It might be embarrassing to discuss but yelling in a relationship is common.
In this article, you will learn why there may be yelling in your relationship. You will also learn ways to interrupt this process to communicate more effectively.
What Yelling in a Relationship Means
If you, your partner, or both of you yell, this is not very unusual.
Many couples may yell at each other on occasion at times. This alone isn’t a sign of a toxic relationship. A toxic relationship is one that’s harmful to the emotional or physical wellbeing of one or both partners.
It also doesn’t mean that you need to break-up.
All yelling in a relationship mostly simply means is that you and your partner need better emotional coping skills as well as communication skills.
When Yelling May Not Be a Problem
For couples who are in a “volatile” partnership, they may shout at each other. Often they identify as being very passionate and emotional. They can still be very happy with one another – provided they share this style.
And it’s also important to note that while their fights may begin intensely, they are able to move to laughter and joking by the end. They also are able to repair without shutting down or putting up a wall with one another. For these couples, yelling may not be a problem.
When Yelling is a Problem
If you perceive the yelling in your relationship to be a problem – even if your partner doesn’t – then this is a concern. You have the right to your own needs and boundaries in a relationship. This includes a boundary around not having someone yell at you.
The work here is to the find a way to work on the ways you communicate and manage emotions. This enables you both to find a way of discussing problems that works better for you together.
Shortly in this article, you will learn therapeutic skills to improve your relationship if there’s yelling.
When Yelling in a Relationship is a Sign of a Bigger Problem
There are times that yelling may be a sign of a bigger problem in your relationship.
This includes when yelling is combined with known relationship damaging behaviors. Key behaviors of concern are the Four Horsemen in a relationship. These were discovered by Gottman, and other researchers, and these Horsemen represent 4 behaviors that can effectively predict the end of a relationship.
Relationship Damaging Behaviors
These behaviors that are especially damaging to a relationship are:
- Stonewalling and,
Defensiveness is refusing to take any ownership for a problem. And stonewalling is when you completely refuse to communicate and includes the silent treatment.
Attacking Your Partner (or Being Attacked)
Yelling can be combined with criticism and contempt.
Criticism differs from making a complaint because you are attacking your partner’s character. Contempt takes this a step further because not only are you attacking your partner but you are acting better than them. It includes mocking, name calling, and sarcasm. It’s also the single biggest factor predicting divorce.
Communication examples (can be yelled or not):
- Criticism – “You’re so selfish that you expect me to do all the cleaning.”
- Complaint – “I’m frustrated that you have been going out every weekend leaving me to take care of all the chores at home.”
- Contempt – Eye rolling and sarcastic – “I can’t believe I married such a child.”
Abusive Behaviors and Yelling
When you combine yelling with abusive behaviors, this is especially harmful to a relationship.
Abuse includes contempt and stonewalling when it’s done to manipulate the other person. This can look like giving the silent treatment until their partner apologizes for everything because they feel like the sole problem. This can be a form of gaslighting.
If you or your partner make threats when you yell this is another sign of abuse. This can include threats to harm one another, leave, or hurt one’s self.
How to Yell Less in a Relationship
If there’s been yelling in your relationship, a good first step is to communicate with your partner.
A good place to start is to genuinely share the importance of reducing the amount of yelling in your relationship. If you’ve also yelled, it’s wise to take accountability here rather than focusing on your partner’s yelling.
Taking accountability can differ from an apology. Sometimes, people apologize without intending to truly do the work of changing their behavior.
Genuine accountability is more than an apology; it’s taking conscious steps to truly change this pattern. For example, if your partner says “sorry” but isn’t willing to work on coping with their emotions better and their communication skills, this isn’t true accountability.
Accountability, by the way, is the antidote to the damaging behavior of defensiveness. You can take genuine accountability by acknowledging that you want to yell less – and you’re going to do the work necessary to accomplish this.
Setting Boundaries around Yelling
If you and your partner yell together, you can set a boundary that the next time there’s yelling you will take a break.
