When we’re extremely angry, physiologically we’re not a whole lot different than a child throwing a tantrum. We’re literally not in our right mind. Blood has moved away from our pre-frontal cortex (the seat of conscious thought) and filled our amygdala, where the fight or flight response is triggered. We call this state being “flooded” or “triggered,” a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence. Basically, when you’re in fight or flight mode, you’re in no position to think or communicate logically.
When You’re Angry—Wait!
So why, then, when we’re so angry that we’re not in our right mind, do we insist on trying to work through things with our partner? Wouldn’t we be better off waiting until we were more calm and able to share logically? Absolutely! You’d almost always be better off waiting. So why don’t many of us do it? Because most of us have never been taught to do so. Our role models didn’t know how to put a conversation on hold so they could calm down, so they didn’t model this healthy behavior for us.
So what should you do when you’re really angry and you think that your partner caused it? Or when it just seems to make sense that you need to include them in your pain? You wait. Try to be patient until you’re back to being your best self, until your blood pressure is normalized. Try to wait until you’re able to be logical and pragmatic. Try to be patient until you have something helpful, not hurtful, to say.
Of course we know that patience is often the hardest thing to employ when we’re overwhelmed, as everything seems so critically important. But is it really? If you don’t finish that heated conversation right now, is it, or the issue that caused it, going to go away? Probably not.
Healthy Ways to Process Anger
I remember an example from my own life: A few years ago my girlfriend and I were in a heated argument and I was worked up. Rather than do or say something I might have regretted, I instead took a walk, alone, to the beach to think. Now my girlfriend was not happy at all at my leaving, and even expressed that she felt abandoned or didn’t know if she could rely on me to be there for her in the future if I left. But I knew I needed time to process and to cool off, and intuitively I knew that this was much more important in the long run than anything that would happen during that particular argument. So what happened to me during my time at the beach? I calmed down. I saw other perspectives that were equally as true as the one I had been so strongly holding onto. And I was able to go back and apologize and explain myself without feeling overwhelmed by the situation. Basically, I was much better off, my girlfriend was much better off, and our relationship was better off—all because I took the time to process my anger without her present.
One equally great example of what to do when you’re angry and want to work through it with you partner when you know you shouldn’t is to, instead, find an objective friend or counselor and talk it over with them. They are likely to share different perspectives that could give you more clarity. Or simply try using your breath techniques or meditating to get your mind out of its fevered pitch and back into a calm place. Don’t ever underestimate the healing power of 10-20 deep breaths or sitting with your mind for 5-10 minutes (meditation).
So, in summary, the answer to almost everything is to try to be more patient. Everything is constantly moving and changing, relationships as well, and if you can wait out the inevitable blow-up, it will eventually calm down, and there will be ample time for not only reconciliation, but maybe even growth.
Moving Beyond Anger
We know uncontrolled anger can cause huge problems for you personally and for your relationship! This is why we’ve created our Moving Beyond Anger program, available to men and women. We want to help you pinpoint what triggers you and learn more effective ways to deal with your anger, which will help you work through relationship difficulties. You can learn more about the program here or contact our Client Care Team with any questions about any of our programs and services.