by Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
Reposted from CounselingCurator.com
(Especially relevant in a time when quarantine will exacerbate feelings of irritation and anger with people close to us, whether physically or emotionally)
I always love writing about relationships - Remember: when I say “relationships”, it doesn’t have to be applicable to romantic relationships only. Friendships and family also reflect aspects of how we are in intimate setting. So while I will be referring to romantic relationships, you can apply this to ANY relationship that is meaningful to you, while adjusting for degrees of intimacy and methods of connection.
If you’ve ever been in a relationship, there will come a time when you and the person you really like and maybe even *love*… will piss you off.
When you’re angry, it’s hard to think straight. Your thoughts are all colored with irritation. No matter what they do or say, your anger filters it to look or sound a certain way. There’s a good reason we describe someone in a rage as “seeing red”.
We are in lizard mode if this is our state of mind. And when in lizard mode, we can’t 1) think logically, 2) communicate clearly, and 3) process others’ emotions. So.. should we be trying to argue with our loved one when we are in lizard mode? Absolutely not. But have we all tried having arguments while in lizard mode? Of course we have.
In the heat of the moment, we are often not taught to pause, to recollect, to open our awareness to the reality of our emotional state as relevant and important. We just.. jump right in. Say what we think. Ignore how we feel. And in turn, we ignore how our partner feels as well.
Being mad at each other and having *successful* fights every once in awhile is not only important, but I would argue that they are essential. However, the key word here is successful and many of us have never been taught how to "fight successfully”. If you are fighting constantly and getting nowhere (or you’re having the same fight over and over again), two things are happening: 1) at least one (if not both) person’s feelings are not being validated, and 2) actions to move past the presenting issue are not taking place.
If we work backwards, then, the goal of our fights should be:
Take new actions to maintain it
If we want to reestablish connection, we need to:
Acknowledge our own emotions
Validate and credit our partner’s emotions
Take ownership for our part in the conflict
Accept the other person’s ownership / Hold them accountable to their word
Okay. So that’s the basic outline. Here’s the step-by-step.
1) When you are mad, recognize yourself. Take a breath, slowly. Count to 10, take a walk, move your body (gently) to release the tension.
Getting angry can happen so quickly. Often we don’t even notice we are getting angry until we are already there. The more we practice noticing ourselves, recognizing the moments that lead up to our own anger, we can better prepare and better handle what happens when the emotion comes over us. Anger is synonymous with fire in many ways; it is dangerous and when it gets out of control, it can destroy everything in its path. But without fire, the human race might have died a long time ago. We use fire to our advantage, and in some ways it even makes our lives enjoyable and meaningful.
Maybe you start to notice anger when you feel your face getting hotter, or you find it hard to speak, or you raise your voice. It’s often a body experience; so asking yourself where you experience anger in your body can be extremely illuminating.
When I get angry, I can feel my throat tighten and my ears get hot. Often my stomach has a reaction as well. If I recognize that I am angry and I know that every word out of my mouth is going to be poisonous, I’ll tell my significant other that I need some time. I’ll say (or text) something like: “I’m upset and I need some time.” It’s a simple sentence, but I swear to you it will save you both so much heartache. It’s taken me years to be able to say it in the heat of the moment, but with practice, it’s easier and easier to say.
2) Use I-Statements. Forreal.
I should apologize for the majority of therapists and counselors and our online advice.. because I’m sure someone overheard this or was forced to see this in group therapy this was grossly misunderstood. When you express yourself in an “I-statement” it really does have to be about you.
An I-statement is:
I feel angry because of what you said this morning.
I’m upset that I wasn’t invited.
I feel irritated because it seems like this happens a lot.
An I-statement is NOT:
I feel like you’re not listening.
I feel that this isn’t going to get better.
I feel like you’re being stupid.
I feel mad because you’re being unreasonable.
I feel like you've always said stuff like this.
In other words, I statements always include a feeling, and address the behavior or situation at hand, *REMOVED* from a judgment. They do not name-call or assume reasoning or use absolutes such as "always" and "never". By using I-statements, you are not only empowering yourself and your truth, you are leaving room for the other person to work with your perception and feelings.
3) Acknowledge one another’s feelings and values.
Every feeling indicates a value.
Let me say that again. Every feeling indicates a value.
When someone feels something, it tells you something about what they believe is important. If someone is happy, you can see that they enjoy something or feel connected to something. When they’re sad, you can see that they feel a loss or a break in identity. When they’re angry, you can see that they have experienced a form of injustice. Whether or not you agree or disagree with their point of view or whether they have a “right” to be angry, arguing against their value will get you nowhere unless you acknowledge the depth of the emotion that ties them to it.
So examples of this: “I get that you’re mad because you want some space.” “You’re angry. You don’t want to lose control of your life.” “I know this is important to you. And you are upset because it seems like I don’t care.”
4) Work together on how you both can get what you need.
You are, at the end of the day, a team. Being in love and choosing to be together every day is an action. Once you know how they feel and what they value, and you’ve expressed the same, you have the puzzle pieces with which to work. Figuring out how to put them together will be beautiful and unique to your relationship, and learning how to communicate with each other to express those needs is something that no one can dictate for you. The work in itself makes the love worthwhile.
Fighting is part of being human. It’s time we learned how to do it with love as the goal in mind.
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