of resentment and hostility. The constant presence of anger can create an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, hindering the ability to resolve conflicts and cultivate emotional connection. Anger is loud, it takes up a lot of space and it can hijack all of the positive aspects of the relationship. Further, anger does not serve the needs of the person expressing it. When angry, all other relationship interfering behaviours are dwarfed – it becomes the focus of the situation and other core issues are lost. 

Beyond the relational strain, the negative physical and mental health consequences of chronic anger are undeniable. From increased stress levels to heightened risk of cardiovascular issues, the toll on one’s well-being can be significant. Moreover, the psychological impact of harbouring anger can lead to anxiety, depression, and a diminished sense of self-worth, further exacerbating the strain on the relationship. In essence, addressing and managing anger is essential for nurturing a healthy and thriving romantic bond.

Why am I so angry?

You are angry because you are stuck in a Secondary Conflict Emotion. Any emotions on the spectrum of anger, from frustration to rage is a secondary conflict emotion. Secondary conflict emotions are not feelings of vulnerability. They occur when there is an unmet and unexpressed inner vulnerable feeling occurring. You will naturally flip into secondary conflict emotions when you feel hurt or vulnerable, even without conscious awareness. Anger is intense and overwhelming. It dominates the experience. Anger is what you notice in the conflict and what your partner experiences. Your anger clashes with and often activates your partner’s own secondary conflict emotions.

Although secondary conflict emotions are what is being expressed, and felt intensely by you and your partner, there is something more important occurring. Beneath your secondary conflict emotions are your inner vulnerable feelings. Your inner vulnerable feelings are the inner core of your anger. You might not be aware of your vulnerable feelings and the only thing the outside world experiences is your anger. The anger fails to get your needs met. After an angry episode you’re left feeling misunderstood and have to pick up the pieces of the damage it has created.

When is anger healthy?

Anger serves as a vital emotional signal, indicating boundaries, values, and needs within a relationship. It can arise when a partner feels their boundaries have been violated or their needs unmet, prompting assertive communication and constructive conflict resolution. In this context, anger acts as a catalyst for change, motivating individuals to address issues and work towards solutions that honour both their own and their partner’s well-being. 

Experiencing anger and expressing it in a calm way is healthy. Body language and tone is everything. If you are calm when discussing your feelings of anger then your partner will be in a better place to hear you. However, directing anger at your partner in a frustrated, aggressive or intimidating manner is always harmful to your relationship.

How do I stop being angry?

You have probably heard about many anger management strategies such as taking time out,  learning to pause first and respond second. These strategies can be helpful to try and resolve anger in the moment but they do not get to the core of why you keep getting angry. You keep getting angry because your brain has been wired during early experiences. Your unconscious brain believes it is the only way you will be seen or get your needs met. The problem is, the expression of anger toward your partner is maladaptive and not helping either of you. In order to stop being angry you need to rewire your brain. You can do this by doing the following steps:

  1. Reflect on the Secondary Conflict Emotion: Each time you feel any emotion on the anger spectrum, from frustration to rage, you must acknowledge to yourself that you are in a Secondary Conflict Emotion. Start by feeling the emotion in your body. Notice where it sits and how it feels. Name the emotion. 
  2. Get to the Inner Vulnerable Feeling: Remember your anger only exists because there is an Inner Vulnerable Feeling occurring. Dig deep and name the feeling. For example, you might feel neglected, abandoned, undervalued or misunderstood. 
  3. Take ownership and repair: This step is crucial to rewiring your unconscious brain. Each time you have been angry toward your partner or anyone else for that matter, you have to go back and own your anger. You need to express remorse and acknowledge how they may have suffered as a result of your anger. Following this, you need to share and discuss the vulnerable feeling that was sitting hidden in the interaction. 

If you commit to doing the above 3 steps every time you direct anger to your partner you will develop insight into your emotions and rewire your brain to communicate in an adaptive way. This will occur because your brain will learn that expressing your vulnerable emotions has a much better pay off. You will get your needs met and feel closer to your partner rather than create the stress that comes with conflict. 

How do I boundary my partner’s anger? 

When responding to your partner’s anger you should have two aims. Firstly, be self-protective and stop the negative impact of the anger on you. Secondly, empathically confront the behaviour and invite more constructive communication. You can achieve this by doing what we call the “emotional mirror technique”. Using the emotional mirror means demonstrating an interest in how your partner is feeling, reflecting back to them their behaviour in question and setting a limit around the particular behaviour. The emotional mirror assists in you staying as calm and neutral as possible by reflecting back the negative energy you are receiving from your partner. This can protect you from flipping into a conflict. By staying calm and empathic, the anger of your partner’s behaviour becomes more obvious. It might sound like this: “I can feel you are angry at the moment. But I don’t know what is going on beneath the anger. I want to be there for you to understand your hurt. However, I am not going to talk to you about this while you remain in an angry state. I am here for you when you are more calm and I feel safe”. There are two main elements of the emotional mirror:

  1. Show compassion
  2. Enforce the boundary 

Once you have expressed your compassion and the boundary you should not engage further with your partner other than to reiterate the boundary, unless they have calmed down. If they escalate, you need to keep reinforcing the boundary. For example, you might need to say “I need to leave the room now, I will come back in 5 minutes to see if you would like to talk about this calmly” or “I am going to leave the home now, but I am ready to talk whenever you feel more settled”.  Maintaining the emotional mirror prevents you from being sucked into a conflict cycle and creates the space for your partner to be more accountable for their anger. 

Our app My Love Your Love covers all aspects of partner communication and conflict. It takes partners through step by step exercises and prompts to reduce conflict and improve communication. More than just an app about conflict, MLYL goes deep to improve connection, fun, spontaneity and desire. If you are not ready for the partner journey you can take the solo journey by reading our book the 8 Love Links which is the theory behind the app.

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