Being the best partner — 30 September 2012
Trade anger for love

Anger is the reaction to a perceived threat. It alerts us to take steps to safeguard our physical or emotional security. In relationships, invoked anger affects both partners and may curtail their happiness. But is it anger itself or the causes for it that produce the threat and can it be prevented?

In Treatment of Individuals with Anger Control Problems, Donald Meichenbaum defines anger as a feeling that occurs when one is blocked from obtaining something that he/she wants or deserves to have. “Anger also includes cognitive and attitudinal component, which underlies the interpretation of a perceived injustice, involves other-blame and self-justification.”

James Averill found that nonclinical populations experience 7.3 episodes of anger and 23.5 episodes of annoyance per week. 88% of these anger episodes were directed at another person and 75% were toward a familiar, well-known and liked person.”

Anger of one or both mates is a frequent presenting problem in couple therapy. Feeling angry or being the recipient of it is an emotionally destabilizing experience. Each partner is threatened by being perceived as ill intentioned or unloving and fears the loss of personal esteem and the respect of the other.

Observing a partner’s anger may evoke feelings of both a psychological and physical threat. Although Dr. Meichenbaum found that “in nonclinical populations, most anger episodes did not progress to aggressive action,” the recipient of anger is likely to feel fear for his/her safety.

Common sources of anger are personal insecurities about one’s value, the mate’s love or doubts about deserving to be nurtured and respected – not about the partner’s behavior.

The Constructive Narrative Perspective (CNP) treatment method advises, “We all live by the stories we tell.” For individuals who anger easily, CNP treatment advocates rewriting the stories one tells him/herself to reduce the outrage, indignation and hostility toward the “perpetrator” of the anger.

Reassessing the thoughts that preceded one’s angry feelings is a useful method in quelling the annoyance. Ask, “Why do I feel so upset about this situation?” one may find that his/her own history, childhood experiences, previous relationship issues or fears may have triggered old scenarios associated with hurt rather than the current behavior of the spouse.

Sharing your sensitivities and old hurts with your partner will engender tenderness between you and preclude viewing your mate as your adversary. Remember that your relationship was founded on love, admiration, good communication and best regard for each other. Recreate the story in your mind to assign positive intent to your mate and view him/her as your beloved “other-half”.

To manage your relationship anger:

  • Respect your anger as an alert system of perceived threat and learn to manage it well.
  • Understand that your anger may be intimidating and may evoke fear for your partner.
  • Assess the source of your anger. Is it current, old, self-induced or truly other-inflicted?
  • Rewrite the story in your mind to regard your partner not as your opponent but as your cherished and cherishing beloved.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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