How To Deal With a Passive-Aggressive Partner

HOW TO DEAL WITH A PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE PARTNER

Husband- When I got mad at you, you never fight back, How do you control your anger?
Wife- I clean the toilet.
Husband-How does that help?
Wife- I use your toothbrush

As this little vignette illustrates, passive-aggression is a way to get even at someone behind their back, often without their even knowing that you are doing it. It is sneaky revenge to get your own way, to serve a “pay-back,” or to sabotage the efforts of your partner when appearing to want to help, cooperate, or solve the problem.

Common passive-aggressive behavior in relationships:

Agreeing to do something and then either not doing it at all, doing it poorly, doing it grudgingly.

Keeping score and then doing small things to your partner to balance the score card.

Constantly being late- but only with partner and always with a good excuse.

Violating marital agreements behind partner’s back…e.g. Revealing details of relationship that partner thinks should be kept private.

Withholding things (money, sex, affection, support)that they need to purposely frustrate your partner or to even a score.

Hiding hostility in jokes or sarcasm, then denying that is what you are doing when confronted. For instance, disparaging your partner’s cooking ability to cause hurt, then saying “I was just kidding.”

Allowing your child to do something or buying something for your child behind your partner’s back which violates an agreement or understanding you had..

Not sticking to the budget behind your partner’s back, or not even having a budget when budgeting is important to your partner.

Does your partner know they are doing these things?
Sometimes your passive aggressive partner knows what they are doing- that is, they are doing it on purpose. They are snakes in sheep’s clothing. They want to get even with you so they smile while stabbing you in the back. Or they become catty or sarcastic, sending you double-meaning messages that you can’t comply with or make you feel helpless to deal with.You can read more about this on Airportkiss.com

Other times, however, they may not be aware themselves what they are doing. For instance, as a little girl Sue felt defiant toward her parents who always pushed her to “do it faster.” At eight years old, the more her parents “pushed” her, the more she slowed down. This pattern became “etched” in her brain circuits.

Fast forward twenty years……

At age 28 her husband says “honey, hurry up,we will be late for the dinner reservation.” Inside her brain, an alarm goes off reminding her of someone trying to control her again.As was the case before with her parents, she did not openly defy her husband or even admit she is angry toward him for his demands, so her mind goes into passive-aggressive mode without her realizing it. She finds herself running late while telling to her husband to deal with it because she is doing the best she can.

Patterns of passive-aggression
Your passive aggressive partner will often deny that they are doing what they are plainly doing right before you, or they twist the reality of what they are doing by justifying it, or minimizing it. Often they may attack you as a defense, convincing you there is something wrong with YOU for being so upset over what they are doing.

Passive-aggressive partners are not emotionally honest people- at least not with their partners. They often are conflict-avoidant and will do anything to avoid a fight or confrontation. So, they do things behind their partner’s back as a way of coping with their partners- and staying out of trouble. Or sometimes, they are passive-aggressive as a learned method to get what they want with the least amount of hassle or conflict.

Like most personality traits, passive aggression is not either/or but on a continuum. Your partner may just have tendencies to be passive-aggressive or may be full- blown. They may be passive-aggressive with everybody, or just with you. Sometimes a small amount of passive-aggression is a good thing, but done routinely it causes major problems in relationships because it is not honest communication and is manipulative by nature.

FIVE STEPS TO DEAL WITH THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PARTNER

Step 1- Could you be the problem?
The first step in dealing with the passive-aggressive partner is to ask yourself if you are unknowingly somehow part of the problem. Do you maybe create an atmosphere wherein it is easier for him/her to NOT be candid with you to avoid emotional pain or hassle? If so, the obvious solution is to find a way to have open communication with each other where you can both openly express opinions, feelings and thoughts without so much judgment, conflict or demands for change. Don’t turn you partner into a liar.

Step 2- Don’t be a victim of their passive-aggression
Once you have identified your partner as a passive-aggressive, don’t plan your life around their promises or commitments if they don’t keep them. If it isn’t too bad,(but irritating) just accept that they are passive-aggressive, instead of getting angry about it. BUT, then ALWAYS have a plan B when dealing with them, until trust rebuilds. If they don’t show up on time at important events, go separately and meet them there.Make the bank deposits yourself is they are unreliable in this regard. In public, don’t set yourself up so they can ridicule, denigrate, or make fun of you.

Step 3- Write things down on paper, as in agreements.
Couples aren’t used to writing down agreements they reach, but these can go a long way toward avoiding later conflicts in relationships, especially with passive-aggressives. This works especially well with things like home chore responsibilities, spending habits, and other family rituals such as meal preparation days, time spent daily to connect with each other, and understandings about what information about your relationship is “private” vs being shared with relatives or close friends.

