• Feeling Angry? That’s Not Necessarily a Bad Thing

    When I sit with an arguing couple in a session, I often feel hopeful. Here’s why: Anger is an emotion that often says, “I care,” and, “This is important to me.” The opposite of love isn’t anger; it’s indifference. If we don’t care, we don’t get angry. We just get quiet and withdraw. As long as a couple still feels anger, that tells me that they’re still probably emotionally invested in their relationship.

    But where does this anger come from — and how can you overcome it? As humans, when we feel disconnected from a primary relationship, such as our partners, children or family members, we experience what researchers call “primal panic.” That’s because these primary relationships are fundamentally different from all of our other relationships: They’re wired directly into our survival system.

    In a moment of primal panic, our brains flash a danger signal, prompting us to desperately try to reconnect. When this happens, adrenaline can flood our bodies. And our heightened nervous system can signal our partner in a confusing — often angry — way. Our partners can receive unintended messages, such as disdain, contempt, or criticism. These can trigger their own primal panic, initiating an angry back-and-forth cycle creating disconnection and emotional deprivation.

    Ultimately, prolonged cycles of mutual anger can eat away at attachment bonds. When we’re locked in that negative cycle, we can lose sight of what’s really happening below the surface, at an emotional level. Underneath it all, partners get angry because the relationship is important to them, and they care. The potential loss of the relationship makes them afraid. And it’s this fear that fuels the anger, not just whatever the focus of the argument happens to be.

    When couples disagree without exploring the underlying substance of a conflict, they tend to fill in the blanks about the real issues with more bad stuff. This can escalate the conflict and heighten the negative cycle.

    When it comes to disagreements, it’s often not what we disagree about that reveals the biggest relationship issues; it’s how we disagree. The most-successful couples still disagree as much as anyone else, but they do it in a more connected way. They share what they experience emotionally — below the anger. Even if they disagree with their partner, they still trust that they have each other’s back.

    Sharing feelings about the topic of a disagreement before getting into the substance of the conflict is a good starting place. Try to plan a time to talk about difficult issues. Make it a time when you can be attuned to each other in an uninterrupted way. Avoid bringing up a difficult topic when one partner is walking out the door or when the kids need attention. Sometimes, you can’t choose the timing of a hard conversation — sometimes, it chooses you. But at least start the conversation by channeling it into a new pattern, one based on making both of you feel more secure in the relationship.

    If you find it difficult to change the way in which you disagree, that can be a sign of a more ingrained pattern that might benefit from professional intervention. The problem with anger is that it comes from our primitive brain; when we’re angry, the primitive brain drives us and the thinking brain shuts down. A professional can help you better understand the thoughts, feelings and impulses you experience in those angry moments. Research tells us that tuning in and understanding what’s really happening on the inside creates more opportunity to send clear and more emotionally connected signals to our partners

    So back to that couple on the couch that we began with. Their angry exchange tells me they’re still important to one another and that they likely have the desire and energy to change their pattern. Don’t get me wrong: Excessive long-term anger will take a toll on any attachment bond. But EFT helps couples learn to share what they’re really feeling underneath the anger in way that’s not confusing or scary to their partner: a way that’s clear, understandable and more emotionally connected.

    Don’t let excessive anger steal the joy from your relationship. Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is a proven treatment that can often achieve lasting results in as few as 8-20 weeks. Call 407-579-2070 today for a complimentary phone conversation to see if EFT is right for you.

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.