We all get angry. It’s a normal emotion.
Sometimes we’re angry for very real reasons: our rights or boundaries are violated, we get cheated out of something, our purse gets stolen.
But what is important is how we deal with that anger.
Some of us vent. Some of us go for a run. Some of us punch a heavy bag. Some of us stuff it down with food. Some of us get depressed (Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston wrote in The Cow in the Parking Lot that “…depression can also be a manifestation of anger that is persistently turned inward or expressed against the self.”).
And some of us take it out on the ones we love.
I want to talk about the latter because I LOVE dating people with anger issues. I could have a room full of nice passive chill dudes, and I’d choose the ONE fellow who would seem too chill, but actually have a nasty temper, or he’s always fucking sarcastic (which sarcasm is just anger that comes out sideways).
My current partner is no exception. I knew this going in. He’s had a rough rough life, and anger protected him. He’s also big. At 5'11 and 230 pounds, he’s a big dude, so when he gets angry, it can be scary just because of his sheer size.
I know why he gets angry. He bottles things up. He makes shit up. He projects. He has some jealousy issues. He’s still working on asking for what he needs and communicating more clearly.
I have some of the same issues, so I have compassion and empathy. I can relate. Totally.
But this most recent episode was ugly. He was yelling at me and following me around. He didn’t stop when I asked him to, and I took too long leaving and following through with my own boundary, which meant it lasted longer than it should have too.
I didn’t deserve to be treated that way, so I gave him an ultimatum: if this happens again, I’m leaving.
I have never thought my partner would physically hurt me (if I did, I’d already be gone), and I know him extremely well, so I’m willing to give him some space to work on this issue. Don’t take this as justification. I’ve dealt with my own fair share of abuse in my life, and I know I don’t have to stick around for it today. I remove myself when things get heated. I have boundaries. I stick to them.
The fact that I keep choosing partners who have anger issues says a lot about me, about what I ignore as possible red flags, about how well I think I deserve to be treated, about how much I love myself. Maybe I keep hoping one of my partners will follow through and change for the better, thus tying off the ugly narrative of my former life with a happy bow, doing what I wish my first abuser (my mother) would have done. Will I be forever trying to heal family-of-origin shit??
Anyway, I’m here. I’m sticking it out. I’m willing to give him some space and see how it goes. If it goes poorly, I know what to do.
If you can relate to any of the above and have a partner who has anger issues, this article is for you.
Here are some things to ask yourself:
What are your limits?
I personally can’t handle being yelled at, so I refuse to participate in arguments once voices get raised. I remove myself from the situation, whether it be going into another room and closing the door or leaving the house.
This can make my partner super fearful that I’m breaking up with him, so I try to remember to say something like, “I need a time-out, but I am not leaving the relationship” before I leave.
What behaviors are acceptable to you? What aren’t? These are important for you to figure out and then share with your partner when tempers are not running hot.
Once you have those boundaries in place, remember boundaries are for you, NOT the other person.
If you’ve expressly said that you will not stand for yelling, your first step once yelling occurs is to gently say, “I will not participate if you yell at me.” If they continue yelling, then you next need to remove yourself.
What are your absolute dealbreakers?
Like the question before, you need to have clear lines in the sand of what you will NOT accept. Once physical, emotional, or mental abuse occurs, the damage to the relationship is extreme and likely unrepairable without a lot of intervention.
Do you allow yourself to be belittled, yelled at, and stonewalled or to be the recipient of any other form of abuse, whether emotional, verbal or physical? If you take the disrespect and abuse over and over, you are allowing it and letting your angry partner believe that it is okay. It’s not, and it’s up to you to make that clear.
Dealbreakers mean you leave the relationship as soon as they happen.
It doesn’t mean you and your partner are broken up forever. It does mean you leave and take yourself to a safe place and surround yourself with safe people, and then with the advice of people you trust and hopefully a professional, you decide if and how that person can re-enter your life again and what they will have to do in order to maintain you feeling safe and respected.
How do you contribute to the problem?
You are in no way responsible for how your partner handles their emotions. You can’t change or control how they act and/or acted. That’s on them.
You may have had a part though.
Did you raise your voice too? Did they try to leave and you wouldn’t let them? Did you feel unsafe and stick around anyway?
You never deserve to be mistreated, and you never have to stick around if you are being mistreated, but if you’re throwing gasoline on the fire that is your partner’s anger, you need to see how you particularly are contributing to the problem and make changes accordingly.
Do you revisit the issue at a later time?
When things get ugly, it’s easy to want to avoid talking about whatever brought it up because you may worry it’ll escalate again. But when things are calmed down, it’s important to let your partner know how you own your part and how you felt during the argument. I like Gottman’s process for resolving regrettable incidents:
Manage Conflict: The Aftermath of a Fight
Before we continue on with The Sound Relationship House Series and move to Make Life Dreams Come True, the level above…
While my partner’s issues are not mine to work through, I can have and keep boundaries, work on how I contribute to problems, and then make sure that incidents don’t get stuffed into a drawer to never be looked at again.
The thing I always focus on is this:
Is my partner willing to change and is he capable of changing?
We can’t judge “capability” without time or prior knowledge. That’s the boat I’m rocking in today. I know my partner can change in other ways because I’ve seen that, and he expresses willingness to change in this specific area today.
The next thing I can do is wait a specific length of time to see if he’s capable of making that change, and if not (or if my dealbreakers are violated), I leave.
Sadly, love doesn’t fix all problems within a relationship, and real relationships are work. My work today is showing up for myself and keeping my side of the street clean. My partner’s work is his.