Can you help me and my spouse learn how to control our arguments so that they don't become overheated? Usually we are pretty good at having constructive disagreements, but sometimes things have gotten out of hand. What can we do to keep a lid on things?
It's easy to lose control when emotions are running high. Spouses can become irrational for many reasons. It can stem from feeling overwhelmed, threatened, provoked, criticized, or just misunderstood. These feelings may not be wrong in and of themselves, but they can be expressed in inappropriate ways. It's at this point that a dangerous line is crossed. As the Bible says, "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control" (Proverbs 29:11).
As a matter of fact, some people seem only too glad to lose control during an argument. There's a kind of adrenaline rush that comes with expressing anger, and it can be addictive. This is something you'll need to watch out for if you really want to keep your disagreements civil and constructive. Before getting involved in a confrontation with your spouse, examine yourself to make sure that your heart and intentions are in the right place. If one of you is afraid that the argument will spin out of control, the openness and honesty required to make the discussion a success may be hopelessly squelched.
Equally inhibiting is the fear that one's partner will dredge up issues from the past. This can be overwhelming to the spouse who tends to forget, or wants to forget, things said and done in anger. If you want to maintain control, then, avoid the temptation to rehash past offenses and mistakes.
You should also steer clear of aggressive and passive/aggressive behavior. In most marriages, one spouse tends to be more of an aggressive pursuer in arguments while the other adopts a quieter, more passive method of nagging or blaming. Both approaches are destructive. Where there is bullying in a relationship, it's best to find a constructive way of dealing with it rather than living in fear. Sober, straightforward honesty is the most effective policy. It's true that there are times when a gentle answer can turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1), but only if it's intentional, proactive, and positive. This approach should never be adopted out of fear of provoking your partner to anger.
Physical violence is never okay. Threats of physical violence must be handled immediately. If you feel threatened, get to a safe place right away. Put distance between you and the person endangering you. Call the police if necessary. Also keep in mind that physical violence doesn't stop without intervention. Abusers must learn to manage anger. Once the danger is past, insist on counseling. In the meantime, educate yourself about abuse cycles and learn how to protect yourself in the future.
Out-of-control arguments don't always involve violence, of course. No matter how much you and your spouse love each other, no matter how understanding you try to be, and no matter how strongly you want to avoid hurting each other, there will be times when arguments get out of control. You can prepare for those times and minimize the negative effects by being aware of your own physical reactions and triggers, by taking responsibility for your own feelings, and by stopping to pray – individually and with your partner – whenever things seem to be getting too intense. Whatever happens, make forgiveness your number one priority. This doesn't mean that you will necessarily agree. It certainly doesn't imply that abuse should be ignored or excused. It does mean giving up your determination to get revenge.
If you need help putting these concepts into practice, don't hesitate to give our staff a call. Our counselors would be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified marriage and family therapists in your area who specialize in communication issues.
Handling Your Anger Constructively: Gary Oliver discusses the dynamics of anger and explores ways to use this emotion in a positive way.
Love and Respect