When you form a romantic relationship, you do so with unique personalities shaped by your past. Based on previous relationships, each of you have developed ideas about how a loved one should respond to your needs, desires, and expectations.
When developing a bond, you also have well-established habits. This includes the way you manage anger when a partner appears to threaten or ignore your needs, desires, and expectations. It’s then not surprising that even the most loving relationships at times involves conflict and anger. This is especially challenging when one or both of you are prone to anger.
Bernard Golden, PhD, the founder of Anger Management Education in Chicago, has been a practicing psychologist for almost 40 years. He has clinical experience in community mental health centers, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, private practice groups, and individual practice. He specializes in anger management issues, utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness techniques, and practices in compassion and self-compassion.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
Sharing a commitment to value and work on preserving the relationship is key for constructively managing conflict. This isn’t always easy to remember in the throes of discord. It can, at times, be extremely challenging to be respectful and attentive with both your needs and those of your partner. This is especially the case when they seem to conflict with each other. Such conflict most frequently occurs with regard to money, sex, work, parenting, and housework.
While having occasional conflicts is common for couples, when they are frequent and intense, they can have negative impact on the mental, physical and family health of a family. The potential for such impact especially arises when one or both partners are prone to anger. Destructive anger in a relationship can lead to increased dissatisfaction, sadness and feelings of isolation, abuse and divorce.
Regardless of how you learned to deal with conflict, it is important to remember that there are specific skills that support constructive conflict management. This includes being able to recover from a conflict. In fact, research indicates that having a partner who is better at recovering from conflict is associated with experiencing more positive relationship emotions and greater relationship satisfaction (Salvatore, Luo, Steele, et. al., 2011). However, like all habits, developing these skills requires time, patience and commitment, if they are to become a natural part of your repertoire.
Guidelines for engagement when discussing a conflict
As a beginning point, remember that the worst time to argue is when you’re furiously angry–a moment when you feel threatened and your body is in high alert. During such moments, you’re more likely to focus on your own grievances and be unavailable to hear those of your partner.
The following guidelines offer a clear approach to dealing with conflict—one that’s rooted in mindfulness, self-awareness, and compassion for yourself and your partner. I encourage you to discuss these guidelines with your partner and sign a pledge as a commitment to follow them.
1. We commit to practicing healthy anger. Healthy anger is the basis for constructively managing conflicts within your relationship. Even if just one partner is quick to react with anger, it’s to your mutual advantage to learn strategies for your own and your partner’s anger. Anger is a reaction to feeling threatened and effective communication requires a certain level of experienced safety. This involves learning specific skills regarding communication: listening skills, sharing in negotiation and problem solving skills, focusing on specific behaviors rather than global statements about your partner.