Step 4- Share feelings when you suspect your partner is being passive-aggressive
Let your partner know how you feel when they do something that bothers you or hurts you, instead of suppressing it or shoving it under the proverbial rug. They may not realize the effect their passive-aggressiveness is having on you. Be honest with them, so they have an opportunity to change their behavior if they elect to.

Say things like “I feel really hurt and unloved when you…….”

Or, “I was humiliated and embarrassed when you got drunk and told everybody at the party about our sex life,like it was a joke”

Or, I feel violated and untrusting toward you when you tell your parents personal stuff that I tell you, expecting that it will be held in confidence,”

Step 5 – Assertively consequences if they continue their behavior – then follow through.
If their passive-aggressive behavior is truly something you cannot accept, and you elect not to tolerate it, the next step is to make clear the consequences of their continued passive-aggressiveness. As an example, if your partner continues to overspend to the extent that they are ruining the FICO scores of both of you and propelling the family toward bankruptcy, you can insist on separate bank accounts, credit cards etc. Don’t just threaten, however – you must follow through in order to survive.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PERSON

What should you do if you are the passive-aggressive person and your behavior is threatening to destroy a relationship?
Acknowledgement of a problem is the first step toward solving it. Start by looking at your behavior. If indeed you have tendencies in the PA direction, vow to yourself to start being more honest in your communication with loved ones, even if there might be some painful consequences for you. If something bothers you about your partner or the relationship, deal with it up front instead of letting it fester and grow for a long period of time.

Instead of “getting even” with your partner because of the issue, try dealing with it in a mature loving way- start by talking about it. The strategy of “peace at any price” isn’t a good one because putting off “the talk” often just makes things much worse in the long run.

Giving up passive-aggression is often an issue in your character development. Like any character trait, you need to decide to change for anything to happen. Often this change is motivated by fear of losing something or someone you love – .like your partner or your family. Keeping this fear in mind often can propel you to communicate differently- less passive-aggressively and more real, genuine, and honest.

Remember, it is Ok to FEEL anger and hostility….all people in relationships do. The issue is how you deal with and communicate this natural anger. As a matter of personal growth, you will be much less passive-aggressive (and much less angry generally) if you acknowledge your anger and express it in healthy ways to feel better and to resolve conflicts.

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Successful Couples Repair Conflict

Conflict 10

Let’s face it. All couples fight. In successful relationships as well as others. Having fights is not necessarily a sign that your relationship is doomed to failure.

If all couples fight, What then makes the difference between successful vs unsuccessful relationships?

Simply put, one major difference is having the skills and ability to repair the emotional damage done during the fight. Some couples simply can’t get past it and simmer for days, weeks, even months. I know of one couple that kept a resentment for years. They didn’t divorce – they simply built a wall between them and added a few more bricks every month until there basically was no hope of reconnecting.This couple slept in separate bedrooms, rarely talked to each other, ate meals separately and kept separate financial resources. They basically were roommates.

Other couples fortunately have better skills and can bounce back from a conflict, a bad behavior on the part of one or the other, or from the pain of a grievance. Some couples just know how to do it. Mary and Jim were such a couple. They were a young professional couple with no children but strong personalities and a strong need for autonomy. She often wanted to do something that he considered irresponsible or not practical (she was an artist). He would “question” her on it (which she heard as a challenge). Her response? Anger, saying to herself “he is not going to tell ME what to do.” He replied that he was not trying to tell her what to do, he was just inquiring as to what was going on.

This led to an escalating fight with each “pushing the buttons” of the other until they no longer could stand to be in the same room. In effect, they had activated each other’s psychological alarm system so both their brains were now in a “fight and protect” mode. So they sulked for a while, until their nervous systems calmed down to normal levels. This allowed one of them (Mary)to quietly say “I’m sorry.” Then came, “I really love you and can’t imagine life without you.” Jim then said, “Let’s get on the same team and figure out a solution to the issue.”

More generally, partners with good repair skills do with following:

  • They keep the relationship itself in mind when arguing over an issue. It’s not only about “winning” – certainly not at the cost of rupturing the relationship. They WANT the relationship to work. They strive for emotional connection and harmony.
  • They realize that not all couples problems are fixable – some issues will always be there. The trick to repair is to learn how to live with each other around the issues rather than trying to change the other person to make them less irritating to you. The challenge is to cope (within reason and without losing your “self” in the process) better while finding ways to satisfy each other’s needs.
  • They are mature enough to realize that their partners have a perfect right to their own opinions and ways of doing things. They try to drop judgment and instead strive to understand their partner better.
  • Finally, couples with good repair skill do not bring up the past to use as a weapon. They stick to the current issue without slamming their partner with insults, name-calling, accusations, or “dead cow” issues.
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    Couples Conflict – The Dance of Anger

    Jim and Sally have been married for 10 years. They argue so much that friends invite them for dinner a lot because they provide the evening’s entertainment with their bickering and constant conflict. Their arguments are over many of the same issues over and over again. They just seem to trigger angry responses in each other and it is never ending. Watching them reminds one of seven year olds fighting in the sand box.

