A Peaceful Life’s Blog

How to Control Anger in your Relationship

How to Control Anger: Yes, You Can Tame the Beast!

You’re not alone if you and/or your partner struggle with how to control anger in your marriage or relationship. Do any of the below sound familiar:?

— “One or both of us gets easily triggered when certain issues are brought up (such as his or her family, finances, challengeHow to Control Angers with the kids . . . even sex)”

— “The smallest things lately can lead to big arguments.”

— “My partner doesn’t seem to hear me, so anger is the only thing that gets his or her attention.”

— “When we argue, we often end up saying hurtful things to each other — and those mean statements linger and linger.”

— “We don’t like conflict, so we never resolve anything important. Then, it comes up later in anger.”

Emotions are part of being human and — of course — part of our relationship with our partner or spouse.

However, you can learn to tame the anger and turn feelings of hurt and disappointment into productive conversations that yield greater understanding of yourself and your partner.

In fact, you’ll learn that sharing our emotions with our partner is the best way to calm our heightened feelings and how to control anger. What’s complicated, though, is that our partner  actually can be the trigger for our anger and other strong emotions.

Understanding Emotions and How to Control Anger

There are two levels of emotions: secondary and primary. Understanding the difference is key to developing greater understanding of our partner’s needs — and to expressing our own requests in a healthy way.

Secondary emotions are ones we can see. These include anger, irritability, becoming quiet and avoiding, criticism, blaming and defensiveness. Secondary emotions show we’re upset, yes; but they don’t reveal the true cause.

The primary emotions are what push the secondary emotions that you see. The primary emotions are where the true meaning lies. The most common primary emotions in relationships are fear (of disconnection from your partner) and sadness and hurt.

Other primary emotions include: Hopelessness, feeling rejected, feeling not important or loveable, feeling inadequate to meet partner’s needs and feeling unwanted or unattractive.

All told, primary emotions are powerful. Yet — and here’s the tricky part — we ourselves are often are not aware of the primary emotions that are surfacing for us. Our partner can’t know either because all he or she sees are those secondary emotions.

Let’s See Anger in Action:

Drew is angry that Avery is repeatedly late and that he doesn’t call to tell her he’s behind schedule. When he arrives home, she lets him know how upset she is. Her voice is raised, and her facial expressions warn him that she’s furious.

The way out of this is, actually, both simple and difficult: Drew calms herself, and goes inward to try to understand why Avery’s lateness is so troublesome to her. She believes it’s because she gets afraid something has happened to him. Too, she feels maybe he doesn’t care about her or her feelings and is not respectful of her needs.

Avery feels bad, but he doesn’t know what to say. He felt he’d be even later — and Drew would be even angrier — if he took the time to stop and call her. In truth, Avery hates to disappoint Drew. He feels sad and anxious anytime he does.

Here’s the good news: Drew can let Avery know the real reason she’s upset. It’s about fear he’s been hurt and a fear she’s not important to him. Avery, in turn, can let Drew know that he feels both shame and guilt when he upsets her.

Tips for How to Control Anger

I’ll help you understand the basics of, first, how to calm yourself and, second, how to constructively discuss your feelings with your partner. I’m going to take you step-by-step through how Drew and Avery were able to get to the root of Drew’s anger.

To begin, one of the basic approaches of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, the most-effective approach to helping couples, is teaching couples to “slow down.”

When you’re upset, the emotions-control part of your brain is activated. Our responses to an anger trigger can be fast and furious with minimal forethought. But the escalated anger can cause our partner to shut down or become defensive and limit the potential to work through an issue.

You Can Learn to Slow This Angry Automatic Reaction

First, take a few moments to ask yourself some key questions:

  1. What was the “cue” or event that caused me to feel upset or angry?
  2. What deeper meaning did this cue have for me? (For example, “My partner doesn’t care about my needs.” “He or she is selfish.”  “I’m not important.”)
  3. What primary emotions lie beneath my anger? Sadness? Hurt? Fear?
  4. What do you need your partner to understand about your experience? 

Letting Your Partner Know Your True Feelings

This leads us to how you and your partner can learn how to control anger and have a very-different type of conversation. I advise couples to calm themselves first, avoid accusatory words or tone (such as “When you . . .”) and to remain curious and open about your partner’s feelings and his or her response to the issue you are raising.

