Reducing Anger in a Disagreement

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

Here are ways to reduce anger and improve your dialoging skills, in order to keep your intimate relationship intimate:

  • Beware of the impulse to strike back. When your partner expresses hurt, frustration or irritation, especially about something you have done, your immediate impulse may be to retaliate.  Striking back—that is defending yourself with a strong offense—just converts a practical problem into a fight.  Defending yourself by attacking back invites your mate to strike another blow in return, augmenting the unpleasantness and leading further away from effectively solving the problem.
  • Ask “What would you prefer?” or “What would you like?” or “What would help?” These questions can help your partner clarify his/her emotions in a calmer manner.
  • Beware listening like a litigator. Litigators are paid to respond to an opposing lawyer’s comments in a way that focuses on what might be wrong, missing or inaccurate about what their adversary is saying.  In a relationship, listening like an adversary will just derail the dialogue.  Beware of the urge to critique; to show the fallacies in his/her line of thought; to point out the inaccuracies of his/her facts, or to show that your view is better.  Instead…
  • Listen for what is right, useful, or for what makes sense in what your partner says and verbalize the sense it makes to you.  Then you can add your viewpoint.
  • Beware of listening like a judge. Judges decide who’s right and who’s wrong.  While judgmental listening may be essential in the courtroom, it is a disaster at home.
  • Express empathy. Empathy involves hearing your mate’s description of his/her feelings, taking those feelings seriously and responding in a helpful, caring  and friendly way.  Particularly effective is to paraphrase what your partner feels and then add what makes sense to you about those feelings.
  • Use bilateral listening. Bilateral listening means hearing both your own concerns—and the concerns of your partner.  Self-centered listening results in a tug of war about whose concerns matter the most.  If there is one skill that best predicts whether couples have what it takes to have a happy marriage, bilateral listening may be it.
  • Beware of bullying. Bullying occurs when one person insists on getting his/her way, overriding the other.  You let yourself be bullied when you give up something that is important to you—instead of verbalizing your concerns so that they can be included in the solution.  And you become likely to bully if you have not sufficiently learned the art of bilateral listening.  Bullying and its subtle cousin, convincing, takes two players, one who is overly insistent and another who gives up too easily.
  • Braid your dialogue. Braided dialogue involves listening attentively while your spouse speaks, verbalizing what you hear, and then adding something from your own viewpoint on that topic while your partner takes the attentive listening role.  If you talk oppositionally, rebutting each other like soccer players kicking the ball at instead of with each other—it will generate unpleasant friction.

I will continue these suggestions in next week’s column.

Source:  The Power Of Two by Susan Heitler (New Harbinger Publications).

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