Published on Monday, September 29, 2014

The Chronic Anger Cycle in Couple’s Relationships

The Chronic Anger Cycle in Couple’s Relationships

We all get angry at times. In fact, anger is a natural way we respond to threats and can be seen as an automatic stress response. In addition to this "fight" response, there are also the "flight" or "freeze" responses where the individual tries to get away from the perceived danger or do as little as possible hoping the threat will pass by.

However, when anger becomes chronic in relationships, partners often find themselves in a very difficult position to find solutions for interpersonal problems. It is as if peace and joy is something of the distant past. Couples who have allowed anger to be used as energy to hurt each other back and forth often refer to phrases like of "we have drifted apart," or, "we are disconnected from each other and fight all the time." Feelings are often describe as being hopeless, deeply hurt, numb and experiencing a high level of contempt and bitterness - even when neutral and daily issues are being discussed or observed. The reality is that very few couples have the ability to break out of this cycle unless a very structured approach, that both understand and agree upon, is set in motion. It often seems near impossible to create this structure without the help of a skilled "third party" or neutral observer.

Once the relationship is "stuck" in the chronic anger cycle partners dig their heels in the ground and struggle to listen and understand each other because each partner is consumed with his or her own pain and discomfort due to experiencing a lack of understanding and personal value in the relationship. It is difficult to support others when you experience living life in "crisis mode."

In order to make any progress, it is important to set a structure for interaction in the relationship. The couples therapist needs to be clear on how initial couples interactions should look to break out of the chronic anger cycle and at the same time be able to listen with empathy to both individuals. Sometimes it is even necessary to mix some individual sessions in the couples therapy process to gain a better and compassionate understanding of each partnerʼs position.

How do you know when your relationship seems to be stuck in the chronic anger cycle?

  • Anger often escalates rapidly and frequently, either overtly or in a passive aggressive way
  • Each partner has a intense need to be valued and understood yet have great difficulty in communicating personal needs and expectations effectively 
  • The "blame game" takes over with a low level of self-awareness and very little personal responsibility is at the order of the day
  • Constant triggering of what one can call "traumatic episodes" and increasing avoidance of actually dealing with "the real issue" as it has now become too risky to be vulnerable

The earlier people seek help for these undesirable relationship problems the better and the longer they wait, the more difficult it may be. If you are stuck in the chronic anger cycle in your relationship, we at Vita Nova are committed to help you work your way out of this undesirable place.


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Author: Louis Steenkamp

Categories: Communication, Marriage, Relationships

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Louis Steenkamp
Louis Steenkamp>

Louis Steenkamp

Louis focuses on Family Counselling, Substance abuse, Trauma and Relationship Counseling in Pretoria. "Working with people is my passion. I am professionally registered in both South Africa and the United States of America as psychological Counselor and marriage and family therapist."

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