There is a significant difference between anger and rage. Anger can be viewed as a scale that ranges from minor irritation to intense rage. It can be very scary indeed when the scale tips toward rage. Most of us don’t have any idea what to do when someone we love becomes that angry. Do we leave them alone until they calm down? Will that enrage them more? Do you get angry back? Will that enrage them more? Can you even reason with someone who is that mad? Do you have to protect yourself from their anger? We may attempt to want understanding as to why our partner becomes enraged, but it’s not possible in that heated moment. What it comes down is that if you’re scared, there’s a big problem that goes beyond your need for understanding.
LOW LEVEL ANGER
The lower end of the anger scale starts with minor irritation and annoyance. For instance, you’re late again, and your partner has been waiting for you. When you finally arrive, your partner’s response might be, “Geez, why are you always so late? It’s so frustrating!” Note that your partner’s reaction in this situation could be viewed as minor, not escalating into something more intense.
MEDIUM LEVEL ANGER
The middle range of the anger scale now includes blaming, shaming, and name calling. For instance, your partner’s response in the above scenario might be, “You’re always so damn late. I can’t trust you. I don’t even know how you can hold down a job because you can’t even get to dinner on time. You’re so self-centered. It makes me not even want to make plans with you.”
If medium level fighting seems to be the norm in your relationship, you need to establish ground rules for fair fighting now. These rules would include:
1. Take a time out until both of you have calmed down. This rule needs to be established ahead of time and adhered to NO MATTER WHAT.
2. Call a truce. This means that you agree to drop the conflict immediately so you can do what you have to do, but then set up a time to deal with it later.
3. Begin to address the deeper feelings underlying the “lateness” issue. You are both getting triggered and are in danger of slipping into the rage level of fighting. This could be accomplished by using my First Argument Technique of peel, reveal, heal.
If the above scenario now includes feeling scared and fearful, the argument has tipped the scales into rage. Your partner’s enraging response might be, “If you keep this up, you’re gonna force me to lose it! I’ve never been so mad at anyone in my life! You purposely did this to hurt me. I’ve had it!” (For purposes of this article, we are not including the fowl language that often accompanies these tirades.)
At this point you’re scared, and there’s no way to reason with your enraged partner. This is a very serious problem that cannot be taken lightly. You should NEVER be scared in your intimate relationships. A disagreement with your partner NEVER warrants rage. Rage is a form of abuse and is NEVER justified unless someone is being raped, attacked, or molested.
If this is the first time that rage has happened in your relationship, or it’s a continual occurrence, there are no simple techniques to make everything right in that moment. It is not your job to calm this person down. It is your job to walk away and/or get out of the situation if you are scared. It’s a sign of a deep psychological problem that warrants immediate attention. Your choices are anger management classes, psychotherapy, or consultation with a spiritual advisor. (If you’re really feeling in danger, you may need to leave temporarily until you can get professional help.) You both need help to break this cycle.
Remember, this isn’t about never getting angry. It’s about where the anger falls on the scale. So check the scale and address the anger issues accordingly.
Please Note: When people get angry it isn't always a sign of deep psychological issues, but it may be a reaction to legitimate abuse and ongoing issues that can indeed push people into a place of helplessness, resentment, and finally anger/rage. Before one looks at anything else, one needs to first look at what is going on in the relationship. Perhaps there are issues that are so horrific that anger is a natural and even healthy response.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Sharon M. Rivkin solely for informational purposes. It should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional treatment for any disorder or problem. Sharon M. Rivkin assumes no responsibility for any circumstances arising out of the use, misuse, interpretation or application of any information supplied in this article. Do not rely on information in this article as a tool for self-diagnosis. The diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders requires consultation with a trained professional.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in O Magazine, Reader's Digest, and Time.com. Sharon has appeared on local TV, appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com.