By. Dr. Argie Allen Wilson
All couples disagree and often fight. The extent to which those fights turn into wars has to do with whether the couple is fighting fair or dirty. The reality is, angry people often find themselves attracted to other angry people. If you are reading this article, you may have found that your loving relationship has turned into “War of the Roses”. Here are five tips that may help you and your partner get back on track if you have been fighting an ongoing battle that seems endless.
Tip One: You can disagree without being disagreeable. Recognize that the goal does not always have to be winning. Many couples set out to win the argument, but if it is at your partner’s expense, than the price is too high. You must remember that you are in a relationship, not a competition. Ultimately, if one partner looses and walks away feeling violated and injured, than you both loose. It’s important that you find ways to turn your disagreements into win-win scenarios. Once you find ways to do this, celebrate your teamwork as a couple.
Tip Two: It takes two to tango. Often one partner might find that he or she is labeled as the angry person in the relationship. This partner may serve as the scapegoat; often taking the heat for overt misplaced and misdirected anger. However, the inappropriate behaviors of the opposite partner may tend to go unacknowledged due to the smoke screen of the more apparent angry person. Don’t be fooled into thinking that only one partner is actively participating in expressing anger inappropriately. Other subtle forms of anger that may be more difficult to detect and less recognizable are passive-aggressive anger, sneaky anger and the silent treatment anger. If you are guilty of participating in any of these forms of anger, Than you are contributing to the dance of anger in your relationship.
Tip Three: Don’t play the blame game. We often take easy way out by placing the blame for conflict onto our partners, as if there is no one in the relationship but them. The truth is, its not easy admitting that were wrong or that we were hurtful to someone we love. While the truth sometimes hurts, what may hurt even more is waking up one day and finding out that you’re in a relationship all by yourself because you couldn’t be honest with your partner. If you are expressing anger in ways that are harmful to yourself and your relationship, accept responsibility and take ownership for your own actions and behaviors. A little honesty goes a long way. Remember, if it’s always your partner’s fault, than you have no power to affect change in your own relationship. Accepting responsibility for your own actions can often lead to resolving conflict in your relationship as well as decreasing individual burdens of guilt and shame that have effected self esteem and negative self images.
Tip Four: Hurt People, Hurt People. This saying often holds true for many couples who find themselves in a situation where their feeling hurt. Sometimes we find it easier to repay the gesture by “hurting back” rather than expressing our true feelings. Children often call this phenomenon, “pay backs”. The difference is, while a school yard disagreement between two classmates may be forgotten by the next day, in an intimate relationship we can’t always take back what we say or do to someone we love. While some partners may be able to forgive, few manage to forget harmful words and hurtful actions.
If you have been hurt by your partner due to their inappropriate expression of anger, don’t play the tit for tat game by trying to hurt them just as much as they hurt you. Try to express how you sincerely felt about the injury by using “ I statements” and attempt to process the experience with your partner while negotiating ways to prevent future infractions. If your partner is unable or unwilling to hear your concerns and process the experience, you may need to re-evaluate your relationship and perhaps seek additional support from a couple and family therapist.
Tip Five: Apply Empathy – Ask yourself the question, “Am I treating my partner the way I want to be treated?”
If the answer is no, than you still have some work to do if you want to be in a mutually healthy and satisfying relationship. Make sure you pause before acting or speaking impulsively. Take time outs when discussions appear to be too heated. Remember to return to the discussion once you and your partner have cooled down. Develop relationship team rules that will help you and your partner negotiate differences as well as disagreements in a caring, loving, and respectful manner. And most importantly, the goal is not to prove your right, but to be heard in a way that allows you both to be winners in your relationship. You can’t fight for your relationship if you’re on two separate teams.
I recommend seeking professional help if you are seriously interested in working on developing skills to manage your anger either individually or as a couple. Penn Council for Relationships offers both classes and therapy for assisting individuals and couples in dealing with their anger more effectively.
Argie J. Allen, MFT is a Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist at Penn Council for Relationships, a non-profit counseling, educational and research center, with nine offices throughout the Delaware Valley. Ms. Allen practices out of the University City office. She specializes in addictions counseling, forensic family therapy, anger management, and issues of cultural diversity. She also conducts relationship workshops and has served as an adjunct instructor and is presently a Doctoral student and Forensic family therapist at MCP Hahnemann University.