How to Stay Calm When Your Partner is Mean and Angry

The ability to successfully manage and resolve conflict depends on four key skills. Together, these four skills result in the ability to take conflict in stride and resolve differences in ways that build trust and confidence.

1) Breathe
Remember the old, stereotypical advice about taking a deep breath when you first feel upset? Well, it’s still good advice. That’s because the first reaction to frustration is purely physiological: you receive a rush of adrenaline to prepare you to take action in real danger. In most cases, simply taking a few moments to practice deep breathing, can allow your body to calm down. Deep, slow breathing indirectly tells your body that all danger has now passed; as a consequence, your body will stop producing adrenaline and your arousal will cease.

Use your abdominal muscles to breathe, so your stomach moves in and out against your hand. This is abdominal breathing or deep breathing, the kind of breathing you did naturally as a baby and still do when you’re asleep or very calm. Slow deep breathing reverses your body’s stress response of anxiety, slows the heart, reduces blood pressure so it is closer to normal and releases endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers.

• Begin by breathing in slowly through your nostrils.
• Breathe in slowly, silently saying the word “in.”
• Then breathe out slowly, silently saying the word “out” as you let the air escape through pursed lips.

2) Listen:
When people are upset, the words they use rarely convey the issues and needs at the heart of the problem. When we listen for what is felt as well as said, we connect more deeply to our own needs and emotions, and to those of other people.

• Listen to the reasons the other person gives for being upset.
• Make sure you understand what the other person is telling you—from his or her point of view.
• Repeat the other person’s words, and ask if you have understood correctly.
• Ask if anything remains unspoken, giving the person time to think before answering.
• Resist the temptation to interject your own point of view until the other person has said everything he or she wants to say and feels that you have listened to and understood his or her message.

3) Communicate:
a) You must be very angry.”
He may say, “I am not angry.” This is called Denial. We can reply to this defense by saying: “I hope you aren’t because anger is a very painful emotion. But if you want to talk about it, I’ll listen.” We are standing our ground, letting him know that we are prepared to cooperate with him in an atmosphere of mutual respect if he is interested

b) “You sound very angry. “What happened to make you so angry?”
This intervention has the advantage of skipping the issue of emotions and focusing on the precipitating factors that caused it. It offers an invitation to get relief by verbalizing the event in a non-threatening, non-judgmental context.

c) “That must have made you angry. I’d be angry if that happened to me.”
By using the word “angry”, in our intervention, we are giving his out-of-control emotion a handle he can grasp. We are also giving him permission to describe the emotion that he is experiencing.

d) “I’m sorry you are so angry.”
Many people have learned that “I’m sorry” is tantamount to an admission of guilt, but “I’m sorry” is really an expression of regret. Regret is the sincere wish that things were not the way they are. We know that anger hurts, and we regret that they are in so much pain.

4) Ask questions:
You must ask questions that get to the cause of the problem. Avoid accusatory questions (“Why are you late again? You’re seeing someone else, aren’t you?”). Ask What questions that can’t be brushed off with a simple Yes or No. Here are a few examples:
• What angered you the most?
• What was the worst thing about it?
• What was going through you mind when that happened?
• What are you trying to achieve?
• What will make you happy?

Angry woman photo available from Shutterstock

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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