How to Get Your Partner to Stop Screaming at You

How many times would you say your partner yells at you when they’re angry? If you can’t even remember, this is most likely a good sign. However, if your answer is that it’s too common to count, then you’re probably not very happy about the situation. If yelling is a part of your daily exchanges with your partner, you may find that there isn’t much you can do to change things. Fortunately, based on new work in the field of emotions and communication, there may be a remedy.

What’s behind the scream?

In a recent article, Baker College’s Stan Amaladas (2022) uses the storytelling framework to understand what is happening when people scream. In what the author calls a “narrative-interpretative framework,” “orienting yourself to the scream as a story … is a way of listening to and understanding the threat and meaning behind the scream.” In other words, you need to figure out what your Partner tries to tell you by yelling. It is from this perspective that Amaldas lays it out “Ethical Listening to Understand Principles (ELUP)” this can help you overcome the anger and personal distress you feel when your partner yells. These are two principles that emerge from the ELUP approach.

1. Be silent; Quoting an earlier author, Amaladas notes that “to listen fully, silence is required” (p. 47).

2. Consider the cry “a question worthy of our attention” (p. 48). Someone is yelling at you because they feel like they are not being heard.

If you’re wondering what your partner isn’t getting across, you can get to the bottom of their yelling, especially if they have a tendency to yell under certain circumstances. Using the Baker College author’s storytelling framework, they would do so in a way that helps shed light on “the damage to personal identity” they feel.

The stories a screamer could tell

The Amaladas paper is not strictly an empirical study, as it was written from a more qualitative, narrative, interpretative framework. Following this method, he analyzes the story of a screamer. She is a doctor who performs an exercise in front of members of her team, practicing what would happen to a dying patient. In her story, she described herself as screaming when she felt the senior physicians were harassing her and interfering with her ability to help the practice patient recover.

In reality, no one died, and it’s entirely possible, argues Amaladas, that she’s exaggerating the drama of the situation and the behavior of the other doctors. This doesn’t matter, however, as a story need not have happened to reveal the threat to identity that the storyteller is experiencing. Taking the story as a metaphor allows the listener to step into her “truth,” which in this case refers to her lack of trust in the doctors in charge to understand her own fear.

Obviously, if you are in a situation with a person who is screaming, you will not be able to stop it right away and ask them to tell you a story. However, you can borrow from the narrative framework to engage in a listening session when the mood has subsided. Additionally, experimental work on how people judge emotions based on voice intensity (e.g. loudness) may provide another angle to explore how to deal with your screaming partner.

Studying the scream in the lab

Perhaps surprisingly, despite the frequency with which screaming occurs in real life, there is relatively little research on the emotional and cognitive basis of this particular method of communication. In fact, virtually all research on communicating emotions relies on the study of facial or other non-verbal cues. Yes, a person’s face may indicate a scream is about to be released, but the person exposed to a real screamer would be faced with a lot of vocal noise, adding a whole new dimension to the experience.

In fact, if you think about it, someone screaming in fear can have a facial expression very similar to someone expressing extreme anger. Try this yourself. Look in the mirror while faking a scream of fear or one of anger. You can even try to create a screaming face responding to a positive emotion like joy or pleasant surprise. Listening cues should help resolve this ambiguity, but again, the emotion may not be quite as clear. According to Natalie Holz and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (2022), previous research indicates the lack of a clear-cut relationship between the intensity of an expressed emotion and people’s ability to correctly assess that emotion.

The research team recruited 11 speakers, all vocal students at Boston’s Berklee College of Music who also had stage singing experience. These performers were asked to put themselves in various emotional states and then produced vocal noises (without words) representing the emotions of achievement, triumph, anger, fear, pain, pleasure, and surprise. The question was whether the participants recruited as jurors (10 Germans, average age 28 years) would correctly assess the emotion expressed by the speaker with increasing sound intensity. In total, they rated 1,092 vocalizations.

The purpose of the Max Planck study was to create a set of stimuli that future researchers could use to test the communication of emotions through voice intensity. Analyzes within this data set showed that louder vocalizations were associated with higher intensities, specifically screams, as expected.

In previous work on this database, and to get to the point where you know what a cry might mean (Holz et al., 2021), the research team found that there was a “sweet spot” for an ideal intensity of emotion expression and identification gives from that emotion. The “peak emotions” are “highly ambiguous”.

Lower your partner’s volume

Now that you understand that screams express an emotion that the person feels is not being properly perceived, but that screams are “highly ambiguous,” how can you proceed to reduce the volume of your partner’s utterances?

People may cry out their “truth,” Anikan noted, when telling a story in which they felt threatened in some way, but the moment Holz et al. Studies show how difficult it can be to cut through the noise.

In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to employ the “stop and listen” strategy, but it might be just what you need to do to get to the underlying emotion. This approach can help you resolve the ambiguity of not knowing what emotions your partner is expressing at high decibel levels.

Maybe your partner is afraid, maybe angry, or maybe frustrated because (paradoxically) they feel unheard. If you notice your partner yelling in very similar situations from day to day, you can also do more than just listen. Research on emotion communication points to the importance of context. The German students heard vocalizations from their American colleagues without having the luxury of knowing what triggered those emotions. You have that luxury and, over time, you can use it to lessen the heat with your partner.

For the same reason, what if you’re the screamer? What if you read all of this and found yourself uncomfortably thinking that you’re the one communicating at the highest volume all the time? You can use the results of this research to figure out how to identify more clearly what’s bothering you, and then how to communicate those feelings in a way that leads to the sweet spot in accuracy assessments.

To sum up, The ideal communication of emotions occurs when both partners are listening and both feel heard. To ensure fulfillment in this important area of ​​your relationship, recognizing screaming as a symptom can be the first step in finding a cure.

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