    If you took a picture snapshot at any point in time you might think that one of them is the culprit starting the fights. But, taking a snapshot at another point in time might give you a different impression, as you observe the “victim” actually now provoking their partner
    Human Brain

    Truth is, they are in a strange, intimate dance with each other even though they probably don’t realize it. Psychologists might say that we are observing the battle of part of the brain called the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system. It is in the amygdala that hurts, pain and anger are stored. Its purpose is to protect you from harm, even though the threat is not physical but the verbal assaults of your partner. So, it immediately prepares you for fight and survival. You are programmed to attack back,to protect yourself.You are reacting on a nervous system level but may not be aware of this fact. It happens so rapidly that things can spin out of control before you know it. And the anger dance begins.

    The “Issue” Is Not The Only Issue
    It may appear that you are fighting over the kids,who should do the dishes, or how much money you should spend on a new car. But you are also fighting on deeper levels often without your awareness. My experience with many scores of couples is that you are really fighting because you are triggering in each other old ways of feeling or behaving toward someone you love which you learned as a child from caretakers or others. Under stress, your brain reverts back to that earlier learning, never mind that you are now an adult professional, a responsible community member, and a parent. So, instead of being a reasonable human being, you become that petulant child who is not getting his way, you grind on your partner over minor infractions to wear him or her down (just like you wore down your parents), or you openly rebel to communicate feeling hurt and rejection.

    In the heat of battle. many partners forget to pay attention to the damage they may be doing to the relationship itself in how they are fighting or arguing. They focus on winning the battle, but lose sight that they may be losing the war. What good is winning the argument if you are pissed at each other afterward or experiencing feelings of hurt for days or weeks? Successful couples broaden their lens and see that they must always be aware of how what they do or what they say will affect the relationship itself. Successful partners know that even if they conflict or disagree with the benefits of softening your water, they have each other’s back and they feel secure in knowing that they will be there for each other, regardless of the outcome of the specific argument.

    <strongThe Dance of Security
    Feeling secure in a relationship seems to be a basic human need. Secure functioning should be a major goal of any intimate connection. When there is secure functioning, partners protect each other at all times, in both public and private. They notice how they are affecting each other. When they emotionally injure each other, they know how to make quick repairs. Secure functioning partners are skilled at being able to quickly change their own emotional state and positively influence the emotional state of their partner. They think in terms of what is best for both of them not only as individuals but also as a couple.

    Problem is, partners often come into relationships with different styles of feeling secure. This is because of different backgrounds and different ways of learning how to “attach” to loved ones. Unless partners learn to deal with each other’s styles of attachment, they will trigger INSECURITY in each other which often leads to anger and other negative emotions.
    Jim, for instance , doesn’t believe in talking in public about personal things; he believes in strict boundaries. He is self-contained and doesn’t turn to others for emotional support or problem-solving. Sally, on the other hand, loves to talk and to share everything with everybody, especially after a few glasses of wine. Talking and getting feedback from others helps to regulate her emotions and feel good and connected with others. She firmly believes that Jim should love her no matter how she behaves in public; if he shows disapproval, this means he doesn’t really love her (in her thoughts). She doesn’t see that she is doing anything wrong.

    Clearly, they are working against each other. That which reduces her anxiety, increases his, and vice versa. She becomes more and more angry and resentful as he pulls away and increasingly avoids her. He doesn’t deal with anger directly, so he starts to “passive-aggress” her by snipping,jabbing, innuendo and sarcasm. She fights back by denying him sex later that night. He complains. The next day she accuses him of not loving her for her and says that he is emotionally unavailable and she can’t stand it any longer. The dance is on but it is anything but a fluid tango….it is more like a war dance.

    Putting the Pieces Together
    Partners come in all sizes and shapes emotionally, many with ragged edges which we sometimes don’t see until later when the dating hormones settle down. At this stage, sometimes partners worry they are fundamentally incompatible with each other, that they may have made a mistake or that they were deceived by the other who is now clearly showing a different side to their personality. In couples therapy, we explain to the partners that they are probably going through a developmental period in which they are challenged to learn how to function as individual yet learn to do things differently so as not to trigger insecurity and anger in the other.

