dealing with anger in your relationship

How Long Should Your Partner Stay Mad?

Are you mad at your partner?

Did they eat all the ice cream in the freezer overnight and forget to replace it before you opened and looked for it?

So… Now you’re furious. How long can you stay mad at someone you love?

How Long Should Your Anger Last?

When dealing with a simple disappointment your anger should be quickly raised and even quicker to dispel. If you’re still made in 15 minutes you need to look at what’s underneath your anger about the Ben and Jerry’s.

It is 100% appropriate to let your partner know you were disappointed when the ice cream was gone. And you can ask them to replace the ice cream. You can even ask for a flavor you’d like better. And in a healthy relationship, this is the end of the ice cream incident.

[An aside from my past experience: I recall the last year of my marriage, my then-wife was furious from the moment she woke up to when we saw each other for a few moments before she fell asleep. I was doing my creative work after the kids went to bed, so we shared a bit less time together as one of my projects would heat up. After she got mad, at one point, she never got un-mad. She never came back. Her anger poisoned everything between us. To the point where even couple’s therapy was a joke. She was humoring me. She was not looking to save our marriage. She met with a lawyer while we were in therapy, and failed to tell me she was considering divorce. Once she got the brochure, she was done. She stayed mad, however. And 11 years later, I believe she’s still mad. But, perhaps this blog has something to do with it. (Though her name has changed since she got remarried.)]

When There’s More Anger Underneath the Anger

When you notice your anger about the ice cream is bleeding over into something more substantial, you might need to explore the deeper wound, the trauma, that is causing your minor incident to become a relationship-busting problem. When the ice cream becomes a reason to leave the relationship, it’s probably not about the ice cream.

Under my anger around the ice cream might be deeper problems of mine:

  • people are always taking things from me
  • if I don’t hide or lock down my stuff, it often gets stolen
  • my dad used to always eat my Halloween candy
  • people don’t always follow through (you said you would replace the ice cream, you didn’t)

The anger might also be tied to relationship issues:

  • sharing is hard
  • you’re always taking my stuff
  • you can’t control your sugar addiction
  • i trusted you with my ice cream
  • you didn’t tell me you ate the ice cream
  • the ice cream is “mine” and you took it
  • you’re always disappointing me and not taking responsibility for your actions

As you can see, both of these lists are a bit deeper than a misunderstanding about ice cream. So, when you notice your anger is rising a bit more than it should, given the infraction, slow down your thoughts and try to examine what’s under the anger. What’s the anger, sadness, frustration, underneath the incident? What does this remind me of? How does this represent the frustrations in our relationship?

Disappointments Are Allowed

When I ask for something, “Please don’t eat my ice cream tonight, I’m saving it for tomorrow night,” and you eat my ice cream anyway, we’ve got a problem. A few responses might look like this:

  • neutral: when are you going to get more ice cream?
  • angry: wtf? why did you eat my ice cream when I asked you not to?
  • indifferent: fuck it, you ate my ice cream, you are an asshole,
  • universal/blanket statement: you’re always acting like an asshole
  • simple disappointment: I’m sorry you ate the ice cream because I want some right now

So, when your partner is expressing dissatisfaction it’s important to check if they are asking for a change, or asking for something. A complaint is an excellent way to get information about the relationship. Making sure you understand what the complaint is about is of critical importance when sorting through your issues. And when the anger lasts more than 30 minutes you need to look at what’s really making you mad.

Anger should last about 10 – 15 minutes. When it goes on for a longer period of time, it’s probably a bigger issue underneath the trigger issue. Take the time to dig it out. If you complain about something to your partner, make sure you understand what you are complaining about, what you are asking for, and what you want. Complaining just to be complaining is no good. But complaining to get new information, or a new request, into the relationship is a perfectly good use of the complaint. Disagree, but tell me why.

When anger is quick and easily resolved the issues don’t stick around much. Try and process the little anger while it is happening. Try and take the BIG ANGER offline, out of the relationship for a moment, and come back with some ideas of how to do things differently.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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