Handling Angry Conflict Better in Your Relationship

Note: This is the second of a two-part series   

Many couples get stuck in patterns of unproductive fighting, complaining and blaming each other.  If you are wanting to solve fights and conflicts from ruining the intimacy in your relationship, try the following suggestions:

  • Become a student of your own anger by logging the events that trigger you—so  you can figure out your anger patterns.  What do you get angry about?  What kinds of things trigger you?  Where did you learn these reactions?  On a scale from 1-10, how angry are you?  What contains, controls or mitigates your anger?
  • Is there something else, perhaps unacknowledged, that is the real source of your anger?  Frequently, people fight over incidents (“He didn’t call”) rather than the root issues (“He’s not talking about marriage, and it’s time already.”)  Look carefully to make sure that what you are fighting for and what you’re angry about are the same.
  • Try reviewing what went right and what went wrong during the past week together.  Take turns talking on a her turn/his turn basis, with no hostile interruptions by the other.  Place the emphasis on understanding your partner’s point of view as fully and clearly as possible.  Don’t  “yes—but.”  Based on what happened in the relationship during the past week, what as a couple do the two of you need to watch out for if you are going to clean up the problems in your relationship?  Schedule a time when both parties can come to the discussion uninterrupted and undistracted, keep it to one hour maximum, and discuss one subject at a time only.  Face each other and hold hands while you talk.  Focus on the present situation, and don’t go into ancient history. Be sure to tell your partner what s/he did right, also.
  • If the conversation gets ugly, take a time-out break.  Go take a shower, listen to some music or go for a walk.  Do something positive or restorative.  Then ask your spouse “What would it take for you to feel better and to let go of your anger?”  Then state specifically (ital)what you could do(ital) to make things better.
  • Don’t use “below the belt” tactics.  These include name-calling, blaming, interrupting, diagnosing, labeling, analyzing, threatening, preaching, moralizing, ordering, interrogating, ridiculing and lecturing.  Arguments should be held in order to problem solve and reach a solution, not to gain a victory.  Also, no drugs or alcohol while arguing.
  • Don’t deliver angry personal critiques.  Focus on content, and edit the hostility, the nasty tone and the insult—to concentrate on the main message.
  • Even when you disagree with someone, at least acknowledge his or her emotions and be willing to ask “How can I help?  What can I do? How can I make the situation better?”  Focus on what can be done now—instead of what should have been done and wasn’t.
  • Ask yourself, why is s/he being difficult?  Why would s/he say something like that?  What’s going on in his/her world that compels him/her to act like that?  How would I feel if that had happened to me?”   These questions can help you experience the other person’s perspective and respond with sensitivity rather than sarcasm.
  • You do not have to address every injustice and irritation that comes along.  To simply let something go can be an act of maturity.

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