    The simplified principle is this: Instead of trying to change your partner,find a way to give your partner what they need so they will be more motivated and eager to give you what you need. Both of you will feel more secure and will co-create what Dr. Stan Tatkin calls “the couple bubble.”

    In our case example, Sally and Jim both have hard-wired (and different) styles of attachment and ways of regulating their emotions to feel comfortable. It is highly unlikely that either can change this. They can greatly decrease their levels of conflict, however, by accepting the differences between them and doing things to make the other more emotionally secure. Each needs to ask himself/herself what they are doing to make their partner feel better, not worse. They need to further ask themselves why they are doing things (like bringing up personal marriage thing in public) that they know emotionally (and socially) harms their partner. Or why Jim doesn’t share more with Sally when he knows that she needs this to feel secure inside and feel loved.
    If we love someone, shouldn’t job number one be to try to make them happy (within reason) and be a source of need satisfaction for them (as long as it is reciprocal and we are getting it back)?

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    Defensiveness Can Destroy Relationships

    african american couple fighting

    How would you describe a “defensive” person? To me, a defensive person is always blocking other people, like a defensive back on a football team. Keeping them out. Not letting them get close. Not letting others influence them in any way. Defensive people are poor listeners because while you are talking they are preparing their comeback instead of truly listening to what you are saying. In their minds,they will admit nothing, they HAVE to be right, they are unable to acknowledge weakness or wrongness of any kind, and even simple mistakes signify to them personal inadequacy, unworthiness, or failure.

    In my experience, defensiveness is one of the major blocks to effective couples communication. Some couples spend hours explaining their actions, their thoughts, their feelings, or their viewpoints – all to no avail in terms of clarifying or resolving the issue at hand.

    Defensive people use numerous strategies to defend themselves from emotional attacks including denial (“No..it isn’t that way, I didn’t do it, I didn’t mean it, that wasn’t my intention, etc), justification (“OK, I did do it but only because……”), arguing as to why it was the right thing to do even if partner thinks it wasn’t, and excuse-making(“I was tired,” I didn’t think it would bother you, it was…..”)

    The truly defensive partner self-defines “reality” – what they say goes, regardless of your opinion or other evidence. If you disagree they may say things like, “are you calling me a liar?” They may also degrade you or diminish you in order to invalidate your viewpoint: (“What would you know? You couldn’t even finish college.”)

    The overly defensive person often subtly shifts blame for a problem or issue from them back to you. Its YOUR fault- not theirs that no one picked up your child at day care at 4:40 because each thought the other was going to.

    The defensive person’s ego is always at stake when arguing. You ask a question, they answer in a way which anticipates your NEXT question in order to protect or shield themselves. Example: Did you remember to cancel the delivery for today? Answer: “It really doesn’t matter because I’ll be home next week which will be better anyhow because…….”

    Denial is one of the major weapons used by the defensive person. People who deny just have an amazing ability to change things around in their mind until reality fits. I encountered the best example of this with my own family recently. My 91 year old father and I visited the homestead where I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Or, I should say, we tried to. My childhood house address had been 3648 W.58th Street.Trust me, I had to repeat it many many times to my mother in case I got lost and had to tell a policeman where I lived)

    Upon arrival with my dad recently, we discovered there was no house left standing that had the address 3648. Only houses with address 3650 and 3646 stood in front of us. No 3648. A man walking by explained that 3648 had burned down a number of years ago. My father (who is NOT senile and is perfectly rational most of the time) absolutely could not accept that fact. “Must be a mistake.” “3648 wasn’t our address…. It was 3850… there IS our house…..that guy doesn’t know what he is talking about….etc.” To this day, he still believes that our house is standing right there where it has always been.

    Just like I always tell my patients: PERCEPTION IS REALITY. BUT NOT NECESSARILY THE TRUTH.

    Defensive people are handicapped because they block out reality which means they cannot accept influence or correct information from outside of their own beliefs or misconceptions. They are often inflexible and rigid. They remain like a rock. The harder you try to change their mind, the deeper the trench they dig.

    Another man I knew was absolutely inflexible – that is to say, defensive – on the idea of how family members potentially can relate to each other. His wife would have the family watch a feel-good programs like “Parenthood” or “Hallmark Hall of Fame Specials” where family members actually showed affection for each other, talked over issues instead of getting angry, and generally cared for each other and had each other’s back.
    Then, she would say, “why can’t we be like that?”

