Anger Iceberg: Identify Hidden Sources of Anger

iceberg photograph with possible underlying emotions listed under the water: sadness, fear, disappointment, rejection, insecurity, hurt

Why do we get angry?

Anger is a natural way to prepare our bodies to defend ourselves when we feel physically vulnerable. 

However, if your threat is an emotional confrontation with your partner (instead of a physical threat), you'll want to adjust your approach. 

Anger is valid as an emotion in its own right, but it’s helpful to know what other emotions are at play. Like an iceberg, the underlying emotions are often the larger, hidden problem.

Identify the emotional threat

First you'll want to reframe your anger as protection from a threat. Next you’ll want to figure out what emotions you are protecting.

How to listen to your partner’s anger

When anger becomes directed at us, it can make us feel threatened and want to fight back.

According to the Gottman Institute relationship experts, there are 3 steps to effectively listen to your partner’s anger:

1. Don’t take it personally

Your partner’s anger is their emotion and may not be about you.

The question to ask is “why are they angry?” This curiosity makes the anger less threatening and can help you both discover the underlying issues. 

2. Don’t ask them to “calm down”

It’s important not to undermine someone else’s emotions. Their experience is valid and showing acceptance can actually help dissolve the anger.

Once your partner feels heard and supported, you can move on to the next steps of identifying the source of anger. 

3. Identify the obstacle

Anger is often a symptom of a larger obstacle. For example: 

As long as your partner’s anger isn’t abusive, you should help your partner understand their anger.

Anger has a purpose, and working through it together can help bring you closer.