Conflict in Couples; the value of working with anger in relationships

– by Jill Gabriel, UKCP Registered Psychotherapist.conflict in couples

For many of us, it is a challenge to understand and tolerate conflict as a healthy part of intimate relationships. This may be rooted in our upbringing, especially if anger was expressed in ways a child might find confusing and frightening.

Being in intimate relationships and raising children are probably the hardest jobs we will do in our lives and yet we have no specific support and training. Our society and culture reinforce wildly unrealistic expectations of ‘living happily ever after’, and sometimes a couple needs support to recognise how anger is affecting their relationship.

Jill Gabriel, who will be running another of her popular couples weekend workshops at The Terrace on the 10th and 11th of June, says:

“I am passionate about the value of working with anger in relationships. Anger is a positive emotion that informs us when something is not working and needs to be attended to…I have been on a mission to encourage people to mine the precious depths of insight and information that facing, recognising and expressing anger can give.”

Jill has spent many years learning about her own relationship with anger, examining in detail layers of withholding, analysing, bullying, lashing out, criticism and suppression. She recognises how society often conflates anger with violence and common metaphors.

Jill says:

“I’m curious to discover what they [the couple] were attracted to in each other; what they projected, what their dreams were? How and when did the disappointment in those projected dreams set in? What is each person carrying for the relationship? And how does their particular dance with anger as a couple unfold?”

Jill sees couples who come to therapy when the conflict within the relationship becomes intolerable. Perhaps one person has exploded, and the other withheld their feelings of anger. Perhaps constant bickering, which can be a means of avoiding vulnerability and longed-for intimacy has resulted in a breakdown. As Jill says; “Over the years I have seen so many different styles and shapes and I remind myself that each couple will be different in their own way.”

There is much to explore. How does each person express anger with the other and with their therapist? What is their attitude to anger? What is their experience of anger that has formed the shape they have around conflict? Is their anger disowned, owned, suppressed or expressed? Is there a flow or is it interrupted? In the natural pulsation of life, how do they give and receive, love and be loved?

Part of what keeps Jill engaged in her work with couples is this exploration. She loves to get to know their unique ways of being in the world and with themselves; discovering what is hidden as well as what shows. Sometimes they have lost trust and faith in themselves and each other, and she can hold the belief in who they want to grow into.

“As adults, we often fail to recognise our capacity to change situations and our own responses, feeling instead as impotent as we did as children. In therapy as adults we have choice and there is the opportunity to take new responsibility, express anger and say clearly what is not working for us and how we would like it to be different. In this way, we inform ourselves and the other about who we are. We are not expecting the other person to change. It is not about right and wrong but about defining ourselves, about difference and individuality.”

There are many who are not prepared or equipped for the hard work of being in a relationship, navigating their way through conflict, disappointment, difference, loneliness, separateness and intimacy. Jill harnesses anger as a potentially valuable tool for us in this process.  As she says: ‘Learning to recognise, accept, clearly express and graciously use our anger is vital to building satisfying relationships with ourselves and one another.’

Jill runs the Spectrum Anger workshops in the West Country as well as weekend workshops specifically for couples. Jill is registered with the UKCP and has been working with individuals and couples since 1983, as well as supervising therapists for their couples practices.

For more details of the weekend workshop at The Terrace, click here

Leave a Reply