After you’ve taken a few moments to understand how to control anger and answered the four questions above, you may be more calm. This way, your partner is less likely to become defensive as a response to your anger.

It may be helpful to take a few deep breaths, which tell your brain to become more relaxed. Also, try to let go of any negative assumptions you may have about how the conversation will go. Common assumptions could include, “We never get to the bottom of things” or “My partner never hears me.” You’re going to try a different approach this time.

Five Steps to Anger-Free Communication

Here’s how you can apply what Drew did to let Avery know how she truly feels when he’s late. There are some basic steps.

  1. Begin with your primary emotions. “I’m feeling so anxious when I’m expecting you at a certain time. I get so afraid that something has happened. It feels almost paralyzing. I get stuck in a circle of worry.”
  2. Allow your partner to hear what you’re saying. If he or she has questions, be calm and open to learning their thoughts and concerns.
  3. Calmly let your partner know what you need. “I’m okay with your being a little later if you let me know. I’d really appreciate you calling me. This way, I won’t worry and be angry if you’re behind schedule.”
  4. Again, slow down so you can hear your partner’s thoughts by asking, “What do you think?”
  5. If you both have agreed on a solution, restate your agreement and future actions you’ll take. “Thank you for understanding me! I’m glad you’re Okay with calling if you’re running behind schedule.”

Giving yourself time to tune in to your own primary emotions helps you get to the real root of the issue. Together you can “make sense” of your anger,  learn how to control anger and have discussions that lead to greater understanding and to resolving important concerns.


Angry familyA Few Words About Anger Out of Control

When anger turns to violence in a relationship, there is great cause for concern. The couple needs a physically safe environment in order to be able to have meaningful conversations and resolve concerns.

Importantly, children are impacted emotionally by violence in the home.

If there is violence in the relationship, this issue needs to be addressed. If you feel unsafe at home, you can reach out to local resources, including domestic-violence shelters such as Safehouse Denver that can provide assistance in how to get the help that is needed.


If you and your partner want to learn how to control anger in your relationship, our couples counseling can help you identify what’s really going on under that anger and how to communicate it in a way that doesn’t cause fights or shut each other down.


Do Husbands Create Nagging Wives?

Do Husbands Create Nagging WivesNagging Wives. Do Husbands Create This? Sort Of…

I have news for you, and you might not like it. If you are a man who sees his wife nagging, criticizing, or not letting something go, then this post is for you.

Last week I wrote about women not being able to see their contribution to relationship issues. And this week, I’m focusing on the dudes, or anyone who feels like their partner doesn’t give them a break. There are different types of nagging, but I’m talking about anything that ends up possibly turning into a fight. Sometimes, fights look like both of you arguing with each other, and sometimes you feel more like you are not saying anything while she does all the talking/nagging/yelling. Then, there’s the mixture of the two.

Some men have a shut-sown mode that kicks into gear when they are managing conflict. You’ve probably heard of the fight-flight-freeze response to a threat, and this is no different. It’s called being flooded, and it happens when you are kind of numbing out when things get too intense. You might go blank, feel numb, confused, or just so damn angry that you don’t want to say anything because you worry that you’ll just make things worse. Inside, you’re just trying to ride this out and stay calm.

But, on the outside, you are like a stone wall. No interaction, no showing any feelings. You’re gone. This is called stonewalling. And it probably drives your wife nuts. She might accuse you of being a robot, not caring, etc. She’s likely to explode and/or totally shut down and give up.

This turns into a vicious cycle where you guys have a conflict, and pretty quickly you’re stonewalling and she’s nagging, and the more she nags, the more you stonewall. The more you stonewall, the harder she tries to get somewhere with you. It’s important to see nagging/demands/criticism and stonewalling as things that feed off of each other. It’s rare that one person is always the instigator. Rather, you both fall back on that tactic and it sets the snowball rolling downhill. Couples soon find themselves unable to talk about anything without ending up like this.

Even though there are reasons that you end up stonewalling, the consequence is that it teaches your partner that they have to try harder and harder to get you to show up in the relationship. They have to get louder, harsher, and more upset just to feel heard.

This probably really sucks for you. And it’s dangerous for the relationship – these patterns predict divorce.

