He Said, She Said: Temper, Temper!

By on April 25, 2016
Closeup portrait angry young woman, blowing steam coming out of ears, about to have nervous atomic breakdown, isolated black background. Negative human emotions facial expression feelings attitude

What are ‘healthy’ temper tantrums in a relationship vs hurtful/unhealthy temper tantrums?  And, how can one try and steer the hurtful/unhealthy ones back from the brink?  -­Darryl.

Sara Says…



Darryl, I wanted to pick this question because it’s been on my mind a lot lately. The first thing it brings up is the question: What defines a ‘temper tantrum’?  In my work (Authentic Relating and Circling), I’ve come to realize that there is a spectrum of communication between…


Explanation and Expression


Explanation is clean, comprehensible, and aims at establishing a shared reality between communicators ­ a common understanding, where we both get that the other gets it. Explanation is centered on the ‘us’ or on the other.

Expression is unrefined, uncensored, often loud or messy. It’s the communication that happens before we let our brains get involved. Expression is centered on the ‘I’.

Between explanation and expression is a whole range of reaction, that people confront in different ways. Some err towards explanation, and only allow expression when they get really angry, at which point it comes out with an explosion. Some cry at the drop of a hat, but find it hard to tell you why.

If we never explain, the people around us can feel confused, scared, or cut off from connection. They don’t have shared reality with us; they’re witnesses to our unfiltered reality.  But…

If we never express, our emotions get bottled up, and we can either become disconnected from our own truth and unable to follow our internal compass (emotions are necessary for decision­ making), or a feeling ­grenade ready to pop under pressure.

Temper tantrums fall on the ‘expression’ end of the scale.

They’re a free letting-­out of emotion. Our culture isn’t that accepting of free expression beyond a certain age, or outside of certain contexts like improv or transformational workshops. We tend to judge temper tantrums.

But, rather than answering how to draw the line between healthy and unhealthy temper tantrums, I want to re­frame the question. I see expression and explanation as both useful.

The question is… how freely can a person flow between those stages?

An ‘unhealthy’ temper tantrum, to me, is one where somebody launches into emotion without getting your consent to do so, and then doesn’t relate with you while in that state, or fully come back to shared reality afterwards.

This can be a confusing and non­consensual breaking of connection.

(Check out Marshall Rosenberg’s classic book. Click the image… –Editor.)


A ‘healthy’ temper tantrum might look like a couple things…


1) Before expression, your partner retains enough sense of explanation to check with you          before going full-­scale into emotion.

For example, I might notice tears coming on, and say…

  • ‘I just need to cry for a few minutes. Could you hold me?’  Or…
  • ‘I’m so angry right now! I just want to yell and smash things! Can I do that!’


Sounds weird, right?

When we’re upset, it’s harder to respond rationally. It may take you practice to learn how to stop mid­spectrum, holding enough sense of the other to check in. While you’re learning that self­ control, you can set up agreements with your partner beforegetting into a triggered state.

For instance…

  • “If we get into an argument and I start to cry, I’m not really able to keep responding rationally. Could you stop and just hold me until I get my bearings again?’  Or…
  • ‘I tend to get really angry at some things. It isn’t directed at you. I may step out to throw things around in the backyard if that happens, and come back in when I feel calm enough to talk. Is that okay with you?’


2) During expression, your partner may not have the capacity to connect with you.

They’re letting their ‘I’ out, which is cathartic and necessary, but not always conducive to shared reality. If you get overwhelmed, you may have to ask for more information to understand what’s happening, call a pause, or leave the situation.

A good way to do this is to ‘safe port’- ­ gently let your partner know what’s happening for you, and how you’d like to change the situation.

  • ‘Hey, I love you letting yourself express so freely right now. I’m feeling overwhelmed. Could we come back to this a little later?’
  • ‘I’m having a hard time connecting with you in this state, and I feel lost. Could you tell me more about how you’re doing?’ Or…
  • ‘You seem angry, and I’m starting to feel scared.  I’d like to leave the room for a few minutes. I’ll be back in once I feel more resourced, or you can call for me if you want to talk.’


