What to do when your partner screams at you?

The majority of people are uncomfortable dealing with someone's anger, especially the anger of loved ones. However, since anger is a basic emotion, everyone will encounter it in a relationship. People express anger differently. Some do it vocally and openly, and some bottle it up, but that doesn't mean it disappears. Instead, the anger surfaces in passive and manipulative ways. One of the most obvious and accessible ways of expressing anger is raising one's voice. However, it often doesn't help resolve the argument and makes the other side shut down and withdraw or scream back. The argument then becomes a competition of who is louder or angrier and thus more "right" or who is more distant and inaccessible. Let's see how to deal with loud tones in communication between partners and what it actually means when one raises voice, apart from being angry.

1. Anger or aggressiveness?

In communication, it is important to distinguish when our partner (or ourselves) is just angry or also aggressive.

It is often assumed that if someone is angry, he or she is also aggressive. However, raising one's voice can also be an individual act of expressing helplessness. Anger is a personal feeling, reflective of the inner processes within oneself, and often indicates disappointment and frustration of unrealized expectations. Aggression is a way of intimidating and harming someone for the sake of reaching one's goal. Anger is a temporary emotion. However, it can be dangerous and destructive if turned into aggression.

It is helpful to learn how you react to and process anger, as well as how your partner processes anger — do they talk to themselves, scream, feel helpless, or involve you or other people in this emotion in an attempt to "dilute" it? Raising one's voice can be an aggressive gesture that serves as a means of intimidation towards the partner or other people. Yet, not all raised voices should be treated as aggression.

Having a constructive dialogue with an angry person is difficult, with an aggressive person it can be next to impossible. Partner's anger often can be dealt with compassion, support and understanding, whereas aggression is a violation of one's basic safety.

2. Raising voice as a means, not as an emotion

A raised voice is often associated with anger, but in reality, that is not always the case. Sometimes, it is a behavior a person learned to fulfill their needs. It is quite possible that in their childhood, they screamed to overpower their parents and get what they wished for, or to help them be heard when adults wouldn't otherwise pay attention to them.

It can also be part of one's basic behavior patterns of pushing other people to agree with them. Raising one's voice can be a means of reaching their goals and adding assertiveness rather than a spontaneous expression of anger. For example, a boss screaming at their subordinate may not be angry, but rather believe that it will raise the productivity of or punish their employee. In such cases, a raised voice can be counter-addressed with a calm voice and factual arguments.

Raising one's voice can also be used to shut down the other person and their counterarguments - the one who is louder, wins. In this case, it is helpful to understand that you are dealing with a mere communication strategy and it can be addressed with miscellaneous communication techniques instead of emotional reactions. Dealing with such calculated and at the same time emotionally laden communication strategy in a relationship, of course, can be frustrating and might even seem cynical. Yet, understanding it helps to transform it, as its effectiveness for the screaming partner dwindles.

3. What is the screaming partner saying?

In the presence of a raised voice, it is possible to miss what is being said. What is your partner being loud ABOUT? Sometimes, repeating the words that are being screamed or uttered in a raised voice helps deescalate the situation, as it can show your partner that he or she are being heard. It is also okay to not know how to address a specific problem that someone is screaming about. But calling it by its name and acknowledging that it exists for the person who is screaming can help reduce tension significantly.

A raised voice often carries a secondary emotion. Do you know what emotion your partner is actually expressing by raising their voice? Perhaps you can hear their voice crack or see that they might be on the brink of crying. A raised voice can carry desperation. It can indicate overwhelmingness. It can reveal helplessness in someone who doesn't know what to do and feels the only thing they can do is scream.

Granted that a relationship is all about communication, we must learn to communicate in a respectful way. But when communication is not respectful or well-rounded, it is still helpful to try and hear what our partner wants to say when they are shouting. Asking your partner about this secondary emotion can also diffuse the tension. For example, "Are you screaming because you are angry or upset?" or "What is it that you want; can you tell me calmly?" We don't always recognize our emotions hiding behind anger, which is the easiest and fastest emotion to express. It helps if someone can assist in recognizing the true emotion that is overwhelming us. That said, it is also important to remember that your partner is not your therapist and vice versa, and you are not obligated to treat them emotionally. However, since we universally seek understanding from partners, recognizing the primary emotion can play a vital role in communicating and understanding each other.

In conclusion, one of the most useful ways to address a partner's high tones is to calmly respond that you are unwilling to carry conversation at such tones. It's helpful to establish conditions and a timeframe for when you are willing to return to the subject. For example, "I am not ready to talk on such high tones (here you've established a problem). We can get back to this when you are less angry (here you set a desired a condition). We can do it this evening (here you offered the time). Is that ok with you? (here you are asking for reaction)"

By listening to the words pronounced in a raised voice, recognizing the real emotion behind it and bringing it to the front, and differentiating between genuine emotion expressed by screaming and raising one's voice as a means of attaining one's objective, you can learn to differentiate between anger, which should be acknowledged, aggression, which can be dangerous, and a means of communication which can be countered. This can help you navigate the presence of screaming constructively together and use it as a vehicle to improve communication within the relationship. The same goes for yourself as well: if you resort to raising your voice often, once you are able to identify all these things within yourself, it will improve your communication and improve the quality of your relationship, as well as the relationship to and within yourself.

For more on dealing with anger read my article "4 Tips on Managing Anger in a Relationship".

Published by the author on Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-psychology-of-relationships-and-emotional-intelligence/202402/what-should-i-do-when-my

Greetings! My name is Boris Herzberg and I am a psychoanalytic therapist, relationship consultant and ICF coach working online.
I help individuals and couples come to terms with their relationship to self and each other and explore ways to move towards a new way of living or being.

I work in a psychoanalytic paradigm but I would describe my therapy approach as adaptive, because I see each person as a unique being and thus work in a holistic way - with people, not with problems.

Psychoanalyst (East-European Institute for Psychoanalysis)
Life-coach (MCI - Master Coach, Israel)
Psychologist (Moscow Institute of Group Therapy and Supervision)

11 years of counselling and coaching

Experience with more than 1700 clients in personal sessions and groups (+600 in educational formats)

Author of the book "The path to yourself. Practical guide to self-development". Contributing author for Psychology Today

Lecturer for self-actualization, relationship building, self-confidence strengthening and overcoming emotional crises (more than 60 offline and online events)

Born in 1980, have lived in 3 countries, in a civil union, loving father of 3 amazing kids and faithful servant to 2 wayward cats

Contact me for any questions
For any questions, you can also contact me directly on mail@borisherzberg.com
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