Why Anger Is Ruining Your Relationship – And How To Fix It
This is a story about a man and a woman and what anger was doing to their relationship. This story is a true story. I know this because it’s my story. This story will show you why anger is ruining your relationship, but also how to fix it.
Change puts stress on a marriage
One year into my marriage (almost ten years ago), I invited my younger brother to live with my wife and me in our one bedroom basement apartment and work for me at my renovation company.
The living quarters were tight, to say the least. Once he was there, I realized that the last thing I wanted was my younger brother crashing on my couch and disrupting my time with my new wife.
But it was too late to stop the chain of events that was to follow.
In a previous post, I talked about how life circumstances disrupt our relationships. Well, when my brother moved in, I became annoyed.
My annoyance turned to anger and that anger almost cost me the most important relationship in my life: the one with my wife.
In hindsight, my brother did nothing wrong. I offered my couch to him. I encouraged him to come. But this reality got clouded by my anger and annoyance.
One day, it all blew up: I fired him from my renovation company, we had a raging fight, and the worst part of our fight happened in front of my wife.
Growing up with anger
I grew up with parents who were each divorced not once, but twice.
While my mom rarely yelled or even got angry, my father could blow the top off a volcano. One of my worst memories is my father screaming in my face, “I wish your mother was hit by a bus!”. I was sixteen at the time.
Those are words no sixteen-year-old (let alone a child of any age) should ever have to hear.
Words like these were commonplace growing up, and this style of communication got rooted in my unconscious.
Not accepting blame
Fast forward to that day when I fired my own brother. It wasn’t a pretty scene. We fought with vicious words, and it ended with my brother storming out of the house with his only possessions: his backpack of clothes.
I felt really terrible, but could not see the situation clearly or accurately understand my emotions. I couldn’t see the wrong I had done, or my role in the relationship and the fight.
I was completely narcissistic to the point of feeling like I was the victim. I placed all the blame on my brother, a young man who was ten years my junior.
After my brother stormed out, my wife and I went for a walk and, little did I know, I started saving my marriage that night.
Taking responsibility for my part
As I talked to my wife (she was unusually silent through much of it), I started sorting through my emotions and, by the end of our walk, I had realized a few important things:
I had played a huge role in the fight, and was more to blame than I was the victim.
And I had a lot of work to do on my anger issues.
This wasn’t the first time I had gotten angry over something, but it was one of the worst.
I vowed to my wife that night that I was going to figure out how to change – really change, not just small adjustments or lip service.
I was going to “shut the door” on my anger, as I said then.
I dodged a bullet
Over the next few months, our relationship became strained. My wife suggested counselling, and I thought it was a good idea, but still had no idea how this fight had really affected her.
After a few counselling sessions, my wife admitted that, listening to our fight that night, she had decided to leave me.
She said that it was only our long walk and talk, where I fully accepted responsibility for my role in the situation, and showed such sincerity in wanting to change, that made her stay a little longer to see if things did, indeed, improve.
I was floored. I had no idea this was coming. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, though.
Thankfully, I responded instead of deflecting blame (as many people who get angry do). I sought counselling for myself, and dealt head-on with the anger that was going on inside me.
Anger hurts the most important person in your life – You!
I worked hard at forgiving myself for being angry.
A lot of people think that our expression of anger hurts others – and it does – but it hurts ourselves the most, and it is so much harder to see – and heal – this damage.
I also had to work hard to win back the trust of my wife.
When we harm our loved ones (or even complete strangers), they do one thing to protect themselves: they retreat.
“Expressing our anger in inappropriate ways leads others to retreat – emotionally – from us. Nothing can be more harmful and difficult to reverse than the emotional retreat of our partners. This is why anger is ruining our relationship. This is outcome we should fear the most.“
Anger is necessary (sometimes)
This may sound strange, but I am thankful that I had that horrible fight with my brother. Without it, I might never have faced my anger. Instead, I have lived to watch my relationships flourish and grow.
I learned how to express my anger in a different way. Because here is the thing: anger can be a good thing.
We all need to get angry and express our anger at times. If any therapist or counsellor tells you that you need to get rid of your anger, they are giving you bad advice.
Our anger can save our lives. It helps protect us and our loved ones from potentially dangerous moments.
So don’t get rid of your anger.
Instead, use it better. Use your anger in a way that is appropriate, without hurting people.
How you can begin to fix your anger with exceptions
If you’re like I was, you might be thinking “but I can’t control my anger. I have anger issues!”.
Well, here is where my solution-focused training comes in.
I know that there has been a time in your life where you wanted to blow up, scream, flip-out, or throw things – but you didn’t.
Maybe you were at work and knew you’d get fired.
Maybe you were with your kids and had the control to not scare them.
Now, pay attention to that time: that is an exception.
That exception disproves the idea that all you’ve got are anger issues.
You, like everyone else, can control the expression of your anger. You may not do it as frequently as you’d like, or in the situations you’d like, but you CAN do it.
Reflect for a moment on one of those times when you didn’t express your anger in an inappropriate way.
Ask yourself these simple questions:
- How did you know to let being calm, cool and collected get the better of you in that moment?
- How did you get so good at being calm, cool and collected?
- What was taking place in that moment that let you know you were being calm, cool and collected?
Notice how none of those questions asks anything about anger?
Notice how those questions are the exact opposite of the questions most people would want to ask you?
There’s a reason for that.
You actually have solutions, not just problems
I’m looking for the solutions that helped you stay calm. This is called being solution-focused and not problem-focused.
You need to pay attention to when you did something positive, so that you can do more of that.
You need to learn how to replicate being a calm, cool and collected person instead of an angry person.
There is a whole world out there that would love nothing more than to label, diagnose and point out all the bad in you.
I say that’s wrong.
I say we need to flip the world upside down and do the opposite.
Let’s label your greatness.
Let’s see your potential, your beauty, your calm, your cool.
I know that if you see those qualities inside you, then it will become infinitely easier to control the expression of your anger.
You’re not angry. You’re not even an angry person.
In fact, you’re calm. You can control your anger and you do it every day. Just pay attention to when you do, because I know the outcome. You’re going to get better and better at it until, one day, you wake up and it is second nature.
Oh, sure, you’ll still get angry and it will come out – even in ways you don’t like.
But you’ll have turned things around so that your anger isn’t killing your relationships anymore and you’ll leave loneliness in the rear-view mirror.
And isn’t that what most of us want more than anything in life?
Here’s some great resources for learning about marriage and family therapy…
If you are interested in learning more about working with a systemically-trained couple therapist, check out the American Association of Marriage and Family therapy (AAMFT) or follow this link to learn more about how a marriage and family therapist can help you. If you’re in Canada, the Canadian Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (CAMFT) can be found through this link.
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About the Author
Jonathan Van Viegen is a full-time relationship coach and licensed psychotherapist helping adults and couples improve one of the most important relationships in their life – the one with their partner. Jonathan’s approach has helped 100’s of clients struggling to maintain a lasting, loving relationship while navigating the challenges of parenting. Jonathan’s goal with this blog is to offer you a behind the scenes look at his life to show that it is possible to create the kind of relationship you desire – using simple skills that anyone can learn.