There are only three styles of handling anger: stuffing, escalating, and complaining. Of the three, only complaining leads to a happy relationship.
When you stuff your anger, you back away from your or your partner’s anger. Maybe you stuff because
- You don’t want to hurt your partner.
- You see anger as a sign of weakness.
- You think you’ll be rejected or ignored.
Your partner usually sees through you anyway. Perhaps you get sarcastic. Or you “forget” to do things your partner wants. Or you avoid your partner altogether.
If you escalate, you have no problem showing anger. Sometimes you get loud. You tell your partner why you’re angry in no uncertain terms. Maybe you escalate because
- You think blowing off steam is healthy.
- You doubt you’ll get your partner’s attention.
- You want to change your partner.
When you escalate, you win the battle, but lose the war. Your partner will either stuff or escalate in response. You will damage your relationship.
Complaining is the only productive way to handle anger. You calmly tell your partner exactly why you are angry. You talk about your feelings and not your partner’s shortcomings. Here’s a simple formula for complaining:
I AM ANGRY BECAUSE _________________________________________
(E.g., “I am angry because I had to wait a half hour and you didn’t tell me you’d be late.”)
I WOULD LIKE _________________________________________
(E.g., “I would like you to be on time, or let me know you’ll be late so I can adjust my schedule.”)
If you complain properly, you give your partner no reason to stuff or escalate.
When the couples we see in therapy learn how to complain well, both partners are relieved. They start solving their problems instead of wasting time in arguments.
But there are no guarantees. You may be great at complaining and your partner still may get defensive. Our next blog will help you respond to your partner’s defensiveness in ways that get results.
If you and your partner are having trouble expressing anger productively, we can help. It’s easy to learn good communication skills and repair your relationship while you solve your problems. Feel free to contact us for a free consultation, to learn about our services and see how counseling can help.