A 3 Step Strategy to Get the Anger Out of Your Relationship

How Uncontrolled Anger Can Destroy a Family

The best available marriage researchers can actually predict divorce with over 90% accuracy based on the presence of excessive criticism/defense and “marital contempt.” They can actually detect this negative, marriage-destroying pattern of communication in less than 5 minutes of watching how a couple discusses their top 1 or 2 "hot button issues".

For many marriages, un-managed anger can also be a very serious and even dangerous problem.  In the worst cases, uncontrolled anger can lead to partner violence and child abuse. At the physiological and health levels, chronic anger can also destroy our health and lead to unhealthy coping strategies such alcohol and drug abuse.

The bottom line about anger in your relationship? If anger is a problem and you want to build and maintain an emotionally healthy marriage that lasts for decades, it's critical that you take steps to get the anger under control ASAP. Here's what you can start doing right now to get the toxic anger out of your relationship:  

To Put it Simply: "When we Get Angry, We also Get Stupid" 

As it turns out, there’s actually an inverse relationship between anger and the ability to think clearly, communicate effectively or problem solve.  The problem is, a healthy marriage and strong family life absolutely depend on these communication skills. As I’ve often told my anger management clients:

“- The angrier we get the stupider we get.”

Our IQ, literally our human intelligence, drops rapidly as our anger intensifies and escalates.  For some, this can mean dropping from the level of an intelligent, educated professional, to the level of an angry,  tantruming 2 year old. For those prone to “explosive anger” all rapid drop in brain power can happen in just a few seconds!

To protect your marriage and your family from the devastating effects of excessive anger, it’s critical to get the anger out your most important relationships. Here’s 3 part strategy for quickly and effectively identifying an excessive anger or  aggressive behavior pattern and for getting that anger out of your relationship and out of your life for good

1. Become an Armchair Anger Management Expert – There’s no rocket science to anger management. It’s just a set of skills based on a relatively small but important body of knowledge.  If you can read and understand this blog posting, you can easily learn all there is to know about anger control in just a couple of months.  In fact, you can learn the basics in about 20 minutes.

For example, you'll need to get to know your particular “Anger Style,” your most common “Anger Triggers” and your “Anger Cues.”  Is your anger style one of “bottling up”? Do you allow the psychological effects of stressors to accumulate inside over time, like a pop can that gets a good shake several many times as the hours or days go by, only to explode when it’s finally opened?

Or, are you more prone to the instant “explosive anger style”, where all it takes is 1 specific trigger to cause you to blow your top right on the spot?

Anger triggers are just what they sound like; -  any person, place, behavior or thing that sets off your anger response. Some common household anger triggers include: a nagging or overly critical spouse or when the kids simply don't do what they're asked to do or when they're acting up.

There can also be secondary anger triggers like high stress levels at work, money management problems and general marital distress.  Learning how to identify and manage secondary triggers like these can be a powerful way of reducing the negative effects of the primary triggers that can set off anger in the moment.

Anger Cues, on the other hand, are the bodily symptoms that can signal you that anger is coming on or that it’s already happening. Commonly reported anger cues include rapid heart rate, muscle tension, furrowed brow, clenched fists and  rapid shallow breathing.  Some people tend to talk more quickly and more loudly as they become increasingly angry.

One of the most important goal of anger management is for a person to really get to know their anger cues. It’s always best to stop the anger escalation process as soon as it starts, before it get out of control.

The idea here is that anger cues can be used as signals that remind us to start our individual anger-control strategy, like taking a break, taking a brief brisk walk or self-invoking the relaxation response to keep us calm.

To start your daily study of anger management, here’s a link to one of the best available summaries of anger and anger control on the internet. It’s from the American Psychological Association (APA).  For people with potentially serious or even occasional anger issues, this may be one of the most important site visits of their lives:

2. Master The Relaxation Response. As you’ll learn in the the APA Anger Management Series, one of the most powerful anger management strategies is learning to self-invoke the relaxation response in order to get and stay calm during otherwise high stress situations.  With just 20 minutes of daily practice, a person can learn to self-invoke the relaxation response (totally relax their mind and body) in just a few seconds.

As I've outlined in previous posts, learning how to relax is one of the most critical parenting and marital communication tools there is. Mastering the relaxation response can also have a powerful positive effect on our emotional and physical health. It’s also great to be able to calm one’s self completely before or during important job interviews or public speaking engagements.

Here’s one of my favorite online resources for relaxation training. It’s from the University of Arizona Counseling Center. It’s not flashy but it’s a free site, and the short video and audio downloads are based on the best available relaxation response research:

3. If all else Fails, Get CBT Counseling. Remember, the jails are full of people who were unable to control their anger. The excessive, life interfering aggression that can results from uncontrolled anger is simply not something people should allow to continue.  

If you’ve self-identified as a person with an anger problem, you need to put a stop to it right now.  If you're unable to put a basic safety plan in place (i.e. you find yourself getting uncontrollably angry) even after learning and practicing some basic anger control strategies, I strongly advise that you get some brief counseling help.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with an anger management focus is a great choice to help someone get a more serious anger problem under control fast. CBT is proven to get strong, lasting results in as few as 3-7 sessions. So you or your loved one won't spend thousands of dollars for an endless number of sessions they many not get any practical results. Insurance companies love CBT because it’s cost effective and because it's results driven.

For couples experiencing or who are at risk for partner violence and or substance abuse issues, Behavioral Couples Therapy is a best available counseling option. For individuals, partners or children at immediate risk of harm, it’s critical to contact your local authorities ASAP. Safety has to come first. 

To find a therapist in your area follow this link. Select your location, then refine your search for CBT and Anger Management:

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