By Dr. Susan Heitler for YourTango.com
In relationships, we all have our fights, and having the occasional heated debate with your significant other is even healthy. But when these fights cross into full-blown blow-ups, the arguments can quickly get out of hand. Follow these 10 tips for effective anger management if you want to enjoy a lasting, loving relationship.
1. Know when to make an exit. Remove yourself from a situation you can't handle. If you can't gracefully leave the room, gracefully change the topic.
2. Exit earlier than you think you need to. Exit when your anger is at a level three on a scale up to 10. By the time you're up over level four, exits will become increasingly difficult. Self-righteous indignation will propel you to keep trying to prove your point and will make your wants seem all-important. (As a friend of mine once put it, "My anger makes what I want feel holy and what you want is totally insignificant.")
3. Change your focus. Phew. You've separated yourself from that situation you couldn't handle. Now what? Focus on something other than what you were mad about. Avoid further thoughts about the person.
4. Evoke peace and laughter. Find something to think about that evokes calm images or even laughter. Close your eyes and picture yourself on a beach.
5. Breathe deeply. Clear the air emotionally by clearing the physical air in your lungs. The same slow, deep breathing that helps when you're falling asleep in bed can bring cooling energy to you when you're trying to douse your inner fire.
6. Relax your muscles. Hang your arms limply. Focus especially on relaxing the little muscles around your mouth and eyes.
7. Put on a smile. Even if you have to force yourself -- just smile. Smiles soothe (even fake ones), and bring forth positive thoughts and feelings of gratitude or affection.
8. Test the waters. Before you try addressing the issue again, prepare by picturing yourself offering gestures of niceness. Plan to talk about pleasant topics before resuming the tough one. Be sure that you and your partner are securely back in an emotionally light zone before venturing again into sensitive realms.
9. Make agreements. Re-launch the tough topic by agreeing on points made by your significant other. Start the conversation by saying empathetically, "I agree that we've put this issue on the back burner."
10. Talk through the problem calmly and effectively, listening to the other person's point of view. Share your concerns on the tough issue, but keep your tone relaxed and collaborative, and look for solutions that work for both of you. This final tip has a number of subtleties to keep in mind. Transition your sentences using the phrase "and at the same time" and not the word "but." (For example, "And at the same time, my concern is ... ") The word "and" is collaborative; "but" deletes whatever was said just before and consequently could knock you both back into adversarial hostile stances.
The goal is to add your perspective by quietly explaining your concerns, not insisting on particular solutions like a child having a temper tantrum (not sexy). These tips have focused mostly on what to do, all of which involve focus on yourself, on calming distracting thoughts or on how to improve the situation. Stay clear of accusing and blaming. Focusing on what you don't like about what the other person has done will only cause more relationship problems.
Learn these techniques of self-soothing, plus all you can about how to communicate in intimate relationships and you just might find yourself much more successful in making your relationships last. With the ability to prevent and also to fix marriage and other other relationship problems, you may even find yourself feeling increasingly secure and self-confident.
Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is author of the "Power of Two" book, workbook and web-based relationship program that teaches the skills for sustaining strong and loving partnerships.
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