Navigating Anger in Friendships: Healthy vs Unhealthy Ways

© 2024 Richard Chandler, MA, LPC, The Business Partners Counselor

The closeness of a friendship can give rise to anger with your friend or them with you. How can you express anger healthily with friends?

Note: This article is part of our “Healthy and Unhealthy Anger” series. You will find “Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Anger: Can Getting Mad Be OK?” on this website. The series explores the impact of unhealthy anger on various types of relationships, including romantic relationships, professional relationships, and this discussion of friendships.

Man who had friendship ruined by anger

The Delicate Balance of Expressing Anger in Friendships

Let’s examine how mismanaged anger can create rifts in friendships and other close relationships. By understanding how to express anger healthily and set boundaries, we can navigate through emotional storms and maintain the longevity and health of our friendships.

Friends frustrated with each other

Recognize that Friendships Can Be Fragile

Friendships, despite their warmth and comfort, can be fragile. Unlike familial ties or romantic partnerships, friendships often lack the binding factors that can weather storms of intense emotions such as anger.

This fragility makes friendships more susceptible to the negative impacts of unhealthy anger. A single explosive incident can abruptly end a friendship. If a person directs their anger using extremely personal words, name-calling, or rage at their friend, it can cause deep emotional wounds that can be difficult, if not impossible, to heal.

The Double-Edged Sword of Anger in Friendships

It’s crucial to understand that not all angry expressions are destructive. Like all emotions, anger has a dual nature. On one side, it’s a natural response to feeling wronged or hurt. On the other, it can cause significant harm when not managed properly.

Healthy Anger Can Contribute to Long-Lasting Friendships

Healthy anger, controlled and communicated respectfully and constructively, is vital to any relationship, including friendships. It can serve as a valuable signal illuminating issues that need addressing. Anger can also show up when boundaries have been crossed. It allows friends to communicate needs, expectations, and feelings that might otherwise remain hidden. With this expression, deeper understanding and connection can take place.

A Real-Life Example: A Story of Anger, Betrayal, and Friendship

To illustrate this, consider a personal story from over three decades ago. A friend of mine, who was recently single at that time, went on a first date with my former wife and romantic partner. He did not know that was the case when he arranged the date. (She had a different last name than mine.) He told me that as their conversation progressed, he realized that the “Ex” she was referring to was me.

He did not reveal that we were close friends; he played it cool and let the date continue. He told me the date story as an interesting coincidence and didn’t realize I would be upset with him. But I was.

After being told, I felt betrayed because my friend continued the date despite knowing she was talking about me, his close friend. I realized what I would have preferred if my friend had immediately gotten up from the restaurant table and told her he would no longer listen to what she said about his friend, Richard.

This incident sparked a wave of anger in me. I managed to keep it under control. It was present, but fortunately, I didn’t burn bridges.

Friends unable to contain anger towards each other
Friends arguing in kitchen

The Art of Expressing Anger Healthily

Initially, I was hurt, confused, and angry with my friend. A few weeks later, I told my friend that failing to end the date immediately and continue listening to her talk about her ex-husband felt like a betrayal to me and our friendship. I felt that he could have asserted stronger boundaries to protect our friendship.

By keeping my anger contained, we avoided a potentially friendship-ending fight. This approach allowed me to express my feelings honestly and constructively, paving the way for understanding and resolution. I could hear his point of view and why, at the time, he did not see the incident as it unfolded as being about betraying me but rather keeping his cool in an awkward situation.

Four Constructive Ways to Express Healthy Anger to Friends:

1. Communicate Directly

If you feel angry, directly communicate your feelings to your friend. Avoid passive-aggressive behaviors or indirect communication.

2. Use "I" Statements

Frame your feelings with “I” statements, such as “I felt hurt when...” This allows you to express your feelings without blaming or accusing your friend.

3. Be Specific In Your Conversations

Clearly articulate what caused your anger. Being specific helps your friend understand your viewpoint and prevents miscommunication.

4. Listen Actively

After expressing your feelings, listen to your friend’s perspective. This will help you both understand each other better and encourage a fruitful discussion.

Concluding Thoughts on Expressing Anger in Friendships

In conclusion, anger is a natural and sometimes necessary emotion. Yet, it needs to be handled with care in friendships. Unhealthy expressions of anger can lead to the end of a friendship, while healthy expressions of anger can lead to resolution and a stronger bond. Understanding the difference is vital to maintaining long-lasting friendships.

It’s about the balanced expression of genuine feelings and ensuring the relationship’s well-being so friendships can survive the storm of anger and emerge stronger and more resilient.

Friends communicating in healthy ways
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