    Our defensive and rigid husband denied that ANY family could be like that….NOBODY communicates that way in a real family. There was NO WAY their family could do it like that. No openness to possibility, no acknowledgement that the way he did things might not be the right way.

    If you are a defensive person, try to be more flexible and open. What you perceive as a threat may actually be the act of someone trying to help you- not hurt you.

    If you have to cope with an overly defensive partner or other family member, try a softer approach in how you present things. Unfortunately, yelling, screaming, demanding or insisting that you are right only makes a defensive person more defensive.

    Strike and then back off and try a different approach toward reaching them. Or, try humor.Slide in under the radar more often rather than hitting them with the force of a Mack truck- and see if you get better results and less defensiveness.

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    Anger Class 101: Silence is an Anger Management Tool

    They say that silence is golden.

    Tell that to Sally and Jim who argue constantly and fight like cats and dogs over almost every issue. Both are highly successful, intelligent and verbal so there is no end to issues over which to fight. If perchance they do run out of issues temporarily, they creatively start fighting about fighting. They need anger class 101.

    Let’s listen to the dialogue for a moment:
    with one accusing the other of being unfair or talking “with that sneer of yours,” or “shouting at me.” while the other insists they are not shouting.

    As a couples therapist, and someone who has conducted over 1000 anger classes in Southern California and a calgary naturopath, I sometimes want to say to one or the other: “Why don’t you just keep your mouth shut so avoid an argument? Partners often inflame each other, escalate anger, and talk themselves into major fights which could easily be avoided with the practice of temporary silence. This is known as the tool of “Retreat and Think Things over” in out system of anger management.

    As Lao Tzu is quoted as having said:
    “Silence is a Source of Great Strength.”

    But, back to Sally and Jim who continue the argument:

    Yes, Jim says, but I am right and she knows that I am right, so why should I silence myself?” “The restaurant WAS where I said it was – NOT where she kept insisting (wrongly) it was located.”

    “Oh Lord, It is so hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way”
    …….Mack Davis song, 1980

    Know anyone who ALWAYS has to be right, like Jim? Not only do they always have to be right, they have an irrepressible urge to point out when they factually know that you are wrong. So,like Jim, they correct you, contradict you, argue with you, contest everything you say, and then later remind you that “I told you so” if there is any evidence that you are wrong and they were right.

    The frustrating thing is, often these people ARE right, or partiality right as http://stridestrong.com says. But, few important issues in the world are about absolute right or absolute wrong. They are about shades of each. Only very rigid people divide the world into absolute rights or absolute wrongs. Partial truths often drive arguments because of mis-communication or misunderstanding.

    “Black and White People” vs “Gray” people.

    “Black and white” people see the world in absolutes. It is either this way or that way. “Gray” people see in between possibilities, and understand that “truth” or “reality” in many cases is a matter of perception..not a matter of fact. Often, “black and white” people marry “gray” people and the fight is on.

    Some common examples: Jim sees wife Mary as stubborn and unbending. She sees herself as morally right, principled, and duty-bound to do things Jim does not agree with. As another example, Mary sees Jim as lazy, not ambitious, and negligent in his household duties. Jim sees himself as evolving to the place in life where he can enjoy life, have fun with the kids, and generally appreciate his good health and financial freedom.

    Who is right and who is wrong in these examples? Honestly, is your experience that the world most people live in is black and white, or do most issues fall in the gray area?

    Four ways to deal with a partner who sees the world differently than you do.

    1.LET IT GO.
    For some people, it is part of their personality and their ego. They cannot stand not to be right, correct an injustice, or make sure you know the right way to do things. It validates them and makes them feel good about themselves to be right and to prove you wrong. You should not be around a person like this unless you are super-secure. Let them be right in their own minds, if they have to. Let it go! (Most times). If they swear it is noon; calmly show them a clock showing it is 1pm. Do you want to learn more? Then just click here and read the website.

    2. AGREE TO DISAGREE
    On many issues in a relationship (research shows 69%), you are never going to agree anyway. So, agree to disagree and don’t bring the subject up unless the “house is on fire.” (or unless it is really doing damage to someone)

    3. SEPARATE IN YOU REMIND THE ISSUE FROM WHO YOUR PARTNER REALLY IS. Personally, I like many people even though they are diametrically opposed to things I truly believe in. If you get irritated over one slice of behavior displayed by your partner, try to see him or her as a total person.

    4. DON’T TALK AN ISSUE TO DEATH TRYING TO PERSUADE YOUR PARTNER OF ITS TRUTH OR YOUR RIGHTNESS. Sometimes the more it is talked about, the worse it gets. Let the issue get some rest. MAybe it will recover sooner.

    Are You An Anger Hypocrite?

