How to control anger in a relationship

How do you get anger in a relationship under control?

That is a very big topic and there are a lot of important angles to cover about anger in a relationship. In this post, we want to you a few key pieces of background understanding about anger, plus one simple tip to use when you or your partner get angry.

I once heard a therapist say that anger has no place in a relationship. I’d have to respectfully disagree, because that is the same as saying people have no place in a relationship. People have feelings. People get angry. All of us, albeit with very different expressions.

For sure, if anger in your relationship turns to abuse or violence, get help or get out immediately.

Remember, relationships don’t get angry, people do. But relationships definitely suffer from the impacts of people’s anger.

Simmering anger, yelling, cursing, muttering under the breath, passive aggression … over time these variations of anger creates an environment of fear and distrust. It’s just hard to relax when you know your partner is angry or irritated (which is just a milder form of anger).

I can still remember the feeling I had as a kid when my dad was angry. Even if he was outside, and I was in the house, I still could feel it, afraid of what might happen if it got worse. Basically, my dad’s anger could be felt all over the property.

Talking about anger is further complicated by our different experiences of anger. I remember when our daughter was younger, she would perceive many varieties of my mood as anger, even when I didn’t feel angry at all. To me, it might be a sensation of intense focus or animation. But to her, it was akin to anger and it was scary, just like I used to feel scared when my dad got angry (I wonder if he would say he was?). It’s useful for any one of us to notice not just how we feel, but what the impact of our moods is on those around us.

Sometimes anger seems to stem from a direct source. For instance, you might get angry because your partner calls you a derogatory name, or because your body breaks down so you can’t do what you want to do.

Sometimes anger isn’t associated with a direct stimulus, but more of a habitual response to any form of discomfort. This mean you get angry when you feel scared, sad, hurt or insecure. I’ve talked to a lot of men who, like me, have learned that anger is a more acceptable feeling to display than sadness or fear or insecurity, so without thinking we overlay these other feelings with anger.

To those in relationship with a person like that, it simply seems to them that he’s angry all the time, because his habitual response to any sort of discomfort or uncertainty is anger. To a person like, there’s definitely personal work to be done to have a more direct feeling response, i.e. to let myself feel sad when I’m sad, scared when I’m scared. That’s outside the scope of this post, but anyone interested in taking on that type of work can contact me for support.

Here’s a key piece of understanding about anger …

Whatever the apparent source of anger, it can almost always be boiled down to one simple thing: A person gets angry when there’s something they want that they’re not getting, or that they think they can’t get.

An angry person is almost always thinking to themselves, consciously or unconsciously, “I’m not going to get what I want … I never get what I want”.

Think about it … when you get angry that your partner isn’t home on time, you’re not getting the intimate time you want. When you get angry that your body is breaking down, you’re not getting the freedom or mobility you want. When you get angry that your partner is angry, you’re not getting the calm, loving environment you want. And quite possibly, you’re thinking to yourself that you’ll never get it.

This means that someone getting angry has a positive intent of trying to get something that’s important to them. An angry person is hardly ever deliberately trying to mess with you or hurt you. They’re simply wanting something they’re not getting, or don’t know how to go for.

Using this simple understanding of anger gives you an immediate action step to take in the face of your partner’s or your own anger. This is a simple practical tip that often has very effective results.

You ask the angry person, “What do you want?” or “What do you want right now?”

Say your partner is going off about how you never have enough quality time together. Ask him or her, “What do you want right now?”

Often, this will cause the angry person to “snap out of it”, that is to change the direction of their attention. An angry person is often stuck on a theme, like a broken record, and by hearing a question like What Do You Want, they have to engage a different part of their brain.

Test this with yourself, right now. What’s something you’re angry about?

Now ask yourself, What am I wanting that I’m not getting?

Then ask yourself, What do I want right now?

A frequent example we encounter in coaching couples is a one partner being angry about lack of connection and quality time in the relationship.

That person might say, “I’m angry we don’t connect!”

What does he/she want that they’re not getting? Connection.

When we ask that person, What do you want right now?

The answer is almost always a variation of, “I just want to connect. I just want to be close”.

That opens up the possibility for taking a different action, such as holding your partner’s hand or looking in their eyes. Sometimes, you can evaporate your own or your partner’s anger inside a few minutes by this simple process.

Try it out!

Of course, anger and hurt in relationship are to be expected. That’s why we designed a 90-minute mini-workshop for couples to address that very topic. It’s called How To Stay In Love, Even When You Get Hurt Or Angry.

In this workshop, you’ll experience and learn …

  • Deep connection with your partner
  • Insight into what has you feel love, loving, loved
  • Ideas for how to recreate that in-love feeling
  • A powerful process for finding love in anger
  • Concrete practices for how to stay in love

It’s designed for you to be able to do in one morning and then get on with your day.

Learn more here: