Your partner is speaking loudly with a tense look on their face. Is he or she angry, rageful, looking to argue? Or are they expressing themselves passionately, intensely, fervently excitedly, emphatically? These two vastly different emotional expressions can be easily confused because they can look and even sound similar. When you and your partner misinterpret each other’s expressions of excitement or intensity, it can evoke frustration. Then what started out as emphasis can escalate into anger. Reminding yourself and your partner that these differences exist can ease tension in your relationship. It can help you shift your focus from arguments and misunderstandings to working together toward a better understanding of each other’s expressions and intentions.
The desire to be heard and supported when intensely expressing feelings can create a precarious situation. Whether emphatic or angry, when you’ve been misinterpreted, expressing your feelings can become derailed or stunted, and that scenario can lead to anger. Since there can be a fine line, it can become a messy situation. Therefore, as often as you’re comfortable, point out to your partner and other important people in your life that you may at times get stuck on a point and end up expressing yourself with a passion and tension that convey that you are “worked up.” Remembering that being worked up vs. angry can feel different than they look can help you keep perspective.
It’s also important to be aware of your sensitivity level in reading your partner’s cues. The history and prior communication patterns of your current relationship combined with your overall history and makeup combine to create your threshold for handling emphasis with an edge. Your sensitivity threshold can make you predisposed to interpret a raised voice with intense speech as anger. When you interpret your partner’s actions as driven by anger, it can be contagious. Add to that, when you’re uncomfortable with intense expression and have difficulty seeing it as anything other than anger, you have made it much easier to stay in a place of anger and frustration yourself.
Overall, be aware that heightened, intense expression may come from your partner or from you. Sometimes you may intend to convey excitement, but your affect is misinterpreted as anger. Be patient and help others identify the distinction so you and your partner are able to share your intensity and passion while working toward the common goal of supporting and encouraging open lines of communication and productive communication patterns.