3) After expression, have a conversation about what just happened.  

Either of you can initiate this. The best relationship tool I know of is talking about the relationship, not just talking in it.

  • Talk about what just happened, how it felt, how you could support each other more next time or feel more on the same team.
  • If you were ‘expressing,’ explain more to your partner about what was happening for you, maybe using the Nonviolent Communication format of  ‘facts, feelings, needs, and requests.’
  • If you were supporting, tell your partner where you felt most or least connected to what they were experiencing, and what you want to understand more.
  • Then, if you’re comfortable with touch, be sure to cuddle! ­ Physical touch is a great re­connector!


I know I didn’t directly answer your question, Darryl, but I hope this helps. I don’t see temper tantrums as either healthy or unhealthy, I see them as more or less attuned to the relationship. As a partner, I think what you could do best is to open a conversation about how the two of you express and/or hold space for each other.

All the best,  -Sara.

(Join Sara for the Authentic Leadership and Facilitation Training- coming up April 29- May 1st in Boulder, Colorado.  For more details click the image below, or HERE.)




Rob Says…


I think that ‘temper tantrums’ have a very bad press agent.

When we think of the word ‘tantrum’, our minds are usually brought back to young children throwing relentless fits of angst and bile that shakes adults to their core. In my relationship to my step­kids, I watch in wonder as they both move from absolute bliss, to being small tornados of terror in the blink of an eye.

As we grow older, we’re taught that such behavior is improper and to stuff those feelings down until you have a private moment. We teach kids to go have a ‘time­out’ or ‘stop acting like a baby’ or ‘man up’.

Meanwhile, the anger and discontent is still there and we don’t give ourselves the space to feel these feelings let alone actually express them. These feelings are the cancer in our lives causing significant health and relationship problems. We’ll use other substances like alcohol, shopping, eating, gambling and drugs to avoid dealing with these powerful emotions.

We also ‘binge fight’ where we store up all these emotions that are unexpressed and they tend to come out at inopportune times. We explode because we’re not expressing our feelings in real­time and instead let the resentments build up until they vomit out.

So, I’m a big fan of temper tantrums.

I believe in letting those feelings up and out when they happen.

  • I tell my clients that their feelings are right and expressing them are healthy.
  • I don’t fear my partner’s feelings, but do everything I can to give them a healthy and welcome place to be expressed.
  • I don’t punish my partner after she tells me the truth.


Adult temper tantrums are just as uncomfortable at their young person’s version…

…But I would rather have 10 to 15 minutes of pure emotion than a life time of sickness, disconnection, and resentment.


(This is a BIG however.)

There’s a place where receiving your partner’s temper tantrum becomes unhealthy to the relationship. We all have limits in our patience.

  • For some, that might be after, say, one tantrum per week.
  • For others, they say ‘bring it’ and can hear one every day without it being detrimental to the receiver.
  • The receiver must not push down their feelings in order to make space for the other. This is not a martyr position.

I’ve heard many stories of women complaining that their husbands become their ‘third child’. I’ve been told stories that she is a ‘whiny bitch’.

None of us want to be this person.

Mastery is when you can find that fine line of leaning on your partner and revealing yourself and then looking elsewhere for support around your feelings. I would highly recommend leaning on external sources for support and not only depending on your partner to be that person.

Some resources that I recommend are:

● Therapy
● Life­coaching
● Support Groups (12­-step are amazing)
● Facebook groups
● Plant medicine journeys
● Or just go out in nature and yell at a tree. Really. It works.
I highly recommend you not avoid your tantrums in life. The feelings are trying to tell you something. Invite them in, respect them, listen to them, and grow. It is the healthiest way to live.
Good luck… -Rob

(Appreciating Rob’s unique voice?  Click the image below to check out his podcast!  -Editor.)



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