A great deal has been written about the damaging effects that anger can have on intimate relationships. But did you know that anger can be beneficial to your marriage or relationship?
The dark side of anger
Like all emotions, anger runs along a continuum–from low to high intensity. When too intense, anger is like an untamed horse–anyone in its path is in danger of being hurt. Anger that pushes you to behave in hurtful or abusive ways has no place in your relationship.
There is a crucial difference between feeling angry and behaving aggressively.
You’re in good company if you’ve erred and said something in the heat of an argument that you later regret (and apologized for), but verbal attacks that are meant to hurt or belittle your partner are a major warning sign that something is wrong.
You and your partner should make controlling the way anger is communicated a top priority. This doesn’t mean that you should never become angry. Shutting down your emotional reactions is unhealthy–both for your well-being and the health of your relationship.
When is anger useful:
Anger has a place in relationships. The fact that we all have the capacity to become angry suggests that anger is a natural part of our existence. Let’s look at how anger can become your ally.
5 ways anger can benefit you (and your relationship):
1. Your anger lets your partner know what’s important to you.
For instance, your husband notices you become angry each time his family unexpectedly visits during dinner time. Your reaction sends a powerful message that says you look forward to your alone time with him in the evenings, rather than dealing with intrusions or spending time with his extended family. Anger is a source of information.
2. Your anger is a blueprint that tells your partner what to do and what not to do.
Your partner thinks she’s being cute when she compares your receding hairline with Antarctic’s shrinking glaciers. Embarrassed and angry, you grumble that her comment was hurtful and you assert, “You better never say anything like that again!” If I were your partner, I’d listen. Anger has a highlighting effect, adding “oomph” to your message.
3. Your anger informs you about your underlying needs.
You’re driving to work and your car’s “check engine” light comes on. The car seems to be driving OK but you decide to play it safe and take it to the mechanic. To your surprise, the mechanic finds several problems that need fixing–if ignored, these small problems would have multiplied. Your anger is a lot like the “check engine” light–warning you that something needs fixing.
4. Your anger is a roadmap, pointing to your core values.
Imagine you find yourself feeling uncomfortable and annoyed whenever your partner interacts with the waitstaff at restaurants. To your dismay, you notice that he speaks in a condescending tone of voice and is demanding. It’s always been important to you that others are treated with kindness and consideration. In this example, your reaction is a reminder that you hold these values with conviction.
5. Your anger is a protective shield.
Think of a time when you became angered when treated unfairly. Anger is a common reaction to transgression. When your partner is insensitive or critical, anger can help you protect yourself. Anger helps you shield the vulnerable parts of yourself and motivates you to take the necessary steps to assert yourself. When you say, “Don’t talk to me like that–I don’t deserve that!” your anger is helping you to protect yourself.
As you can see, anger has an important place in your marriage or relationship (and in all relationships). Unfortunately, anger can also be a very destructive force if left to its own devices–a controlled fire gives warmth, an uncontrolled fire blazes a path of destruction.
The key to using anger constructively lies in what you do with your anger. How you behave and communicate when angry is of utmost important to the health of your relationship.