Let’s face it: anger is uncomfortable.
Feeling angry, “seeing red,” or “boiling over” usually doesn’t feel good for you and sometimes even for the people around you, including your spouse.
But here’s something to note:
Anger in its own right isn’t necessarily a “problem.” In fact, feeling angry is often a perfectly normal response to certain events or situations in your life, and can even help motivate you to get active, get creative, and find some solutions! For these reasons and more, repressing anger, thinking you “shouldn’t” be feeling it, or otherwise ignoring it is neither necessary nor helpful.
The “problem” with anger happens when the emotion assumes full control over your behaviors and actions, or when your anger becomes excessive. Would you be able to tell if your anger—or your spouse’s anger—has reached this point? Let’s talk about it.
What is Anger?
The American Psychological Association defines anger as “an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.”
I often think about anger as an emotional response to:
- An unmet need, such as the need to feel safe or heard
- A situation, event, and/or person that’s not living up to your expectations (aka, the story you tell yourself about the way something or someone “should” be, but maybe isn’t)
I don’t mean to suggest that anger is “your fault” or that external factors don’t play a role (they do). But I do invite you to consider that many of your unexamined beliefs and perspectives could play a role in anger’s presence in your life, too.
Here are some common triggers of anger or factors that can make anger more difficult to control:
- Poor sleep
- Poor diet (e.g., lots of heavily processed junk food)
- Mental health issues, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or alcohol use disorder
- Financial strain
- Relationship issues
Sometimes, you might feel angry without even really being able to explain why, which can be frustrating. (The good news: therapy and other strategies can still help.)
6 Signs That Anger is Getting in Your Way
So, is your anger a “problem” after all?
Since emotional experiences are highly personal, the answer to this question largely depends on you and your specific situation. But here are six signs that could mean your anger has creeped into the “problem” zone:
- You feel angry most of the time. Anger, like any emotion, should be like a cloud in the sky—it comes, it passes, it moves on. Lingering anger suggests you’re struggling to manage it (or maybe that the underlying trigger of your anger hasn’t been properly addressed).
- You frequently feel angry in response to seemingly trivial things. You might “flip out” over things like seeing a mess in the kitchen, getting cut off while driving, or struggling with a slow internet connection.
- The way you express or attempt to ease anger causes harm to yourself or others. This can manifest as yelling, saying cruel things, abusing alcohol or other substances, acting recklessly, or in extreme situations committing acts of physical violence toward objects, pets, and people.
- When you feel angry, you feel like your thoughts, feelings, and/or actions are “out of control.” You might also frequently experience physical sensations like a racing heart or flushed skin. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, excessive anger is associated with health conditions like high blood pressure, headaches, digestive problems, and heart problems.)
- Your anger negatively affects your marriage. You might sense (or perhaps have been explicitly told) that your anger is negatively affecting your spouse’s well-being. Perhaps you feel a sense of disconnect in your marriage or worry that there are underlying issues in your relationship that aren’t being addressed. Many people who struggle with anger also see other personal and professional relationships impacted, too (e.g., perhaps you’ve been subjected to disciplinary action at work).
- You’ve been diagnosed with or show symptoms of an underlying mental health condition. Anger itself isn’t a condition, but it’s often associated with mental health issues, including the ones I mentioned above.
If any of these sound familiar, reach out for help. Having an anger “problem” doesn’t have to be a lifelong challenge, and it is possible to learn tools and techniques that can help you manage anger more effectively and identify and address your unique triggers or root causes.
I encourage my clients to see that their anger (like any emotion) is really just a signal trying to alert them to something important. Can it be hard to figure out what this “something” is? Absolutely—and this often paves the way for even moresticky emotions that can harm a marriage, including shame, frustration, fear, confusion, and withdrawal.
This is why working with a licensed mental health professional can be so beneficial if you think you have anger problems. As a marriage and family therapist, I offer couples the non-judgmental support and guidance they need not only to figure out what their anger is trying to say, but also to develop the skills to be able to listen to and respond to anger in a safe, productive, and ultimately useful way.