    There are many definitions of a hypocrite, but the one that I wish to discuss in this blog is a person who professes one thing but does another. The hypocrite imposes standards on others to which his or her own behavior does not comply.

    The Anger Hypocrite
    One specific type of hypocrite that I often see in my couples work is what I call the anger hypocrite.

    Simply explained, the anger hypocrite expects their partner not to lose anger control while they themselves rage uncontrollably and rarely control their own anger, frustration or displeasure. The anger hypocrite justifies their behavior by convincing themselves that their anger is a normal reaction to the horrible behavior displayed by their partner.

    But, when you stop and think about it, is it fair to expect more of your partner than you deliver? Put in another realm, if you and your partner are both alcoholics and both agree to stop drinking, would you expect him/her to stop drinking while you continued (and then become upset when they drink)? Or, is it fair to demand financial responsibility from your partner if you are a spendthrift or don’t stick to an agreed upon budget? Preaching one thing but doing another spells hypocrisy, doesn’t it? Continue reading “Are You An Anger Hypocrite?”

    Anger Management: Learn to Diffuse The Angry Emotion

    Anger is one of the core emotions or feelings that human beings are hard-wired to experience whenever they are blocked from achieving a goal they have or an end result they wish to achieve. Anger Management is the process of learning how to deal with anger as a core emotion.

    Everybody feels anger from time to time. Not feeling it can cause as many problems as eggshell exploding over minor frustrations, set-backs or obstacles placed between us and what it is we may want.

    Some anger management programs try teach clients to be less angry. Often this works if people can learn to experience life events in a different way so as not to no longer activate those parts of the human brain that trigger anger in us. For example, rather than telling ourselves that a bad driver on the road is out to get us and make our day miserable we can tell ourselves that they probably were preoccupied with something else and did not even notice they were cutting us off. Continue reading “Anger Management: Learn to Diffuse The Angry Emotion”

    Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?

    Silenced

    “How did your week go, Samuel?” I asked my married patient who  consulted me for anger management and anger management skills to deal with his wife.

    “Much better,” he replied, “because I kept my mouth shut this time when I desperately wanted to argue with her because I knew I was right. I decided to apply one of the anger management tools you taught me.”

    “What did you do instead?” I asked him.

    Sam replied: ” I took your advice and simply left the house, went into the back yard for 10 minutes to cool off, then came back in and everything was OK. I didn’t argue with her over the issue because it wasn’t that important. I didn’t have to win this time; I just let it go.”

    We continued our therapy session pet hair vacuum guide by agreeing that “talking” about an issue doesn’t always solve it. In fact, sometimes it makes it worse. In intimate relationships, sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, as they say.  Believe it or not, over-asking about the issue sometimes becomes the issue.

    Have you ever had this conversation with your partner?

    “What are you upset about?”

    “I’m not upset.”

    “Yes, you are. tell me why you are upset. Was it something I said?”

    “OK. if you insist. I am upset because you keep asking me if I’m upset.” Continue reading “Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?”

    Anger Management In Action: Relationship Blowups Can Be Costly

    Conflict 10“Dr. Fiore,” the voice on the phone pleaded, “I need anger management classes right away. I blew up at my girlfriend last night and she said it’s over until I get help”.

    As Kevin recounted the first night of anger management class, he and his girlfriend had argued in the car over which route to take home from a party. Events progressed from mild irritation, to yelling and name calling.

    Things escalated at home. He tried to escape, but she followed him from room to room, demanding resolution of the conflict. He became angry, defensive and intimidating. he had not yet learned anger management skills.

    Frightened, she left. Later, she left an anguished message saying that she loved him, but couldn’t deal with his angry, hurtful outbursts.

    Kevin said that he normally is a very “nice” and friendly person. But, on this occasion, his girlfriend had been drinking before the party. In his view, she was irrational, and non-stop in criticism. He tried oxiracetam to reason with her, but it just made things worse. Finally, as Kevin saw things, in desperation he “lost it” and became enraged.

    How should Kevin have handled this situation? What could he have done differently? What anger management skills would have helped? What actions should you take in similar situations?

    Continue reading “Anger Management In Action: Relationship Blowups Can Be Costly”

    Angry Over Power Struggles in Your Relationship?

    A young angry misguided soul sat in one of our anger management classes dejected. The instructor asked why he was there. He said that his wife was angry over his not putting the toilet seat down after his use. Other class members looked at him incredulously and remarked: “you spent all this money on an anger management program for that? Why don’t you just put the toilet seat down? His answer: “because last week I asked for sex and she didn’t come through. So, this week why should I do what SHE wants?

    tanking relationship

    Perfect example of a ridiculous angry power struggle that some couples seem to get into constantly.

