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Angry with your partner? Here’s the right way to handle it

Angry couple arguing

Angry couple arguing

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Updated: September 16, 2012 6:06AM

Good news: It’s OK to be angry with your partner.

A new study from the University of Tennessee has found that expressing anger to your partner actually can be beneficial to your bond.

Researcher and associate professor James McNulty found that the “short-term discomfort of an angry but honest conversation” could lead to less resentment and tension.

It also could help set clear boundaries, as once the offending partner knows what they have done wrong, they can easily avoid the behavior in the future and prevent hurt feelings down the road.

It sounds simple enough, but it’s actually quite counterintuitive to how most couples deal with anger. Many of us think that it’s wrong or “mean” to express anger to our spouse, and so we feel guilty for being cross or expressing negative feedback. Yet someday those simmering resentments will come to a boil, and when they do, the argument and anger will have grown exponentially.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can fly off the handle at your partner and expect to experience positive results. Knowing how to express your anger in a non-destructive way is one of the most crucial relationship skills to master. Here’s how:

Express authentic emotions. There are only five authentic emotions: Anger, sadness, fear, joy and sexual attraction.

When you are trying to express your feelings to your partner, use these emotions to help describe how you feel. For example, phrases like “I just can’t deal with you” or “You make me want to scream” can be confusing and insulting. Instead, lay out your feelings clearly and simply, such as: “I am angry with you.”

Describe the story in your head. Whenever you get angry with your partner, you likely start creating a story in your head. For example, if they are late for your date night, you might sit and stew, thinking: “He/she obviously thinks work is more important than me.”

However, your partner doesn’t necessarily realize that this is what you’re thinking, so they are probably wondering where all your anger is coming from.

Be clear once again, such as by saying, “I am angry with you because when you are late for our date night, it makes me think you don’t care about spending time with me.”

It lets them know what you are thinking and it also helps them to understand how their behavior affects you, because to them, being late might be as simple as that … being late!

Be open to hearing negative feedback in return. Expressing anger is a two-way street, so if you want to give negative feedback, you have to be able to take it in return.

Don’t shut down or go on the defensive when your partner tells you they are angry.

No one is perfect, and there is nothing wrong with taking a step back and considering a new way of looking at things.

Don’t only focus on the negative. Expressing anger is an important part of being in a healthy relationship, but it shouldn’t be the only emotion you express. Give your partner three daily “appreciations” in which you build them up and compliment them on everything from their looks to their smarts to their parenting abilities.

Let them know that you see and appreciate all the amazing things they do, and they will be that much more open to hearing negative feedback when it must be expressed.

Bonus: When you focus on the positive and look for your partner’s great qualities, you will be less likely to get annoyed when minor annoyances emerge.

And, the more positive feedback that you generate, the more you will get back in return.

Dr. Berman is the star of “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on OWN and director of

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