The saying, “familiarity breeds contempt” surely has some grounding in reality. When we spend extended time with people and get to know them well, we know their flaws and weaknesses, and what we may have considered small quirks at the beginning of our relationship with them can grow into bigger issues.

There are many different reasons why anger can flare up in a relationship – familiarity turned sour, unresolved conflicts, feelings of betrayal, unmet expectations, anger management issues stemming from mental health conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, especially exacerbated by substance or alcohol use, and much more.

When anger is left unchecked, it can destroy a relationship. Words spoken in anger can damage a relationship irreparably, as can actions performed in the heat of the moment.

Whatever the cause of anger in a relationship, and whether it is anger of the mild sort or anger outbursts of epic proportions, it’s important to control anger to prevent it from damaging the relationship further or outright destroying it. What steps can you take to control anger in a relationship?

How to control anger: keeping anger in check

Each relationship is different, carrying its own unique history and possessing certain strengths and values for the people in it. You know your relationship best, and so you can apply the following in a way that carries the awareness of your own and your counterpart’s capacities.

Know what triggers you

Certain things trigger anger in different individuals. If you can notice it, you can name it. When anger first comes up in you, especially if it seems larger than indicated for the situation, see if you can ask, “Wow, I wonder what that’s about.”

For some people, not clearing the dishwasher after use can be a real source of irritation. For others, fudging the truth even slightly brings about deep disappointment and feelings of anger. Whatever it is that triggers your anger, it helps for you to be aware of it and to have a plan for what to do when it happens.

So, if you know that a dishwasher filled with clean crockery sets you off, you can decide in advance how to deal with it, whether that’s walking away and choosing to ignore it, or speaking to your housemate/partner to attend to it. When you know your triggers, you can address them early on as well as avoid being caught by surprise. This gives you room to manage your own emotions.

Create a plan for how to react when you’re triggered

Apart from simply knowing your triggers, having a plan for what to do when you’re triggered also helps to control anger in a relationship. When something triggering occurs, if you have a plan you don’t have to scramble on the spot with what to do about the situation.

Anger triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response, with the result that it can short-circuit our ability to think through things carefully, instead increasing our reliance on mental shortcuts. When we are angry, our thinking is affected, and that includes the weakening of our memory, creativity, and concentration. Our thoughts become accusatory, exaggerated, and rigid, and we treat assumptions as facts.

If you have a plan for what to do when you’re angry, like leave the room and go for a walk, or call a timeout before things go south, then you can avoid the worst excesses that can emerge from an angry confrontation.

Learn anger management techniques

When you’re in a situation where your anger is threatening to flare up, sometimes there is little you can do but just breathe. Breathe and allow yourself to calm down. Anger triggers the fight or flight response, and the physiological responses that result from that can hamper clear thinking and responsible behavior.

Taking the time to control your breathing, focusing your mind on something that soothes you, or doing progressive muscle relaxation can help you to calm down and fight your instinct to “attack.” Anger management techniques such as these can help you keep anger under control when it threatens to overwhelm you.

One other tool is the “fist” technique. When you feel activated, make a tight fist then DECIDE how you’re going to open it – pinky or index first. In that moment you cannot be thinking anything else, and have a chance of making a different choice. This also works with intrusive thoughts and daydreaming (useful when driving!)

Get some better sleep and some exercise

To deal with anger, you can’t rely just on the things you can do at the moment when you find your anger flaring up. Those steps are helpful, no doubt, but it’s possible to take preemptive steps that will help you deal with anger before it even gets to that stage.

Taking good care of yourself by sleeping well and getting some exercise helps in a variety of ways. Physical exercise helps to reduce the levels of cortisol in your system (cortisol is the stress hormone), and it boosts your mood by releasing endorphins. So, you not only feel good after some exercise, but it helps to make you less cranky.

The same goes for good sleep – it helps you to deal with stress and provides you with the emotional capacity you need to handle situations that require the use of emotional intelligence. There’s a huge difference that can be felt when you deal with similar situations, but in one case you’ve had a good night’s rest, and in the other, you’ve slept poorly.

When you’ve slept well, you’re better able to handle stress and whatever might trigger anger. You can think more clearly on a good night’s rest, and you have a better capacity for creative thinking, and that’s exactly what you need when faced with a complicated situation that can elicit anger.

Address any underlying issues

In addition to preemptively dealing with anger by getting some exercise and rest, you can also deal with anger in a relationship by addressing any underlying issues that tend to be hot spots for relational friction.

For example, if you have recurring issues such as your spending, stress at work, or if there are unmet needs that are a cause for concern, you should create room to address them before they become points where flare-ups happen. You can do this by scheduling a weekly check-in with each other to nip things in the bud, for instance.

When it comes to dealing with anger, creative problem-solving will go a long way, and working on issues long before they breed resentment or cement unhelpful patterns of behavior can aid the relationship.

Grow in your ability to communicate

Anger is an emotion that is altogether natural and a part of our makeup. It alerts us that something is out of joint, and we ought to pay attention to the way we feel. Anger needs to be expressed, but that expression ought to be healthy; in other words, it should be expressed in ways that don’t cause harm either to yourself or another person and property.

A great way to control anger in a relationship is to grow in maturity and in your respective capacity to express that anger constructively. Anger often results from unmet needs or frustrated expectations, and so to control anger you should grow in communicating your expectations and your frustrations in a healthy way.

We can get frustrated with people because we assume they should know better, but if we haven’t communicated what we need and have set reasonable expectations clearly, those assumptions are unfounded. Part of growing into a better communicator is to not make assumptions and develop your capacity and ability to listen well.

It is easy to jump to conclusions when you know someone (and even when you don’t!). Your anger can go from zero to sixty in record time if you assume ‘they’re at it again!’ when a familiar scenario comes up. In a long-standing relationship, the shared history can make you complacent in communicating clearly and honestly, leading to unintended hurt.

Speaking more openly can help people in a relationship control anger better because they can address matters before they come to a head and have the savvy to deal with the issues effectively after things flare up.

Go the way of gratitude

The irritating things that another person does can add up and make us more susceptible to anger toward them. It’s not uncommon for a parent who loves their kids to bits to find themselves being angry toward those kids for even simple infractions. When our focus is on the negative, on what isn’t going right, or what has been left undone, it’s easier for anger to be the overriding response.

One way to turn this around is to focus on gratitude, not only regarding the other person but also in general. Giving thanks is a godly thing to do (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), and it not only helps elevate our overall mood and shift our perspective on situations, but it also helps us appreciate the other person more.

Anger can be a negative emotion and replacing it with gratitude can help you deal with that anger in a healthier and more constructive way.

Would you benefit from the counsel of a faith-based professional to overcome anger in your relationships? Please contact our office today so we can match you to someone who can walk that journey with you.

“Cacti”, Courtesy of Laura Adai,, Unsplash+ License


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