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The ABCs of Overcoming Anger in Your Relationship

The ABCs of Overcoming Anger in Your Relationship Sarah hated it when Jeff was “stressed out.” He became loudly critical of her, the kids, the driver ahead of him, and anyone else that annoyed him. He was impatient and irritable, and when he wasn’t on the attack he became distant. Sarah didn’t know what else to do, so she resigned herself to “just live with it.”

Ryan knows Kate is “hot-tempered,” but he’s sick of being called “a loser” and other names just because Kate is supposedly under so much stress. He misses the fun they used to have and the connection they once shared, but he can’t quite pinpoint the moment their marriage shifted.

Do these situations sound familiar? Anger, tension, and passive-aggression can gain a foothold in even the most loving relationship. One day you wake up and wonder what happened to the happy union you once had. Where did the trust and the closeness go? Fortunately, while you can’t force your partner to change, you can change the way you react and respond to their anger, and ultimately improve your marriage.

Here are five steps to overcoming anger in your relationship…

1. Assess Your Relationship (A)

How do you currently respond when your partner expresses anger in an unwelcome way? Do you confront them or try to stay out of their way? Do you withhold things they want, or give in to keep the peace? Acknowledging your own patterns of behavior and thinking about what you could do differently is the first step toward change.

2. Set New Boundaries (B)

Remember that you are in control of what you do. Consider which actions are acceptable to you and which are not, then clearly define your personal boundaries.

3. Change Your Cognitions (C)

Pay close attention to your thoughts. How you think determines how you feel. If you replace
negative self-talk (“I’m powerless to change my situation,” “My partner’s anger is my fault”) with positive affirmations (“I am in control of my life,” “I deserve to be treated with dignity”) you will be taking a giant step toward achieving your relationship goals.

4. Deny Rewards for Anger (D)

Avoid caving in to your partner’s expressions of anger. Hold your ground, voice your opinion, and calmly and clearly express your emotions. By doing so, you’re communicating that your needs matter as much as your partner’s, and that you will not give in to any form of angry intimidation or coercion.

5. Express Yourself Effectively (E)

Rather than withholding your opinion or minimizing your feelings, learn to be more assertive in expressing your thoughts and needs. Good communication ends in mutual understanding. It requires that both partners be attentive and not only talk, but really listen.

You may not be able to change your partner. But by implementing the simple strategies above you can make a lot of changes to benefit yourself, and in turn, your marriage. You just might find that your partner can’t help changing too.

The ABCs of Overcoming Anger in Your Relationship

W. Robert Nay, PhD

W. Robert Nay, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and Clinical Associate Professor at Georgetown University. He is the author of Taking Charge of Anger and Overcoming Anger in Your Relationship trge, both published by Guilford Press.

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APA Reference
Nay, W. (2018). The ABCs of Overcoming Anger in Your Relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 May 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.