Communication Killers: Belligerence

Counseling helps people not take things personally. This angry man in a theater could use some help with this!


bel·lig·er·ence /bəˈlij(ə)rəns/
noun: belligerence; noun: belligerency
  1. aggressive or warlike behavior.
    “The reaction ranged from wild enthusiasm to outright belligerence”

Belligerence in Relationships

Belligerence is a form of aggressive or combative behavior, often observed during conflicts in relationships. When a person exhibits belligerence, they appear to be looking for a fight and expressing their anger in an aggressive manner. According to the Gottman Institute, belligerent responses often involve unfair teasing or a dare, which can further escalate the conflict:

Zoey: “Could you help me with the dishes?”
Mark: “What’ll you do if I say no? Hit me? Throw some dishes?! Go ahead! I dare ya!”

Dealing with Belligerence

The best way to deal with belligerence in a relationship is to make a repair attempt. Repair attempts are actions or words used to de-escalate a conflict and signal the willingness to work towards a solution. By offering a good-faith attempt to repair any damage done during the conflict, you communicate accountability, understanding, and a desire for things to be better. Repair attempts can help to neutralize the toxicity of belligerence and prevent further escalation.

One example of a repair attempt is to take a break from the conflict for 20 minutes and come back to the conversation later. This allows both parties to cool off and approach the discussion with a clearer mind. By making repair attempts, you can communicate that you are invested in the relationship and willing to work towards a resolution. In the example above, either Zoey or Mark could say, “Hey, this got really heated and that’s not really what I was hoping for. Could we take a 20-minute break and start over?”


Belligerence is a toxic communication pattern that can poison any relationship. However, by recognizing this behavior and responding with repair attempts, you can prevent it from further damaging your relationship. Remember to approach conflicts with empathy, understanding, and a willingness to work towards a solution.

*Updated July 10, 2023

To learn more about red flags to look out for and how to fix them, please visit my Couples Counseling page. Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.

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