Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other staff.


I am looking for a way to stop abusing my girlfriend when I'm angry. I know I cause her a lot of pain. If you have any information that can help me in this matter I would appreciate it. I love my girlfriend very much and if I don't get some help I'll lose her. Thank you for your time.


Because you are aware that your anger causes your girlfriend pain, you realize its destructive potential. To have admitted your need of help is a real mark of progress. Love is very close to hate on the emotional scale. As our emotional life matures, we seek to gain control of these high energy feelings, harnessing their energy, stopping them from getting out of control by exerting self-control.

But some men, possibly as the result of experiences earlier in life, can find that those closest to them, those they value most, trigger the most powerful releases of uncontrolled outbursts of this energy. This results in acts of violence, hurtful to those he loves, and making the individual feel unworthy, fearful of the consequences of his lack of self-control.

Unchecked, these can become habitual responses, revealing a cycle of cause and effect where strong feelings he cannot channel more acceptably are vented through violence. Some men seem naturally more likely to respond to emotional pressure with aggression than others. This is thought to be a mainly learned response (nurture), but there is an element of personal make-up here (nature). The aim is to help you to recognize the causes of this anger, to detect when violent behavior is likely to occur, and to control and manage that emotional energy non-destructively.

I believe this is an inward thing. While the frustration of confinement, physical or emotional, can lead to violence, the history of sports stars involved in partner abuse suggests that physical exercise alone doesn't avert the aggressive response. I suggest three lines of action, self help, seeking help to manage your anger and seeking advice and help together with your partner about your relationship.

Anger management groups have a lot to offer men faced with the problem of partner abuse. This question holds within it the seeds of hope; you have acknowledged your need of help, and that's progress. In self help terms, it may help to avoid discussion of important issues with your partner in the house; your dwelling contains memories of past clashes, and the environment can cause you both to "defend your territory." When you feel the tell-tale sensations of mounting anger, the tell-tale build up of tension, the descent of the "black cloud":

1. Step back - don't invade your partner's personal space, but keep a respectful distance.

2. State as calmly and cooly as you can how you feel right now, if it helps, but DON'T argue, WINNING here is avoiding violence, NOT scoring points.

3. Firmly hold your right wrist with your left hand... this reminds you of your physicality, and your potential to hurt. Plus, it restrains you from converting your feelings into violent action. It lessens the feeling of threat your partner feels, while signalling, Stay back!

4. If you feel like you want to cry, DON'T fight this feeling. Let go, machismo is OUT here! Crying is nothing to be ashamed of, and is preferable in every way to converting your frustration and anger into abuse.

5. Intentionally, breathe deeply and slowly, aim to control your inner urge to strike out. Say the words, I'm angry but I love you! if it helps ... but don't approach her if the anger is still there.

6. Go for a walk.... NOT a drive!

I hope you will build on the answer here by seeking professional help. Your local men's center or clinic may have useful experience of this problem, or your doctor or social worker can help you obtain a source of help. Many anger management workers operate within the prison system, so an enquiry there might be fruitful, if you felt comfortable to make it. Or ask at your local library; they often have notices advertising men's groups and similar resources.

Your behavior is likely to indicate that there is work to be done in the whole area of you relationship. Have you considered relationship counselling? As a way of showing your partner how much you value both her and yourself, this would be a positive step, and the counselling service can also refer you to anger management resources. I wish you every success as you work to master your feelings, regain your girlfriend's trust and renew your relationship. It's worth the effort, so go for it!


Trevor Harvey, M.Ed combines lecturing in the School of Health at the University of East Anglia, with writing and counselling, and is based in Norwich, England. After a 12 year naval career, including the Falklands War, he became editorial board member/series advisor with The British Journal of Health Care Management and founder of the men's group AMICUS. He focused on health-related men's issues, particularly the way men negotiate personal transition through relationship crises, and is currently studying the management of information overload. Whenever possible, he combines his passion for photography with hill walking, and piloting his boat on the local lakes and rivers of eastern England.


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