Throw a Monkey Wrench Into This Vicious Cycle

If you see that your partner is just getting more and more angry no matter how hard you try to let it go, numb out, etc, then your partner is feeling like you don’t get it or don’t care.

I’m going to give you a two step tip for helping to smooth this out a little.

  1. To help the anger and nagging, you have to let her know that you do understand and care. Anger is the emotion that comes out when we feel like we have to fight to be understood. Try just saying that you get it, you get how she’s feeling. Notice how I’m not telling you to agree with your partner’s perspective. You are simply giving your partner a lifeline that there is someone home who cares about what’s going on, even if they are frustrated and have no idea what else to say.
  2. You have to help her understand that you are just overloaded and can’t talk right now. If you let her know what’s happening with you and that you aren’t just shutting down to punish, abandon, or anger her, then she’s more likely to hear you and back off. 

You aren’t saying it sarcastically, and  you might not even use those words. The main thing is that you are trying to break up the cycle by letting your partner know that you get that they are upset, but that you are too overloaded to respond. This itself is validating, and it communicates that you care. Because believe it or not, if your partner is convinced that you are shutting down on purpose, she will see that you are really going the distance by trying to help her understand what’s happening for you. And throwing the small bone of telling her that you understand that she’s really upset will at least make her feel like you see her and her feelings. You may not have a solution for them. You may not understand everything that’s behind them. But you see them and you care. This goes a million miles toward softening the nagging.

Partners who get what they need don’t persist and nag. If you are having a hard time with this and feeling like nothing that you do is enough to meet those needs, it would be a great idea to have a consultation with one of our experienced Denver Couples Therapists to discuss what we could do to help you both feel saner and more effective in your relationship.

Relationship Problems and Women: Can You See Your Part?

balancing relationship problemsWhat Makes it Hard for Women to See Their Part in Relationship Problems?

When you feel like you do everything for everyone and get no consideration in return, it’s hard to have sympathy for your spouse’s complaints about relationship problems. Maybe you can’t see anything but how you are being taken for granted. When you are struggling for years in not being heard, or having your emotional needs met, it makes you deaf to the needs of your spouse. Relationship problems seem like they happen despite all of your efforts.

If you are miserable, it hardens you. If you are trying to get through to your spouse to do more, care more, listen more, the anger can put you into a position of doing a lot of yelling, criticizing, and nagging. You feel justified. You’re angry and exasperated, and that’s what happens when you aren’t getting a response from your partner. This can happen to either a man or a woman experiencing relationship problems, but women are often the ones who are more emotionally dissatisfied  in a relationship. Add in the feeling that you are doing more than your fair share, and you have an understandable recipe for resentment and blame:

“So what if he’s hurting, I’ve been hurting for a long time.”

“Maybe if he hurts now, he’ll understand how I feel.”

“If he really cared, he’d do more and he wouldn’t turn me into this nagging, yelling monster.”

But, there’s a price to this.

If you are in so much pain that you can’t see your contribution to your relationship problems, you’ll both be very stuck. I see a lot of women who bring their husbands or partners to therapy hoping that it will make them change. Do more to help. Be more respectful. Listen and care.

Women have a lot on their plates, and maybe you do too. They are often responsible for the lion share of what goes on in a household or family. Career (or not), children, housework, shopping, it all adds up. Factor in your partner’s need for physical intimacy and you may just feel like you are going to scream.

Burnout has a price: When it comes to solving relationship problems, there can be so much anger that you can’t feel empathy for your partner. You can’t take your share of the responsibility for the state of the relationship. 

This leaves you feeling alone and taken advantage of in the relationship.  If your partner didn’t care, why would you try very hard to meet their needs?  This makes for a vicious cycle that blinds you to your own contributions to these relationship problems.

I would never pin all of the blame for unhappiness on one partner in non-abusive relationships. What I’m suggesting is that if you think that all of the problems in your relationship are your partner’s fault, there’s more to the story. You may feel like this partly because of being overloaded and burned out.  Understanding this, catch yourself when you are feeling like the victim. Notice what your mind is telling you about the story here. Even if you aren’t sure of a way out of the patterns you have created together, remember that you have created them together. This can go a long way toward paving a path for you to get your needs met.

