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with Sam Garanzini, LMFT & Alapaki Yee, LMFT

The Secret To Fixing Volatile Relationships

You want — no, you deserve — to be in a relationship where you can speak your mind without worrying your partner will go from zero to a hundred in a blink of an eye.

Many of us want to be with an alpha. Power is attractive, but it often comes with downsides — like the temperament of an active volcano.

Jamie and Bessie recently took our Communication Style quiz as the first step on their journey to a healthier, more successful relationship.

Currently, their relationship is volatile, and Jamie suspects Bessie has deep-seated anger issues.

For Jamie, this is a huge red flag, but Bessie believes they can work through it.

Is it possible to maintain a relationship with someone you feel like you have to tiptoe around?

Bessie feels misunderstood.

Being an alpha-aggressive, she is extremely passionate about everything — even things that might seem insignificant to others.

In fact, a previous partner had suggested Bessie might be bipolar.

So, at what point should you consider your partner’s anger to be unacceptable?

Are They Angry or Just Misunderstood?
From our work at the Institute, we’ve realized people who are intensely passionate are often misjudged as volatile, angry, and unreasonable.

Of course, violence in a relationship is totally unacceptable. Any victim of this kind of behavior has all the cause they need to walk away and never look back.

Alternatively, if you’ve been with your partner for a long time and you feel they have enough good qualities to make up for their temper, how should you deal with a blowup?

Let’s break it down.

The Science of Volatility

Scientifically, a volatile reaction is called “flooding.”

As we become angry, the area close to the brain stem becomes flooded with blood, affecting the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls emotional intelligence.

Essentially, the brain goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode.

Those affected by flooding may experience an elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and a red face. They will feel an almost primitive need to protect themselves and they won’t be able to empathize with others.

It takes at least 20 minutes for human beings to cool down after a blowup. Not only that but losing our temper makes us more prone to anger until the brain returns to its normal state.

How Can You Manage Volatile Behaviour in your Partner?

  • Recognize that there are things within your control: There are things that you can do to reduce the blowups. For Bessie, Jamie’s smart mouth and firecracker responses set her off. If you are the partner who always has to have the last word, try to respond calmly. Sometimes it’s better to take a 20-minute break, though.
  • Pick and choose your battles: At the Institute, we recommend choosing when to engage and when not to.
    If the issue is small and inconsequential, it is better to let your partner vent then let it go, rather than fight and drag it out into a long, heated argument. Don’t win the battle and lose the war.
  • Don’t just say things to ‘get it out there’: It’s easy to think, “This is my partner, and they will understand I said it in the heat of anger.”
    However, hurt people hurt people. Research about the brain shows that anger causes the mind to be angrier. There is no release or catharsis.

Stop Fighting, Start Having Productive Conversations
Imagine you’re having a heated discussion with your partner. You know you’re in the right and your partner is being unreasonable, but they won’t let you get a word in.

Chances are, they’re just not hearing you because of their emotional physiology.

If our Communication Style quiz identifies you as a “referee,” pacifying your partner always seems like the right thing to do. However, it may leave you feeling like a doormat.

In time, this dynamic could lead you to resent your partner and affect your emotional wellbeing.

So, how do you get your point across without aggravating the situation?

There are several things you can do.

  • Tell your partner what you need/want: Rather than telling your partner what you don’t need, try explaining what you do want.
    For example, you could say, “I need you to hear me right now,” or, “Please let me talk,”
    Phrases like, “You never listen to me,” can cause your partner to become defensive and shut down.
  • Take a break: Science shows taking a 20-minute time-out to breathe, relax, and reboot can be effective when things get heated.
    Once your partner has gone into orbit, anything you say will probably make the situation worse.
    Taking a break doesn’t have to mean you’re walking away from the conversation.

Managing a Volatile Relationship
So far, we’ve discussed how to deal with a partner’s anger, but what if you’re the one with the fiery disposition?

Remember Bessie and Jamie? Let’s look at their situation from Bessie’s perspective.

Bessie says Jamie’s “smart-mouth” responses to her outbursts make her angrier. This checks out with what science tells us — that anger is a vicious cycle.

From Bessie’s perspective, she thinks Jamie should be more accepting of the fact she doesn’t mean the things she says in the heat of the moment.

Meanwhile, Jamie’s fed up, so something’s got to give.

If you’re the one dealing with an angry partner, here’s some advice for you.

  • Pick your battles: If you’re the partner trying to manage the situation, choose when to engage and when not to. If the issue is small, it may be better to let your partner get it out of their system, rather than dragging it out into a lengthy, heated argument.

On the other hand, if you’re the angry partner…

  • Don’t just say things to “get it out.” Research shows anger only leads to more anger. There is nothing cathartic about having a row — in fact, it’s totally counterproductive. Taking a break is the only thing for it when your anger hits critical levels.

If things get out of hand, consider seeking help from a trained professional.

We designed the Stop Fighting Tool Kit, which you can download from our website.

You can also take our Communication Style quiz.

Once you know your communication style, you’ll be in a better position to figure out how to have fewer arguments and more productive conversations.

Sam Garanzini and Alapaki Yee are Certified Gottman Method Couples Therapists and the co-founders of the Gay Couples Institute – the world’s only gay and lesbian couples counseling clinic. The Gay Couples Institute has locations in Northern California and Manhattan, as well as online counseling services available.

For more information about how the Gay Couples Institute can help you, please visit:

The Secret To Fixing Volatile Relationships

Sam Garanzini, LMFT

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APA Reference
Garanzini, S. (2019). The Secret To Fixing Volatile Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 May 2019
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