When working with couples in counseling, my focus is to help my clients interact with each other intentionally instead of reactively. An example of a reactive response is when anger gets triggered. Anger is a secondary emotion which shields us from more painful and vulnerable emotions, such as shame, loneliness, or sadness. In relationships, we often use anger as a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from something hurtful that our partner has said, or something that will effect us in an unwanted way.
As an alternative, I advise my clients to hear their partner’s words and experience them differently, as if they are their partner’s best friend. The goal is to not allow the secondary emotion of anger to overtake us. We have the ability to choose what effect words have over us, rather than simply reacting without control. This enables us to communicate with our partner better, to respond in an intentional manner without acting out of anger, and to problem solve in a more creative way that’s good for both people.