It’s tempting to think that if your partner would “just stop being an emotional cripple” that your life would suddenly improve, but believe me, it’s not that simple. Recognizing that things like burnout or overwork can make you less friendly toward your partner’s needs or complaints is a good first step toward avoiding the pitfall of being unable to take any ownership of what’s going on in your relationship.

If your mind is saying, “It’s because I’m burned out that this makes me so mad that my partner can’t clearly see what’s going on with me,” then couples therapy can really help with this. We specialize in helping you get through to each other in new ways that are totally different from what you are used to.

Next, I’ll be writing a post on why some men can’t see their contribution to the problems in their relationship, so stay tuned! In the meantime, let’s meet for a free consultation with one of our excellent Denver couples therapists.

Do I Want to End My Relationship?

How Can I Tell if I want to End My Relationship? Am I just Exhausted and Burned end my relationshipOut? What’s the Difference Between the Two?

Entering couples therapy can feel like starting a marathon when you are tired of running. Most of the time, a couple comes in and they aren’t even sure how to know if the relationship is fixable or not. Often, you ask yourself, “Do I want to end my relationship, or am I just burned out?” There are no guarantees, but the couples therapist usually has a pretty good handle on how folks come in feeling pretty hopeless, burned out, and unsure of how things are going to work.

Relationship Burn Out can occur when one person, usually the one who feels like they have been trying to save the relationship, gets exhausted. It can start to feel like you’re numb. You’re resigned to the way things are always going to be. You want things to get better, but you don’t know how much more effort you can muster. It feels dangerous to hope. It feels like you’ve given it your all, and you wonder if you’re done. 

This can be confusing – are you done with the relationship, or done with the struggle?

When you are in couples therapy, the best route to take is to act as if things are fixable, and act as if you have the belief that they can be, even if you aren’t sure what that looks like. I wrote a post on it here. On the surface, this can sometimes be tough for the couples therapist and the client to figure out. It’s pretty convincing when someone says that they just can’t care right now. So how would you know?

If you imagine that your relationship suddenly became what you wanted it to be, how does that make you feel? Really imagine it. Let yourself believe it.

Does it spark anything? Hope? Joy? Relief? Slightly guarded disbelief that wants to believe?

Now try this: Think about your struggle in this relationship. The hardship you’ve faced trying to change things. What do you feel? Do you feel a knot, angst, sorrow? Anything at all? Or do you just feel like you’re thinking about something that you’ve gone through and are out of, removed from?

As a couples therapist, if I can tap into any kind of feeling, positive or negative, about the relationship, then I know I’m on to something. People who are done don’t give a crap. They don’t tear up when they talk about how hard they’ve tried and how exhausted they are. Because they don’t feel helpless or hopeless, they feel removed. They fight is over. The bond is broken. And they get much more joy from imagining life without the person than angst.

This isn’t to say that people who still feel something never get divorced. Quite the opposite – I think that a lot of divorces happen because people are burned out and trying to escape the misery, not because they suddenly woke up and felt nothing for their partner.

So, do you get anything from the thought that things could be better? Even if you feel too exhausted to entertain the notion, would you get hopeful if it were indeed possible? Does your heart still break at the thought of losing this person?

It’s not always easy to tell, but being burned out because it means so much to you and you’ve tried so hard is different from being done because there is no longer any kind of bond or relationship there. It might be really hard to decipher this on your own. If you need help figuring this out, we can help. Just know that it’s totally OK to feel numb and done and tired and all of that, and it still isn’t the last nail in the coffin of your relationship.

In fact, it’s pretty darn common to feel this way, which is a sign that a couples therapist could really help.

My Discovery of How Mindfulness Reduces Stress

mindfulness tips

Mindfulness Reduces Stress, but I Wasn’t Sold

If you’ve ever heard of mindfulness, you might know that mindfulness reduces stress. You might assume that therapists are experts in mindfulness.  I will admit when I was first introduced to it, that I was not sold on how much of an impact it could actually have on my life.

When I was still in my internship, one of my responsibilities was running a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy group.  One of the core skills that I taught using this model included mindfulness. I had been exposed to mindfulness before, but never to this extent. I wasn’t convinced that just practicing a few minutes a day of something could truly make a difference in my overall stress level and ability to focus. 

