When anger gets in the way of your relationships

Some people are terrified of anger and bury it deep inside, others want to let it out as quick and as fiercely as possible.

Anger is an emotion we all experience yet have different reactions to. We all hear advice on how to ‘deal with anger’ in the short term (breathe deeply, count to ten, exercise more, do yoga) but how do we handle our anger long term in a way that we do not lose ourselves or distance other people?

This answer is part of a bigger conversation that is worth the time to have, but here are 10 ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ when it comes to expressing anger relationally that have been helpful to me from the book The Dance of Anger. 

  1. Do speak up when an issue is important to you. If the cost of you staying silent is bitterness and resentfulness growing in your heart, speak up. 

  2. Don’t strike while the iron is hot. If you want to get out of the relational patterns that can be destructive, giving yourself some time to cool-off could be beneficial. 

  3. Do take time to think about the problem and clarify your position. Before you speak out think about why you are angry and what specifically do you want to change. 

  4. Don’t use ‘below the belt’ tactics. It is tempting to take a stab at a loved one when you are angry, especially when you know just where to stab them, but this will only put more distance between you. 

  5. Do speak ‘I’ language. A true ‘I’ statement says something about the self without criticizing, blaming or holding someone else responsible for our feelings or reactions. 

  6. Don’t make vague requests. Let the other person know specifically what you want in a winning way. 

  7. Do try to appreciate the fact that people are different. Allow the other person to be different than you. This is easy to say and so much harder to do, especially when we are angry. Being different means you get to be a free person yourself! 

  8. Don’t participate in intellectual arguments that go nowhere. We can get so easily distracted trying to argue why we are right and defending ourselves that we lose track on how we really feel. 

  9. Don’t tell another person what she or he thinks or feels or ‘should’ think or feel. When someone expresses anger to you don’t criticize their feeling. Try and put yourself in their shoes and feel with them about their experience. 

  10. Don’t expect change to come about from hit-and-run confrontations. Change happens slowly in close relationships and it often feels as if its a rollercoaster. Don’t get discouraged if you fall on your face several times as you try and put theory into practice. You will have many opportunities to get back on track and try again. 

If anger is something that has got your trapped or confused, The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner, PhD is a great place to start. We are also willing and ready to walk with you through these struggles. 

By Courtney Loosemore

Paul Loosemore