Tips to help cool anger in your relationships

By Lisa Merlo-Booth


Many couples struggle with anger issues. Typically one partner is quick to anger while the other partner is quick to duck and give in. When I speak about the importance of not fueling the flame of their partner’s anger, the ducking partner often responds by saying they walk on eggshells to insure they don’t fuel any more anger from their partner. My response: “Walking on eggshells is like lighting a match to their partner’s anger.”

When you give in to anger and demands, you teach your partner that anger works. People, who struggle with anger, rage, and reactivity, use this energy to get their partners off their back and get their own way.

Instead of ducking and giving in to anger, you have to handle anger head on with confidence, strength, determination, and moderation.

Unfortunately, every time their partners give in to the rage, they unknowingly escalate it.

Stacey’s son throws a temper tantrum every time he doesn’t get his way. Stacey responds by trying her best to placate her son and settle him down. She teaches her son that his tantrums work.

Steve’s wife often gets so angry and reactive when she doesn’t like something he’s doing that he just clams up and does what she tells him. He teaches his wife that her anger and reactivity work.

Laura hates it when her husband gets angry and short with her. He becomes demanding and she gives him what he wants to avoid an escalation. She teaches him that his anger and entitlement work.

Instead of ducking and giving in to anger, you have to handle anger head on with confidence, strength, determination, and moderation. If you have a partner who is verbally abusive, disrespectful, or contemptuous, you must deal with these behaviors directly and send a clear message that those behaviors are not acceptable. The way you do this is by starting with a statement, moving to a request, and then setting a limit if the request fails.

For example:

Tom gets angry and begins to escalate his voice and snaps at his wife Sue…

Sue can proceed through the following steps to address his anger:

Statement: “Wow, the way you just said that was really harsh.”

If Tom continues to speak harshly, Sue then makes a request.

Request: “Tom, if you want me to listen, you need to lower your tone when you speak to me.”

If Tom continues then Sue moves to a limit.

Limit: “Tom, when you’re ready to speak to me respectfully I will have this conversation, until then this conversation is over.” (stated in firm, moderate tone—not yelling).

Finally… follow through and leave the room. If this type of behavior occurs in public then Sue would need to be clear that she will no longer go out with him socially until he shows her he is able to control his temper.

If the behaviors continue, Sue would need to directly state that this anger is harming thier relationship and if it doesn’t stop thier marriage will be in trouble.

These steps are for couples where there is NO physical violence and the partner is not concerned about it occurring. This works for contempt, harsh comments, and general disrespect.

If you’re tired of being treated with anger, contempt, and reactivity by your partner, then stop ducking and send a clear message that this behavior is unacceptable. Ducking only escalates the anger and keeps the fires burning.

CHALLENGE: If you’re struggling with your partner’s anger, take steps to stop it. Choose one smaller behavior to intervene on and begin to address it every time it occurs. Use the steps above as a guide follow through the progression if your request is ignored. Remember that you deserve to be treated well and set limits from a place of strength and conviction.

(NOTE: If there is physical abuse going on in your relationship, do not apply these rules; instead seek treatment through individual therapy or a domestic violence program).


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