One of the most common things I hear from couples who come to me for help is that they want to communicate better. When I explore a little deeper, I'm told what they really want is to stop fighting. At the heart of this problem is that one, or both, of the partners gets emotionally upset. This upset often is expressed as anger. So what I'm really being asked to help them with is how to control anger and have effective communication.
One suggestion people are often given is to teach themselves to not get angry. I disagree with this because I don't think it is really possible. Besides, the problem isn't feeling angry but what someone does in response to that anger. Anger (like sadness, hurt and joy) is just an emotion that is meant to tell you something about your environment. In and of itself, doesn't have to be problematic. Learning how to control anger is the key to keeping it from wreaking havoc in your life.
The most important thing you have to realize is that when you are emotionally upset, you cannot have a conversation; you can only have a fight. The reason is because you cannot take in any more information. All of your senses are flooded. When you are experiencing anger, you are about as easy to deal with as a child having a temper tantrum. The best option is to leave you alone and let you calm down.
The first step in the process of learning to keep things from getting out of control is to tap into what your body is trying to tell you. Every one of us has a physiological warning that tells us we are on the way to losing control. It could be tension in our shoulders or our jaw. It could be an unpleasant feeling in our stomach or our faces feeling flushed. Whatever yours is, you can learn to get familiar with it and pay attention to when it gets triggered. Your goal is to catch yourself a nanosecond before you hit your point of no return.
The second step in learning to control your anger is similar. It is to get in touch with what emotions you feel and when you feel them. You do this by taking your emotional temperature several times a day over many days. It's a simple process of rating your emotional reactivity on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being completely calm and at peace, and 10 being someone is going out the second story window and you don't know who. If you rate yourself a 6 or above, make note of what is happening that is creating your distress. Also, identify and practice techniques that help calm you down and get yourself under control.
The final step in the process is often the most difficult. Instead of letting your emotions get the best of you and going off on whoever is in the vicinity, and then paying a high price relationally, you need to do some self-reflection. If you are going to learn how to control anger, you have to be willing to figure out what is causing yours. Anger is often a more palatable mask for hurt, fear, frustration or some combination of these other emotions. These are frequently the response when one of your expectations not being met. Figuring out which expectation, where that expectation comes from and learning to deal with it in a healthier way is important for you and your relationships. Getting to the root of these deeper feelings and finding a productive solution to them is the way to finally let go of your anger.
Fortunately, the process on how to control anger doesn't have to be difficult. Like anything else, you just have to make the decision to learn what to do. These skills are simple, but not easy and that's why continuing to practice them is so critical. It is important to treat yourself gently when you fall short. This is a day-by-day process that will become more natural with time and practice. It is, however, a worthwhile endeavor.
If you want help tackling these steps and getting your relationship on calmer footing, contact me today.
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