by Elliott Kronenfeld

One of the most common complaints I hear from the couples I work with is how much they hate when their partner yells.  It is often met with a denial from the partner that they don’t yell.  This is a challenging problem that must be overcome for a couple to make more progress.  It requires that we ask two critical questions:  What is yelling? Why do we yell?

What is yelling?   When a partner denies that they yell, I wonder if they know what they sound like.   I think there are two distinct types of yelling.  The first, is the basic and popular raised voice yelling.  It often starts at our toes and rolls up our core until it comes out of our mouths as a strong bellowing exhortation of increased volume, often accompanied by words that would offend us if they were spoken to us.  The other type of yelling is more complex.  It is tight and constricted.   It starts in our throat.  It is not loud and bellowing.  The volume is not out of range.  However, it is the tone – sharp, clipped, judgmental, and cuts like a knife.  It feels like yelling to the recipient.

Why do we yell?  We yell for many reasons.  Frustration. Anger.  Exhaustion. Horror. Judgment.  Irritation.  Hunger. Justification.  To shut the other up.  Notice what is missing from the list.  To be understood.  This is the challenge with yelling.  It doesn’t help us to be better understood.

To be a great relationship communicator, we must communicate in a way that gratifies our partner in order to get a reaction that gratifies ourselves.  If I know that my yelling shuts you down, makes you defensive, angry and hurt, then my yelling will never serve my desired need to be understood.  Yelling brings gratification to me.  It is a relief.  It releases my tension, aggravation and frustration.  It never brings you closer.  It is self-serving.

Once couples understand this dynamic, we can begin to create strategies that work for each of them to control “yelling” in order to improve communication and deepen understanding.  That process looks different for each couple.  If you are struggling with yelling in your relationship, slow down and think what purpose the yelling is serving – and what it isn’t.  Once that is known, then real work can happen to improve bridge building.

If you would like to learn more about improving communication in your relationship, contact Elliott at

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