Surviving a Pandemic with P.A.U.S.E – How to cope with anger in relationships

This blog focuses on managing anger in relationships during a pandemic. Our intimate relationships can create conflict, tension and anger on any normal day. We are not in normal days. We are confined to living with our partners without the support for coping that we are used to having. It’s understandable that you may be feeling more short tempered, frustrated, angry or stressed during this difficult time.

Hello, my name is Samantha Bennett and I am a Psychological Therapist and Life Coach who specialises in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness. In this series “Surviving a pandemic with P.A.U.S.E” I am sharing my expertise in the hope that it may help anyone who is struggling with overwhelming emotions during this pandemic. 

In this blog I’m going to introduce helpful steps to manage our anger within our relationships during a pandemic. 

These steps use P.A.U.S.E. 

P – Pause 

A – And breathe 

U – Understand

S – Stop blaming

E – Engage

When to use P.A.U.S.E

P.A.U.S.E is a technique you can use when you feel anger and tension rising within you. 

Anger is not a bad emotion. It is our body’s way to tell us that something is wrong, or that we perceive it to be wrong. Our anger influences our behaviour, our thoughts and the sensations we feel in our bodies. This means that when we feel angry we may react to our partner in ways we regret or in ways that escalate the situation. We may feel out of control of ourselves or our partner. 

Using P.A.U.S.E. interrupts our reaction to situations before our anger overwhelms us. We are then better able to manage our anger and more likely to engage in positive actions.

P.A.U.S.E steps explained in detail

P – Pause 

Pause any time you feel your anger building. Pause any time you notice you are reacting in a heightened way to a situation. If your anger is getting you worked up or you feel like you are going to lash out, go to a different room or go outside, even if it is just to your front door to get some fresh air, or go for a walk.

A – And Breathe

Now that you have paused, breathe deeply for several breaths. Breathe at a pace that feels comfortable for you. Let your breath in and out be even in pace. For a few moments concentrate on your body and your breath. You might want to close your eyes and put your hands on your diaphragm (the upside down V area just below your ribs) and feel yourself breathing. You may want to try counting to three slowly, in your mind, as you breathe in and out to help focus your thoughts on your breathing. You might want to shake out your hands and walk slowly releasing the tension that anger brings. You might notice that you are breathing louder at the start, that’s okay. Keep focusing on your breath until you notice your breathing is at a comfortable pace.  

You may have heard this advice before and have questioned why breathing? Our breath is a powerful tool to help us change the way we feel. Our bodies react to our emotions, the breath plays a big role in this. When we experience heightened emotions like anger, we breathe quicker, it’s the body’s natural defence mechanism. We can reduce the intensity of our emotions by changing the rate of our breathing. When we slow down our breath, we slow down our emotions. This makes us feel better and also gives us the best chance to manage the conflict that can arise whilst living through a pandemic with our partner.

U – Understand

Understand that this is difficult for both you and your partner. Empathise and be kind to yourself and your partner.

Understand that living through a pandemic is hard and there may be an increase in conflict with your partner. You will be spending more time with your partner in enclosed quarters without access to all your normal coping strategies. 

You may be experiencing more stress due to the pandemic on factors such as finances, employment, and health. Increase in stress can create more conflict in our relationships. We may feel angry if we think we are being treated unfairly. We may feel angry if we think our partner is making the situation worse. Understand that anger is natural when we think we have been wronged.

Spend time thinking about why you are feeling angry and be kind to yourself. It is okay to feel anger. It is not a bad emotion. Think about your needs in order to manage your anger and reduce your stress. What can you do to be kind to yourself?

Understand that your partner may be struggling with an increase of negative emotions during this pandemic. This is a difficult time. Your partner may not have their usual coping strategies, for example work, sport and seeing their friends. Empathise with your partner. When you think they are creating conflict, ask yourself, what are they feeling? What do they need? What could be the reasons for their behaviours?

S – Stop Blaming

Let’s stop blaming ourselves for getting angry. Feeling anger is not bad. You are allowed to feel angry. It is what you do with your anger which is important. We may not manage our anger well every time. It is important not to get stuck in a cycle of blaming ourselves and then feeling more angry. Instead we need to take responsibility for our mistakes and work towards better managing our anger.

We are less likely to want to find solutions when we are critical of ourselves. Managing our emotions during a pandemic is difficult. Let’s stop blaming ourselves for feeling angry. 

Try not to blame your partner when they create conflict, for example saying to your partner, “You are the problem” “You always do this” “This is your fault”. By blaming your partner, they are less likely to want to work together to find solutions to the conflict. Instead understand their emotions driving their behaviours and consider their needs.

E – Engage

Engage in positive actions to manage anger and stress. Think about what you can do to make things better. Reduce any behaviours that are not helping and engage in behaviours to help you cope during this time. Think about the triggers to your anger so you can prepare yourself ahead of future situations.

Alcohol and drugs reduce our inhibitions and our ability to manage our emotions. If you are more likely to become angry and behave in ways you regret when drinking or taking drugs, reduce your consumption or seek help to do so.

Talk calmly to your partner about how you are feeling without blaming. Tell your partner what triggers your anger and create coping strategies together to better manage conflict. Ask your partner how they are feeling and allow them to communicate what they think. Congratulate and appreciate each other on what you are doing well. If your emotions become heightened when talking with your partner, then go back through the P.A.U.S.E steps.

If you notice your partner’s anger increasing, give them space to manage their anger. You may want to go to another room. If you need to keep yourself safe from your partner’s angry behaviours, please seek help. Domestic abuse helpline numbers are included at the end of this blog.

Engaging in positive actions may include talking with professionals. We often hide what is happening in our relationships because of shame and fear. You are not alone. Relationships all over the world are struggling with conflict during this time. Sharing our experiences with professionals can help us to find ways to manage our anger and conflict in our relationships.

Recap of P.A.U.S.E.

P – Pause 

A – And breathe 

U – Understand

S – Stop blaming

E – Engage

I hope you find P.A.U.S.E helpful to better manage your anger in your relationship during a pandemic. Please write your comments or questions below. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to share with anyone who you think this blog might help. 

Please check out my blogs for more information on managing through difficult times.

Closing words 

If your behaviour hurts other people or damages your relationship, I advise you to seek professional help, such as a Psychologist or Counsellor. There will be understandable reasons for your anger but that doesn’t make abuse okay. Seek help. 

Domestic Abuse Helplines

In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via  www.befrienders.org.

Thank you to Christian Fregnan for the feature image.

Well wishes during this time,

Samantha Bennett MA, MSc, MAC

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