How Do Anger and Frustration Affect Romantic Relationships?
Angry exchanges are bound to happen between intimate partners. Ranging from mild to explosive, they often likely to create cumulative damage over time.
Anger is a “puffer-fish” phenomenon. It serves to make people feel more powerful when they can’t express their more vulnerable, underlying emotions. Most often they are preceded by feelings of frustration, hurt, unmet needs, or perceived injustice.
Because the partners on the other end of angry expressions cannot see those hidden feelings, they too often react defensively to the anger, itself. The result is a downward spiral with two upset people misunderstanding the underlying reasons for why they are in dispute.
In working with couples for over four decades, I have often witnessed these angry exchange patterns and noted how predictable they have become. Each partner typically employs a particular anger style and response and activates the other partner’s similar predictable reaction.
So many of the couples I’ve worked with are not conscious that their angry interactions are foreseeable and reciprocal. They also, too often, don’t realize the underlying, more vulnerable emotions that drive them. Once the partners are in an angry interaction, they rapidly go from friends to adversaries and cannot see beyond each of their own emotional survival.
“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” – Ambrose Bierce
In order for couples to successfully resolve their differences, they must stop using unsuccessful angry exchanges. Instead, they need to understand what underlying emotions are driving those angry emotions, how they each traditionally express them, and what effect they have on the other partner.
The easiest first step to eliminate negative angry patterns is for each partner to identify his or her anger style and what deeper and vulnerable emotions he or she may be feeling underneath them. The second is to become aware of their effect on the other partner. It is only then that angry emotions can be understood and replaced by more successful resolution behaviors.
Over the years, I’ve compiled the ten most common anger styles and how most partners respond to them. Some people use only one while others may employ a pattern that utilizes several at the same time.
Whichever pattern is employed, they all appear to have the same goal, to get the other partner to do what the angry partner needed, but could not successfully obtain before his or her anger became the cover-up vehicle.
The following are the ten most common anger styles and how most partners respond to them.
Style #1 – Snapping
This anger style is often more of a bark rather than a bite. Still, this type of angry expression is meant as a warning sign; “do not approach.” There many reasons why people employ this rapid-fire reaction, and it is critical that the partner who barks understands why he or she is pushing away all attempts by the other partner to connect.
Most partners on the other end of this anger style do interpret these bursts of negative emotion as clear signs to back away but will initially try to keep the interaction going. If they cannot get resolution and the snapping becomes a consistent pattern, they will eventually pull away or respond with their own anger style.
“Never respond to an angry person with a fiery comeback, even if he deserves it…Don’t allow his anger to become your anger.” – Bohdi Sanders
Style #2 – Nitpicking
Some people can only express their resentment by sniping, sarcasm, criticism, nagging, mean-spirited teasing, or snarky comments. They want their needs to be met, yet are unable to ask for them directly, or don’t feel they would be met if they did.
The other partners’ most typical responses to these erosive remarks are to defend by similar counter-attacks, attempting to reverse the constant criticism. Over time, they are likely to become inured to this behavior and seek more positive support from others.