Or if your partner is the only one that yells, you can also express this same need to take a break if there’s yelling again.
Setting a boundary can look like:
I need you to no longer yell at me. It’s too painful and overwhelming. I’m hoping we can find ways to communicate more calmly together. But if yelling occurs again, I need to be spoken to with respect, so I will take a break. I will come back to try to communicate again in 20 minutes in a calmer way. But if there’s yelling again, I’ll need to take another break.
When there’s yelling in the future (from one or both of you), a key therapy skill is to take a time-out. The structure of this is to do this for at least 20 minutes – with an agreement about when and where to come back.
You want to discuss this skill in advance to prepare for the need to take it. To use the Time-Out Skill effectively:
- Talk to your partner when you’re not in the heat of the moment to plan for when you are escalated again,
- Discuss how long you will take this break for – ideally 20 minutes or more to give you time to self-soothe,
- Each identify a separate place at your home to take your break,
- Prepare soothing items such as a journal and pen in your identified spot,
- Identify a place you will return in your home after the agreed upon break time,
- Identify what you will say for this time-out i.e., “I need a break” (You always want to call it for yourself – not your partner. By the way, if you think your partner needs a break you probably do too.),
- Work on respecting one another’s need for a time-out when they call it. Remember, if your partner calls a time-out they’re not stonewalling you rather they are trying to protect the relationship,
- Practice calming yourself down with self-soothing skills like deep breathing and meditating on your break,
- Then once calmer, practice empathy rather than staying stuck on “why you’re right and they are wrong,”
- Come back to a designated spot to try to communicate more calmly i.e., managing your tone, validating them such as saying you can see their perspective, and working to negotiate
Coping Better with Your Emotions
When there’s yelling, it’s natural to get overwhelmed.
When we get overwhelmed, we literally move into fight-or-flight (or freeze) mode which makes us want to either attack our partner or run away from the fight. Here, the part our brain, the prefrontal cortex, that helps us make wise decisions turns off so that all our energy goes to fueling our muscles to fight or run.
Therefore, it’s important to take a break and focus on deep breathing to calm your nervous system. You can also stimulate your Vagus nerve to literally calm you down.
Self-soothing techniques are invaluable as well. For a list of ideas, download the following handout:
If you both struggle with yelling and defending your perspective as right, a great skill to practice on your break is the THINK skill. This comes from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
THINK Stands for the process of:
- Thinking about your partner’s perspective – How are they potentially feeling? What are they maybe thinking? How could they be interpreting the situation?
- Have empathy – Knowing what you know about your partner why do these potential thoughts and feelings as well as what they’re saying make sense. “It makes sense my partner’s angry I’m asking them to go see my family for a couple weeks. They don’t even like to see their own family that much.”
- Interpretations – Look for positive or neutral reasons for why your partner is doing or saying what they are such as, “Maybe they’re arguing with me about going to my parents house because they need time for self-care.”
- Notice – Ways your partner may be kind to you or how they’re trying to fix the problem. Example: “I notice that when we started our argument they validated the importance of me seeing my family.”
- Kindness – Be as kind as possible by using a calm tone and validating, empathic communication. See if you can lean in and be generous with your partner without building resentment. Example: “I understand why you don’t want to see my family for a couple of weeks. It can be overwhelming to see family. That’s all your vacation time too. I want you to have time for things you enjoy too. Would you be willing to come for a long weekend?”
Note: If your partner is abusive towards you and gaslights you, this skill is less directed for you. Instead, you may want to seriously consider therapy to resolve issues around yelling and abuse. You can also benefit from going alone if your partner’s unwilling.
You Can Yell Less Together
The most important thing as you work on having healthier interactions with your partner is practice and commitment.
Any healing work whether individually or in a relationship cannot be done perfectly. Rather it’s most important that you stay committed to continuing to move towards progress (not perfection). If they are mistakes and you or your partner yell again, that’s ok – it’s important to just recommit to using skills to not yell.
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About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her newest book, Therapy Within Reach: Setting Boundaries, gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.