Dr Perpetua Neo

How to tell if the anger you feel towards your partner is healthy or toxic

People generally have a pretty bad view of anger. It’s an emotion we don’t tend to like feeling, and it’s been demonised as something we “shouldn’t” experience.

But anger isn’t all bad, according to psychologist Perpetua Neo. She told INSIDER if you’re angry, it’s often because you’re feeling a sense of injustice. Feeling anger can help point you to what’s unfair or upsetting so you can deal with it.

When anger is a constant and disruptive part of your life, though, that’s when it’s not so useful. In relationships, it’s normal to argue. But if you’re consistently raging at each other over the smallest issues, it’s likely because something isn’t being addressed, Neo said.

“I’m sure you’ve read relationship articles about when couples argue about things like ‘you didn’t bring home the milk,’ and they’re never really arguing about the milk,” she said. “And that’s how you know your anger is deep-seated, because the milk is the trigger, like the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

If you believe anger is an unhealthy thing, you’re less likely to face it head-on. That’s when resentment can start to fester, and it’ll bubble up and consequently burst out suddenly and inappropriately.

How to tell if your anger is misplaced

How can we tell if the anger we feel is healthy or not? According to Neo, it all comes down to regret.

"If you regret it then you know this is a behaviour that has a trigger, and this is something you need to solve," she said. "So if you're unhappy and you're regretting it, that's a very big sign that behaviour has to be moderated. And if you're doing something you regret out of your anger, it's a big sign the line has been crossed."

Some people, for example, turn to alcohol or substance abuse when they’re angry. They might be trying to work through their resentment and anxiety alone by masking it as a reward.

A relationship is a dance between two people, Neo said, and anger is one of the things you have to work on together. This is difficult if you still see anger as something to be ashamed of.

It’s also made even harder to tackle if one party always blames you for your anger. For instance, they’re passive aggressive when something upsets you, but there are different rules when it’s the other way around.

"In a relationship, it's not only a case about me and him or me and her, there's a third party and this third party is the relationship," said Neo. "As you have anger, theirs or yours, how do you solve it? Do you work together? It's actually information about how healthy the relationship is, and what steps are you both taking consistently and authentically to walk in the same direction, rather than pretend that anger doesn't exist."

In a blog post for Psychology Today, psychotherapist Erin Leonard said there are generally two types of anger in relationships. The first is where one person in the relationship feels like they are never understood, like when one partner is consistently running late, but they won’t acknowledge why this is upsetting.

The second type of anger is when something outside the relationship is affecting it, like missing out on a promotion at work and taking it out on your partner.

“If the anger arises because a person does not feel consistently understood by their partner, it may be justified,” Leonard wrote. “The dynamic should be addressed quickly, so love, closeness, and fun are restored. On the other hand, if a person expresses anger because things are not going their way and they refuse to try and understand their partner’s perspective, it may be a highly defensive display of anger.”

In other words, projecting anger is never healthy. But experiencing anger because your partner has done something that upset you is justified, and the way to get through it is to explain it to them. How they respond should tell you everything you need to know about your relationship.

"If you can use anger or disagreements as intel for what needs to be worked out," Neo said. "It can tell you how right you are for each other ... You have to be able to love a person and be upset with them at the same time."

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