    What is a power struggle?
    A power struggle occurs in a relationship when partners battle or conflict over who is going to win an argument, prove a point, accomplish a certain goal, or have things done in a certain way. Often in a power struggle one partner is attempting to force their will upon the other, or is trying to make the partner do something they don’t want to do. In retaliation, one partner will try and “even the score” or have a “win” even if it makes no logical sense. It is about winning, not about being rational or solving the problem at hand. In fact, partners gridlocked into this pattern often become angry if the other does not comply, tries to compromise or wants to discuss alternative solutions to the problem.

    Why is this concept important to you and your relationship?
    This concept is important because it underlies many angry arguments and conflicts you and your partner may be having. Think about it. Do you have angry arguments that often are more about the power one has over the other rather than about the issue itself? Some people just have to dominate others. It is their way or the highway. They are rigid and unbending. They know what is best, in their minds, and refuse to bend, ‘give in to the other” or admit they are wrong, mistaken or misguided.

    Often angry power-struggle people are lost in a “get-even’ mentality or “everything has to be equal” mentally with their partner. It is tit-for-tat with them so a volcano vaporizer should relax your partner and you. It’s about the balance sheet and all behavior is ultimately motivated by that “score” on the sheet.

    What are some other examples of it?
    *one partner insists that the other is not allowed to smoke pot (for severe pain) or it will end the relationship. The pot-smoker refuses to give it up, although he agrees to not do it in the home, in front of the children, or in public and will also get a legal marijuana medical card.

    *One partner insists that their 5 year old child will only be fed “healthy” food and has a fit when her partner feeds their child “normal” (like a McDonald’s hamburger)food, yet often does it herself when alone with the child.

    *Partner argues for hours over a political point to convince partner that he/she is right about it and they are wrong. The righteous one keeps both of them up until 3:00 AM arguing over the point until the other concedes.

    *Partner insists that other take a certain route to a friend’s house even though other wants to go another way that is equally distant. This leads to a fight they have had for years.

    How do people get “power” in a relationship?
    Some partners just bring this trait into the relationship with them and are often like that in other areas of their lives too. They just have to right, to be first, to have done it better, to know things you don’t know. Everything is a competition with these folks – it is part of their core personality.It makes them feel good to always be in the driver’ s seat, so to speak. Often they are very insecure underneath and being right feeds their ego and their sense of being adequate. Being wrong validates their feeling of inadequacy.

    But in other relationships, the partners seem to trigger it in each other, even if they are not like that in other areas of their lives or even in other relationships. There are many other bases for power in relationships and it is quite a complex subject, when you really stop and think about it. Where does “power” come from? How can you get it? It is often thought among professionals that the person who loves the most (or is most needy) in an intimate relationship has the least power while the person who loves the least(is less needy) has more of the power (they have less to lose if it doesn’t work out).

    Money and PowerBut, people gain (or lose power) power in relationships for many other reasons too. How about money? Does earning level bring power?

    Example: Dave was recently divorced,and pretty much lost his business and most of his assets. Soon thereafter he met Martha who was quite well off through rental real estate properties. He started managing her properties but was also her lover. Soon, she controlled his whole life, ordering him around like he was an $8 per hour employee. She said “jump” and he asked, “how high”?

    She literally would lie in bed while he popped grapes in her mouth as requested, while seething inside and then coming to his therapist exploding in anger. When asked why he put up with it, turns out that it was about the money. A “Yes, dear” response to her requests ensured that she would be willing to finance a new business venture he needed to get back on his feet.

    Sex and Power. Many partners control their partners through sex (or lack of sex) which tends to generate anger and resentment in the sex-starved partner. This can go both ways, but more often than not, it is the man who feels sex-starved or experiences resentment because he has to “beg” for it.

    Example: Dan was a 41 year old plumber and father of two children. Married for thirteen years, he said that he and his wife used to be like rabbits sexually before they had children. Now, “she has no interest, devoting almost 100% of her time to the kids and their needs. He is constantly angry due to sexual frustration but can do nothing about it. Yes, he has talked to her on many occasions. Her reply: “live with it.” He does not want to have an affair, but asks: “why should I have to give up something so important to me?” “It is like I am dying of thirst, she has the only well in town which is dry and she forbids me to visit other towns.”

    Competency and Power:Sometimes partners sort of inherit power in certain areas of the relationship because they are clearly more competent in that area. For instance, if one partner is a better money handler, he or she should probably handle the budget and be in charge of financial management. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the financial handler will have more power in other aspects of the relationship such as parenting, vacation planning, or setting the emotional mood of the household.

