Episode 31: "Is it Anger Management if My Partner Punches a Hole in the Wall Next to Me?"Support the show
Today, we’re talking about intimidation in teen relationships and what is and isn’t anger management. This is Jessica Skultety, Community Outreach Associate at Safe+Sound Somerset, Somerset County New Jersey's lead domestic violence organization, providing services at no charge for survivors of dating and domestic abuse for over 40 years.
Today's question from local teens is: Is it anger management if my partner punched a hole in the wall next to me?
The short answer is No: It sounds like your partner got angry in the moment, which means they did not step away and let out their anger out, out of your view. Everyone has a choice about how they react, and if you are scared or feeling anxious after this, you’re not alone and there is help available.
The longer answer is this. Sometimes teens ask us about incidents like this one – where someone is intimidated or threated with words or actual physical acts. Sometimes it might be easy to make an excuse for, like “well, they didn’t hit me, they hit the wall instead, so they were managing their anger.”
Let’s think about this further. Have you ever been told to punch a pillow when you’re angry? Lots of people are taught that – so let’s explore that. When you punch a pillow, will you get hurt? No, because the pillow is soft. Now let’s say you get angry at something while you’re physically in a school building, at school, and you want to punch a pillow. What would you have to do? You’d have to hold in your frustration until you are near a pillow. That might not be until you get home. Plus, letting your anger out in public could scare other people, whether you know them or not, so you’d probably have to manage your anger and wait.
Now, if a partner gets mad, and at that moment decides to punch a wall, are they managing their anger? No – they are letting it out immediately and likely scaring their partner, whether they intended to or not. It can also be a show of strength - they might say or hint at, “look how angry I can get!” It can also be part of a mind game – it can be a threat, but it’s easy to dismiss as something like, “I punched the wall, not you, so it’s not a big deal” or “you’re overreacting, or imagining this as a threat – I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Here’s the key: People are allowed to get angry but the way in which you let out your anger matters. Everyone has a choice about how they react in every situation. Again, if your partner chooses to punch a wall, and then that scares the other partner, that fear is valid.
Other examples that we hear often are: throwing things at the other partner and shoving furniture. All of these situations are a huge warning sign or possibility of future physical violence. Abuse or violence often increases or becomes more intense over time. They are all a form of intimidation – what’s the message here? “It was the wall this time, it could be you next time.” Even if the partner apologizes, it doesn’t make this action okay because of the impact on the other partner, who witnessed the punch.
How is this person going to feel in the future about their partner’s reactions? They may start to tiptoe around or be extra careful around their partner in order to avoid making them angry. In an equal, healthy relationship, neither partner should have to do that or feel unsafe.
One more important thing to think about – we see a lot of TV shows and movies that make violence and intimidation seem normal. Do you have to intimidate someone to show them you love them? No. Respect, not threats. Compromise, not intimidation.
Whenever we receive questions like this from teens, we always make sure they know: the decision to stay or leave is a personal one, but it sounds like this action made you scared or worried. Know that these feelings are valid, and that it’s possible that this might happen again or get worse next time. Also, please know that it is possible to get out of a relationship safely – at this point, you may need access to outside help. It’s not your fault.
Call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 hotline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening and information.
Want to “Ask Ava” a question? Visit our website at www.safe-sound.org/ask-ava. Thank you for listening today. Join us next time here on Ask Ava.