Managing Anger in Isolation

Managing Anger in Isolation

Your quarantine partner just aggravated you again. You’re angry—or are you? Reflection may reveal something else.

Anger is powerful. It’s an often misunderstood or unreasonably rejected emotion, and one that is totally valid to feel right now—about the state of the world, for sure, but also about how your partner always puts the forks in the dishwasher upside down.

Many of us are angry right now and can’t lean on old stress-management strategies, whether they be going to work or a friend’s house, or even just being alone in your own space to cool off.

Knowing this situation is temporary, you may be trying to grin and bear it and deal with the problems on the other side. I’m a believer, however, in dealing with what’s in front of you while it’s here. No one knows how long the quarantine will last—but there is an opportunity to work on your relationship skills up close and under stress. What better time than now to learn how to manage anger in your most important relationships?

Anger indicates something is wrong and needs to change: A need is not being met or a boundary is being crossed. It can also be mixed up with feelings of injustice or the need to protect yourself or someone else. Rather than trying to bury, suppress, or ignore the anger, you can practice getting really intimate with it and learning what, exactly, it is. It’s easy to take fear and anxiety out on a partner. But if you spend the time trying to understand anger, you will be much better equipped to handle it.

Here are some helpful steps to take when you’re angry with someone you love.

Generally, when anger erupts, first pause to inquire into it and consider what the anger is really about. Identify your problem; then gently explain it to your loved one as exactly that: your problem. Finally, ask for their help—without judging, criticizing, or blaming them. Ninety percent of the time, the other person will be happy to know what you need, and these kinds of conversations can actually be really conducive to intimacy.

While there may be issues you need to work on in your relationship, the part of that process that needs the most attention in quarantine is the first part: the pause. If you can slow down, reflect, and give the anger some attention and tenderness, you might discover fear underneath it—or a deep unprocessed grief for everything that has changed on us so suddenly.

Giving yourself time to genuinely feel your feelings will help clarify exactly what it is that’s making you feel so irritable all the time. You may see your problems a lot more clearly—and realize they have nothing to do with your loved one.

That anger may not be about the forks in the dishwasher at all. It might be about feeling trapped, out of control, or not knowing what the future holds. It might be about missing friends, work, or community, or even about lacking financial security. You may not have any answers to these problems right now, but your loved ones can serve you better if you can share your pain with them rather than using them as emotional punching bags.

So slow down. Take a breath. Put your hands on your heart. Let yourself feel your anger. Give it a name. Write it down or speak it out loud. Give it time. Give it tears if it needs tears. … And if you find at the end of it that you just really must talk to your partner about the right way to put forks in the dishwasher, then that is what you must do!

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