We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Now, onto this week’s topic: how to control your anger in a relationship.
Q: “I grew up in a family that fought dirty. There was name-calling, passive-aggressive stuff, silent-treatment, and sometimes hitting. Now, when I fight with my partner, I find myself sometimes reacting in the same ways. When I'm triggered and angry I can't seem to help saying something mean or defensive or feeling aggressive. (For the record, I’ve never done anything abusive.) But then I always hate myself afterwards. I don’t want to act like this. How can I stop myself in the moment when I'm really upset or jealous — are there things I can say to myself in the moment when I can feel myself repeating the same patterns?”
A: Thanks for the question. First of all, I think it’s great that you even have the awareness that you’re repeating old behavior patterns. I know you’re angry at yourself right now, but it’s important for you to recognize and want to change your behavior. That’s truly the first step towards making any sort of progress. Anger is a huge topic, but there are plenty of ways to improve your control over your temper. Here are 12 techniques for preventing yourself from exploding in the moment.
Understand Your Patterns
Anger is a hard feeling to acknowledge, but there’s a lot to learn about why it comes up for you. It sounds like you’re already familiar with your history of anger. What else do you know about it? Are there particular things that tend to make you feel triggered? For example, maybe you have a really hard time talking about your job. Or maybe talking about your family is triggering to you.
Set Yourself Up For Success
From there, see if there are any preventative steps you can take to avoid those triggers. You’re not always going to be able to prevent anger from arising, but you can avoid it at times. Maybe you can put a temporary ban on talking about your family until you’ve practiced some of the other techniques in this article. Or maybe anytime you and your partner need to talk about jealousy, you do it via email, to give each other more time to process your reactions.
Slow Yourself Down
One of the best things you can do to behave better in the moment is to slow your conversations down. Way down. Anger has a way of popping up quickly, but you can cut it off at the pass by treading slowly and carefully. Pretend your conversation is proceeding at half the speed of a normal conversation. Or, before saying anything, make yourself count to 10. It’s going to feel really silly at first, but it can go a long way in keeping you calm.
Another good trick for helping yourself slow down and calm down is to focus on your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try counting your breaths; count to five on the inhale, hold for five, then count to five on the exhale. Breathing can help soothe that fight-or-flight reaction.
Use A Mantra
You asked if there were specific things you could say in the moment to prevent yourself from getting angry. That’s a great technique! When you’re calm, try thinking of a mantra that would be powerful for you to hear in the moment. Try something like:
- “I don’t want to be like my parents.”
- “This is my partner, not my parents.”
- “My partner is on my team.”
It can be tricky to remember your mantra in the moment, but the times when you do use it can stop you in your tracks.
Use A Physical Reminder
You can also try wearing or carrying some sort of item to help you calm down. Maybe your partner gave you a necklace or a ring that you really love. Touching those items in the moment can be a great way to remind yourself that your partner isn’t the enemy. Or you can use physical objects as mental distractions. Keep a hair tie or rubber band on your wrist, and snap it when you’re starting to feel your anger rise.
Come Up With A Code Word
You can also ask your partner for help relaxing in the moment. Come up with a special code word or inside joke between the two of you, and have your partner use it in the moment as their way of saying “time out!” Inside jokes can be particularly useful, since humor can be a great way of diffusing anger.
Take A Time Out
If you feel dangerously close to an explosion, put yourself in a time out. Go into another room and take ten slow, deep breaths. Repeat your mantra to yourself. Scream into a pillow. Don’t go back to your partner until you feel calmer.
Move Your Body
Anger has a way of making us feel really stuck and paralyzed. You can overcome these feelings by physically moving your body around. Walk around the room. Shake out your limbs. For really intense anger, go on a quick sprint around the block.
Focus On The Repair
Even with the absolute best of intentions and efforts, you’re still going to mess up and say and do things you don’t mean. One of the best things you can do as a couple is focus on the repair. Come together afterwards to apologize and reconnect. Of course, a good repair doesn’t give you the license to keep saying hurtful things to your partner. But it’s still a good practice to get into.
Find Healthier Outlets For Your Anger
Even if you can stop your anger in the moment, the anger is still going to be there. You need to find other, healthier, ways to get your anger out. Try starting up an exercise program, or doing more intense forms of exercise like kickboxing. Journal or meditate every day for 10 minutes.
You knew this was coming, right? I couldn’t get through this article without recommending that you seek therapy. I know it’s frustrating to recognize the ways our parents still affect us as adults. But it’s just the reality of how life works. All parents leave their kids with stuff to sort through. You can learn a lot about yourself and your anger in therapy, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. You can also go to therapy with your partner, to repair your relationship and learn more effective communication techniques.
Wishing you the best of luck!
Images: Obradovic/E+/Getty Images; Giphy