Have you ever wanted to tell someone how mad you are, but you don’t? Instead, you keep your anger to yourself, so you don’t start a fight. The only problem is your anger is bubbling over, even if you don’t express it directly.
Keeping your anger to yourself isn’t always a bad idea, as long as you find a way to not hold onto it. Speaking up in anger usually backfires when it’s disguised with blame and pressure. So how do you express your anger and frustration without contributing to more conflict and tension? Learn to speak up without blaming.
How to Communicate Anger without Blaming
To me, speaking up means sharing your thoughts, position, and/or preference. It may also mean defining what you are going to do or not do.
Speaking up doesn’t mean telling the other person what you think about them. That is what blaming looks like. And when you deliver blame, watch for other people to defend themselves with more blame or eventual retreat.
Here are my thoughts on how to communicate with someone about your anger instead of with your anger:
1. Own Your Thoughts and Feelings Completely – Most conflict starts with one person blaming the other for something her or she is feeling. If you truly own your perspective and feelings, then you will be able to tell others without pressuring them to change. You will be able to tell them about yourself and your thoughts even if they don’t agree with you.
2. Contain Your Initial Reaction – You may need to find a way to contain the first feeling that pops into your head. If you are feeling stressed, most of us will use “fighting words” and blame the other. Find ways to slow your reactions, so you can think through how you present your ideas.
3. Define Yourself without Pressing on the Other – If you are speaking up in an attempt to get the other person to change, then he or she will sense your pressure. Maybe he will welcome the shape up, but then you will be responsible for “helping” him change. Or he may get irritated with the pressure and “fight” back. Two people pressing on each other to change leads to more conflict.
4. Be Open to Hearing the Other – You don’t have to like the other’s position, but it’s great to respect it. If you aren’t pressing on the other to change, then it’s easier for him or her to speak up. You may learn something new about yourself and your loved one. You can discover new choices you couldn’t see before.
Discover New Choices When Speaking Up
Here is a classic example of an argument many couples have had more than once. Notice how the wife in this example ends up taking a different approach than normal. She simply tells her spouse about herself instead of trying to change him.
Wife: “I worry that you expect me to do everything.”
Husband: “I always thought you didn’t trust me to do anything.”
Wife: “I feel like I’m bothering you and get tired of asking you to participate.”
Husband: “I don’t mind doing my part. But each time I go to do something for the family, you have already done it.”
Wife: (Light bulb goes on in her head. She instantly sees how she is a part of the problem she is complaining about. She’s so fast and busy that she leaves little room for her spouse to jump in. Can she slow down and take charge less? And, ultimately, can she do less even if he doesn’t do more?)
Wife: “Wow, I get it now! So the more I do, the more you don’t do. And the more you don’t do, the more I pick up. Neither one of us alone is to blame. For now, let’s not change a thing and see if we can be at peace with this new understanding of where each of us is coming from.”
On the outside, it looks like this heated discussion is going in circles and going nowhere. But for the person who spoke up, she now has a new way to think about the problem.
Remember the goal in speaking up for yourself is to represent yourself well. Although tempting, it’s not to get the other to change by using your anger to put pressure on them.
Many people get stuck focusing on expressing their anger in hopes others will listen. It’s more important to focus on managing the anger or it will manage you.
I work with both individuals and married couples who are struggling to manage emotional reactions with each other. If you are stuck and want to find a new way to relate to your spouse of many years, consider counseling with me. You can start on your road to finding renewed confidence and connection by scheduling a free 15-minute phone consult with me.