We’ve all heard the expression, “some people will argue a point to death,” but probably didn’t realize that it’s actually true. A recent USA Today article reported that a Denmark study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that too much arguing, turmoil, and conflict in families leads to more health problems and a higher risk of early death. Frequent fighters were two to three times more likely to die in middle age than those who experience greater peace in their relationships. This held true even when researchers accounted for gender, social class, mental health issues and social support. Men and people who were unemployed were more susceptible to the negative effects of arguing. They concluded that arguing less could save your life.
Anger management is a problem for many individuals which not only impacts health, but destroys relationships. Many couples struggle with unresolved conflict and chronic anger which turns into resentment, and destructive interactions. Many of us never learned conflict resolution and choose to either lash out or shut down. Neither approach works. Arguing can be a way to shut down the discussion, gain control, push people away, and manipulate others. The arguer doesn’t think about the physical, emotional and relational damage they create for themselves. The first step to change is awareness, so if I’m describing you, acknowledge it to another person and commit to change. And remember the anger itself is not the problem, it’s how you express it.
Unrestrained anger may seem to work in the short run, but doesn’t work in the long run. People will quickly tune you out, disconnect, and possibly end the relationship. Observing angry interactions in my practice gives me an opportunity to offer alternatives. Taking a timeout, walking away, and regrouping can be valuable strategies. Learning deep breathing, problem-solving, and assertive communication can also be helpful. In many cases, the person’s thoughts contribute to their anger, so modifying one’s thinking can make a big difference, but this requires practice and effort. The way we think contributes to how we feel, which affects how we act.
Lastly remember that anger is often a secondary emotion, masking other emotions underneath like fear, hurt, and sadness. In order to successfully manage our anger we need to identify the underlying emotions and release/resolve them. Anger and control destroy relationships and can literally kill you; now is the time to change.