    Mood Setting and Power: 40 year old Peter told me that his wife of 12 years is extremely moody due to numerous medical problems as well as a core personality of many mood fluctuations. “The minute I walk in the door,” he says, I sense her mood.” “If it is bad or negative, I pour myself a glass of scotch, go to my room and hibernate for several hours, just to be alone.” If, on the other hand, his wife’s mood is positive, the family has a joyous evening with each other that night. In this case, his wife has all the power as a mood setter in the family.

    Status and Power; Sometimes couples equate differences in perceived status as a basis for trying to dominate or control the other. Status might mean “social” status, occupational status, or gender status. In many cultures, men are seen as the head of household by default; these men get very angry if they do not receive “respect” from their women or children. They tend to use anger, authority, and bullying to get their way. Sometimes they are married to women who use sadness (tears) and appeals of helplessness to influence their mates. In the United States, most woman do not accept these stereotyped roles any longer as they have have gained much ‘power” through economic and occupational equality.Obviously this change can create mountains of conflict if they couple does not agree on role definition, and who does what around the house and in the relationship.

    On the other hand, I have seen many couples wherein it is the woman who has most power and control in the relationship. These women emotionally abuse their mates through contempt,disrespect, guilt, chronic complaining and criticalness of their partner and sometimes even alienation of the children against their father. Upon occasion, these men finally “blow up” out of shear frustration of never being able to please their wife. Then these men are accused of having an “anger problem” and required by their wives to seek help.

    How can it be fixed?In healthy relationships, power struggles are resolved naturally through a natural balance. You win today over finances; she wins tomorrow over parenting.

    But, diffusing defusing power struggles in a troubled relationship can be tricky indeed. Sometimes it is best to just let it go..and give the power to your partner, especially if the power is based on superior competency or skill (like money handling or culinary expertise). Another case where it might be better to let it go is when it is part of your partner’s personality, as described above. Can’t change it. What else are you going to do? Acceptance of that which is not changeable in a relationship is a major tool of anger control.

    A wise person comes to realize that being right isn’t always important – being happy or content or in peace may be much more important.

    Why is it so hard sometimes to just let it go? Here are some reasons that I have observed and some solutions that should be of help to you:
    1. Most conflicts between partners do not have a “right” and a “wrong” answer at all. In fact, most relationship conflicts are based on opinions, judgments, and attitudes – not facts that provide firm guidelines about what is the correct “answer” to a relationship dispute.Take the case above with the fight over what their child should eat. Will a McDonald’s hamburger once a week truly hurt a child? Will a vegetarian child be healthier in life than other children?

    The Solution: Realize that just because you believe it, doesn’t make it absolute fact, or doesn’t make it the ONLY fact. Your partner has a right to their opinion too (even if you think it is wrong or misguided). So try to loosen up and be more reasonable instead of righteous and rigid.

    2. Arguments that appear to be logically based often are emotionally based, so they can’t be solved logically. Prime example: the couple described above who fight in the car over which way to travel to a friend’s house. In this case, the point of the argument stops being about finding an objective solution and starts being about who is more entitled to be ‘right’. That is an emotional issue – not a logical one. The emotion is “Autonomy” -or the need to make one’s own decisions, to have free will, and not be dominated or controlled by the other one.

    The Solution:
    Take a time out to cool down before the argument gets out of hand. Before doing anything, take in a deep breath, talk to yourself and de-escalate that emotion inside of you that wants to be right. Do this before things get out of hand. In our system of anger management, this is one of the first tools we teach our clients, using the metaphor of the bullfighter needing to step out of the way of the charging bull. When calmer, try talking about it and compromising (Maybe go one way this time, and the other way the next time; or, establish a driving ritual or rule: the driver decides the route and othe must be quiet)

    3. One partner has lost respect for the other and frankly doesn’t care anymore what the other thinks. Loss of respect is tough to recover from, if it is possible at all. If you are on the other end and he or she has lost respect for you, sometimes what really helps is for you to demand less disrespecting behavior from your partner. Stand up for yourself! Don’ t let yourself be emotionally abused. Even if they don’ t like you anymore, you deserve to be treated like a human being, especially in front of the children.

    The Solution:One strategy to gain respect is to start acting and behaving in ways similar to other people who do indeed get respect from their partner. Put another way, be deserving of their respect.

    On the other hand, if you want to respect your partner, but can’ t get past an issue that prevents it, you will need to find a way to shift your perspective of him or her and focus on other aspects of their behavior or personality.

    This is not easy. Often, professional help professional intervention is needed to help you develop strategies and coping skills.

    8KEYS-AD

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