Mindfulness has gained a lot of popularity recently, and it sounds like something that is meant for the yoga studio or the meditation cushion. How could simply slowing down actually put a dent in the amount of stress, worry, and overall tension in my life? Of course, in theory, I was all for it. But, I hadn’t actually practiced it.

Since I don’t ask my clients to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself, I totally immersed myself in the same exercises that I was giving them for “homework.” The more I practiced mindfulness, the more I started to really experience its benefits.

I First Tried The Easiest Mindfulness Exercise. Ever.

One of the first things that I first started practicing was paying attention to my breath.  I would spend just two minutes a day noticing how I was breathing, and would make it intentional, rather than automatic. I focused on my breath in, the rise of my chest and expansion of my stomach, and focused on the breath out. I noticed the cooler air coming in and the warmth of the exhale. I felt how my shoulders moved, and my chest expanded. I explored the sensations as if I were an alien that invaded this body and was experiencing the act of breathing for the first time.

This totally calmed down my nervous system.  I was able to slow down my thoughts. I was able to pay closer attention to what was happening in the present moment, rather than the stories I had in my head about the past or the future.  Most importantly, I was able to drown out the numerous distractions that made it hard to feel like myself. 

I decided that mindfulness was awesome.

So what exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a technique used to bring our attention to the present moment.  It calms us and reduces outside noise so that we have greater access to our intuition.  

Think about trying to tune into a radio station that has a lot of static; you can sort of hear the music, but it’s muffled, and the signal keeps going in and out.  Mindfulness can be used to fine tune our “station” so that we can fully experience our emotions, bodily sensations, and the world around us, and can better assess what we need and want.  

Being mindful has had an incredible impact on my quality of life— by increasing my ability to manage stress, growing my tolerance for experiencing uncomfortable emotions, giving me more focus on everyday activities, allowing me to fully experience happy moments, and has even helped me make better decisions!

One of the best parts of mindfulness is that it’s portable, it’s free, and it’s flexible.  You can practice mindfulness for 5 seconds or 5 hours, and there is no special equipment needed!  No one even has to know when you’re doing it.  There are also so many different ways that you can practice mindfulness; from breathing exercises, to counting, to being out in nature, to even everyday activities like driving or washing dishes. We can figure out a way to integrate this practice into our lives in easy and beneficial ways. 

If you are curious about how mindfulness reduces stress and how you can harness your own power to calm your nervous system and create new possibilities, reach out for a free consultation so we can talk about how your life will change for the better.


Kristy Vergo, LPCC
Kristy Vergo, LPCC

Schedule a Free Consultation with Kristy

Relationship Change: I’ll Try When You Try

“I’ll become more (loving/open/etc) when I see some relationship change from my spouse.”relationship change

I get it. Really, I do.

Allow me to illustrate how this isn’t going to change anything…

There is a great parable that relates to relationship change. I have no idea if there is an original version, so if you’ve heard this and it’s slightly different drop me a comment!

In a romantic relationship, we often feel like we’d be able to make a positive change if the other person went first and gave us something to work with. Sometimes this is because we feel slighted and want them to show up a little more. Sometimes we want them to prove something, take a turn trying. Sometimes we are just exhausted or frozen, wary of trying too hard if the other person isn’t going to do anything on their part for relationship change.

Here’s the Parable

There once was a guy in a very cold little yurt up in the mountains. There was an awesome wood burning stove there, and the guy was freezing to death. The guy was really upset that the stove wasn’t warming him, and he asked the stove to warm him so that he could make it through the night.

The stove replied, “I would love to warm you, but you have to supply me with firewood. I can’t warm you if I don’t have any.”

The guy says, “Well, I can’t go out in the freezing snow to get the wood on the porch until you give me some heat!

You see where this is going. The dude froze to death. 

We rely on each other to meet our needs in the relationship, but it’s not realistic to expect your needs to be met if the other person is freezing or running on empty. Paradoxically, we have to give something even if we are running on empty or freezing.

This is the catch-22 that people find themselves in, and I always say that it’s a gradual process. We can’t just snap into fully being there for someone who isn’t there for us. And we can’t expect that from our partners. With the help of a couples therapist, you can learn how to take small steps toward relationship that actually get you somewhere, and ultimately be able to really get what you need from the relationship. If  you feel stuck in this kind of catch-22, let us help you untangle the mess so you don’t freeze!