How to talk with your partner when you're upset

How To Talk With Your Partner When You’re Upset: Do’s and Don’ts When You’re Mad At Your Mate

“I know you don’t do things just to make me mad. But what you’ve done really bothers me. Can we talk about this and understand what happened, so we can get back to being happy together again?”

How often do we talk to each other like this? Not often enough.

Our first impulse is to lash back when we’re angry. It might feel good for a split second. But the damage it does to our relationship can hurt and make us both unhappy for a long time. We often work hard to avoid having a big argument. But we don’t see the opportunity to prevent them by speaking up when hurts are small.

Why Ignoring Small Problems Backfires

Many people deny small problems to avoid conflict. But then we wait too long to address issues and hard feelings build up. Either they erode our good will to the breaking point, or we’re too upset to control our temper when we finally decide to speak. Instead of talking through our anger, we blow up.

We’re smart people. We can learn how to fix this.

Take a minute to look at some ways we express anger that may be hurtful to loved ones. Then consider some of the corresponding alternatives:

Don’t make your loved one guess why you’re mad. Glowering looks don’t move you towards getting what you need. DO tell him or her that you are upset, and what you are upset about.
If your partner asks you what wrong, a hurtful answer is “You should know by now!” Just say it. “I’m mad because you’re late, and I was overwhelmed with work and fixing dinner for the kids without your help.”
No name-calling. No bringing in other offenses or blaming his mother and how she raised him. “Clean anger” is specific and focused on behavior rather than personality. It works wonders to get your message through without being hurtful.
Don’t compare your partner to other people, such as: “My sister would never worry about that, so why are you on my case?” This invalidates your partner’s complaints and feelings, and deepens the snarl you both are caught in. Look below your anger for other feelings; Are you angry over the incident that just happened, or is the deeper issue that you’re worried that what you want is not important to him? Do you need to understand how he really feels about you?


Before you take up your next issue with your loved one, it’s important to calm down first. Give yourself credit that you’re taking time to talk rather than clam up. This is a good step. Think about what you want to say and how to say it.

Good Ways To Bring Up Something That is Bothering You

Here are some helpful tips to express yourself in ways that are more likely to be good for relationship:

  • When you are complaining to your mate about her behavior, remember that you love this person deeply. Anger is not a sign your love is gone (indifference is).
  • Keep in mind the goal of deepening your connection and creating room for both of you, even as you feel resentful/frustrated/angry. Hold on to it all – the loving feelings and the hurt ones – and try to say it all.
  • Try making requests instead of demands or complaints.
  • Try humor, self-deprecating remarks, or being a little silly, but NOT to ridicule your partner. One couple I know uses imaginary conversations through their stuffed animal, with a funny voice. For example: “Spot says you didn’t put your dishes in the dishwasher, and he thinks you are being naughty!” You can come up with a friendly pretend critic of your own.
  • Take time out when you feel the anger is escalating. You can say “I am too mad too talk to you right now. Let’s meet up in an hour and see what we can do about this.” Then take a walk, wash a floor, play with the dog and let your adrenaline subside before trying again.
  • Once you’ve said your part, try to listen to the response, and be open to what you hear. Direct your attention to your beloved, rather than to preparing your rebuttal.
  • Look for patterns: do your arguments have something in common? Do Sunday night ramp-ups for work set you off? Do you have a difference in temperament? Do you see a recurring pattern of one pushing an issue, the other retreating?

Getting this to work for you takes practice. It may take courage to begin. Tell the person that you’re taking new steps to clear the air and solve problems, and that it’s hard for you. “I am trying to handle things differently now, and it’s not easy for me.   I need to bring up something that may not be fun to talk about. Can we try to stay calm and look at this for a minute?”

Learning how to communicate when anger has festered for a long time may not be such a simple matter. If you find that you are not able to feel the bond between you healing and growing, the help of a good professional counselor can help you make progress that heals your relationship. You can find individual guidance or a workshop to help you to build up the love and peace you are looking for.

Next Step: Find out more About Kris Rosenthal, LPC, and Mount Vernon Family Therapy

Kris Rosenthal, LPC runs the Mount Vernon Family Therapy Center, which provides couples and family counseling in Alexandria VA. Helping people build loving, healthy relationships is her passion. She is glad to answer your questions about building a more loving relationship. To find out about our workshops and counseling, you can reach Kris Rosenthal directly at (703) 768-6240.

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