Have you ever had an argument with your partner that ended badly?
Whether it started as a discussion that quickly got out of hand, or something you asked of your partner that you thought was reasonable that they became angry over, arguments that end badly can result in lasting grudges against your partner, relationship problems and in some cases, the end of your relationship.
All of these problems can be avoided when we communicate well. But when we don’t, or worse, don’t bother communicating at all, we throw the chance to find solutions to our problems out the window.
Instead, we begin to find ourselves arguing more often. We begin to notice faults in our partner and ourselves, little things that we hadn’t previously noticed or cared about, which suddenly become big things. We become physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted and lack the energy to work through our problems and find solutions.
However, when we can exercise control over our negative emotions, we can begin to find solutions to our problems. We can once again connect with our partner on a deeper level and rediscover things about them and ourselves that we had forgotten. We regain the energy we had lost and become happier in our relationships and daily life.
So, how do we do it? How do we control our emotions when all we want to do is yell, scream, cry, get angry and guilt trip our partner?
Let me show you what we did wrong and how we could have avoided a nasty argument.
A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting on a phone call telling me whether I had gotten the short term job I had applied for. It was a four day job, which would start that Tuesday and finish on Friday. That Friday also happened to be the set up day for an event that my husband was helping to set up and run, which was being held way down in the southern suburbs of Adelaide.
Having grown up in the north eastern suburbs and relying on a small car and an unreliable GPS, I was not overly comfortable driving down to the site for the first time by myself late in the afternoon when it would be starting to get dark. So, prior to receiving the phone call, I asked him if he would be able to come and get me from work in the afternoon, that way we wouldn’t be bringing two cars and I wouldn’t have to worry about possibly getting lost.
While I didn’t necessarily expect him to say yes to that particular plan, I wasn’t expecting him to get angry.
He told me in no uncertain terms that he would be too busy all day to take an hour and a half to do the round trip of coming to get me and going back to site and that I should just drive anyway, that I had a licence for a reason. He also already knew that I was not comfortable with driving down at that time of day. If he had spoken calmly I probably wouldn’t have gotten angry, but at this point we were now both angry at each other.
I then asked why. Since set up was starting early in the day and there would be others there helping, surely it wouldn’t take all day. Surely he wouldn’t be working all day and could find some time to come and get me. He insisted that he would be, that he was too busy. At this point I left the room.
Then thoughts began to run through my mind. I’ve given up or cut short so many things I had planned to do in the past so that you could get things done last minute or so that you could get up early the next day for work. If I were asking you to drive a couple of hours each way then that would be unreasonable, but I didn’t think that forty five minutes each way late in the afternoon was that big of a deal. I would do it for you. I would do it for you.
After spending some time obsessing over these thoughts, I finally did what I should have done in the first place. I took a deep breath in and out, added a muscle tension exercise to release the remaining tension and then got up and walked back into the kitchen where my husband was still standing. I then asked if there was any other time that he might be able to make it back. He paused for a moment and then said “I suppose I could come get you from the house in the evening.”
There was our solution. All it took was for us to calm down and ask the right questions, instead of getting angry and losing our tempers. In the end, they had to postpone hiring due to machinery breakdown, but the important part was that whether it ended up happening or not, we had managed to put a plan in place in the event that it did.
So, to recap, here’s what we should have done instead:
Take a deep breath in and out. Do this more than once if you need to. The aim here is to become calm enough to push past the unnecessary anger and angry words to reach a point where the two of you can begin looking for solutions.
If you are especially prone to becoming angry, frustrated, upset or panicked when an argument starts, doing a muscle tension exercise (tensing your hands up for fifteen seconds, then relaxing them and shaking them out), or focusing your attention on an object close to you can help you to release these negative emotions. While it is good to sit with and experience your negative emotions sometimes, during times when you are trying to avoid an angry argument is not the time to do it.
Rather than pressing the point that caused the argument or trying to guilt trip your partner, change your point of view and change the question. Asking questions like ‘why won’t that work’ isn’t a good way to phrase this, as why questions have the potential to make the person being asked the question defensive (which won’t help reduce anger). A better question to ask would be ‘what about this won’t work?’ Then you can ask questions such as ‘what other options do we have?’
Take some time to think about what options you have. Whether you are looking for another way of getting something done like I was, or whether you are using this time to discuss the reasons behind the strong emotions raised by the topic at hand, taking some time to think lets you and your partner get creative and say what if. What if we did this instead? What if we set aside some time to discuss this further? Sometimes you’ll need to do so. When you are running late or need to sleep is not the time to be searching for solutions.
Even when we argue with our partner, we still love them. So tell them that. Especially after an argument, telling your partner you love them helps to lighten the mood and make both of you happier.
We can’t prevent arguments from beginning. You and your partner won’t always agree. But following these steps will help you to find solutions quicker, connect more deeply with each other and increase you and your partner’s happiness and wellbeing in ways that anger can never do.
Now I would love to hear from you. What do you struggle with the most when trying to keep yourself from becoming angry? And what do you want to achieve by improving your communication skills? Leave a comment or send me an email and share your thoughts. I reply to each one.
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