It’s hard to keep control… especially with your significant other. With traffic, narcissistic bosses, and gossiping co-workers it can feel like some days everything is trying to push you over the edge. Still, in spite of it all, you have to keep your cool, at least until you get home. Then, one comment or sideways look from the person you love most can cause you to lose your temper, leaving you feeling out of control and hopeless at the end of the day. Does this describe you, or perhaps your partner?
Maybe you’ve noticed how people can be boiling mad and then answer the phone in a calm or even cheerful voice. People often say they can’t control their anger, and then you see an odd behaviour like this. It seems that the situation matters. In some we can control ourselves perfectly, while in others it all spills over.
I often have people in my office tell me that they don’t have anger problems in most of their life, but then they get home and suddenly they can’t control their temper. So I guess the question is, do we get angrier with our romantic partners?
The research actually says the opposite of this. Authors of a study that just came out in 2014 say that people, generally speaking, are not as angry with their partner as they are with others in the community. This is likely surprising for the many people out there experiencing regular domestic disputes!
So why then do people seem to be angrier with their romantic partners? Well, the researchers also found that people suppress their anger less with romantic partners. It seems that even though you might be more angry with your neighbour, he or she isn’t as likely to hear about it. Spouses, on the other hand, will hear all about much smaller mistakes. It seems we just feel more comfortable letting our anger out when it is directed towards a familiar and likely safer target.
This doesn’t just apply to men either. Women seem to have just as much, or even more, anger than men. The research suggests that younger women have greater intensity and expression of anger than men. This, again, is not consistent with general stereotypes that men are angrier than women. These women weren’t just angrier, they were more likely to act out their anger, especially in countries with greater gender empowerment, like the United States or Canada. It should be said, that women do seem to suppress their anger more with age.
Hostility has been shown to be a predictor of overall relationship difficulty and eventual break-up. This is especially true of women’s anger. When women were found to have personalities prone to anger, their relationships had lower marital adjustment scores. Men’s anger is problematic for relationships, but not to the same degree. Of course, although women may be more angry than men, and may even act out that anger more than men, generally speaking, men cause more physical harm when they become aggressive.
Men and women don’t get angrier with their partners than they do with others, but they do express it more. Although it might not be nice to face your partner’s anger, perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that they are likely angrier with their boss or neighbour, you’re just the one who has to hear about it.
By Dr. Syras Derksen
Kocur, J. L., & Deffenbacher, J. L. (2014). Anger and Anger’s Expression Generally in Romantic Relationships. Contemporary Family Therapy, 36, 120-134.