Anger Management In Action: Try Simple Habit Changes

Thirty one year old Harry is a fairly typical client in our local anger management classes. At work he is considered a very nice man, a lamb, really. By his co=workers, he would be voted last place on a list of people who needed anger management.

But his wife Holly tells a different story. She would vote him numero uno on the list! When not yelling or criticizing her, he comes across as sarcastic, nasty and degrading to her. Yet, if asked privately how he felt about his wife he would say that he loved her and he doesn’t know why he treats her the way he does.

Harry doesn’t realize it, but he has developed a habit of communicating those ways to his wife when she says or does certain things that “trigger” him.

A habit is the opposite of mindfulness. It is going though a certain “routine” without even thinking about it. It is mindless behavior…automatic behavior…that does not involve thinking.

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard – or diverts to other tasks.

Habits are often as much a curse as a benefit. They shape our lives- and our relationships – far more than we realize. They are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them to the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

A bad relationship habit can be formed long before we are in a relationship, often starting in childhood and strengthened throughout the years. How do habits form? According to author Charles Duhigg who wrote “The Power of Habits”, it takes constant repetition of three ingredients for a habit to form:

A Trigger of some kind

A Routine (Reaction to the trigger)

A Reward

Let’s breakdown Harry’s habit and see what it going on.

A Trigger (Holly “commanded” him in sharp voice to complete a “honey-do” around the house………

A Routine #1: Harry (in his head said to himself: “I am not a child; she can’t boss me around that way;I’ll say I will do it but then won’t actually do it until I am good and ready.”)

Routine #2- He says to holly: “Get off my back…you are the last person who should talk about getting things done….you can’t order me around…why don’t you worry about your stuff and I’ll worry about mine”

RewardGains control over wife; feels autonomous, able to rebel and get away with it

This habit cycle probably has occurred all Harry’s life starting with his mother or father (authority figures) and repeated often. Now, it is automatic; he doesn’t even think of trying to think differently.

Harry’s habit is what is known as a relationship “keystone” habit. It has a ripple affect on the family. Unfortunately, it is a negative affect.

Because of his habit the atmosphere of the whole house changes and is soured. Holly has been through this routine many times before with Harry. After waiting three hours for him to do the honey-do, she finally explodes and calls him a passive-aggressive person. They brood all night, barely talking to each other.There is no conversation at the dinner table. The children are upset and tense.

Can People change Habits?

Are You Ready To Change?
Are You Ready To Change?

The answer is YES with motivation, persistence and practice. The good news is that when we are dealing with keystone habits, one little change can ripple into many positive things.

How do we do it? According to Duhigg cited above, we change a habit by changing the “routine” part of the equation, since we often cannot change the trigger or the reward that we are after. That is, we RESPOND instead of REACT to the trigger. Harry should find a different way to deal with his wife’s commanding behavior. How about asking her to ask him in a nicer way? How about being honest with her and actually saying when he will do the task? How about telling her how her tone makes him feel?

Working on changing simple keystone habits is an excellent place to start to repair a relationship and get love feelings flowing again. I encourage it with my local patience because it is simple in concept, it is “do-able,” and it can make a large difference for relatively little effort put into it.

LEARN MORE PRACTICAL SKILLS INSTANTLY…….
Learn more practical tools for anger management and ways to handle conflict in your relationship in our acclaimed workbook Anger Management for the Twenty-First Century ebook. Instant download.

Next time: I will share the most common habit changes that couples make that really make a difference!

AMTC-AD-Light

Was Jesus Ever Angry?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all readers. I write this from lovely Sante Fe, New Mexico while looking our at the majestic mountains and thinking about life and the role of anger in our lives. Then, I came across this article. while surfing the net. Although we do not teach anger management from a faith-based perspective, the following is excellent. clear, and is very much consistent with the tools of anger management that we do teach in our programs.

Enjoy…..be mindful of these points during the coming year, and lead your life putting anger in its proper perspective.

The following article is copied from the website http://www.gotquestions?org with permission to do so with proper attribution. Please visit their site if you have further questions on this topic.

Question: “Was Jesus ever angry?”

Answer: When Jesus cleared the temple of the moneychangers and animal-sellers, He showed great emotion and anger (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22). Jesus’ emotion was described as “zeal” for God’s house (John 2:17). His anger was pure and completely justified because at its root was concern for God’s holiness and worship. Because these were at stake, Jesus took quick and decisive action. Another time Jesus showed anger was in the synagogue of Capernaum. When the Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ questions, “He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5).

Many times, we think of anger as a selfish, destructive emotion that we should eradicate from our lives altogether. However, the fact that Jesus did sometimes become angry indicates that anger itself, as an emotion, is amoral. This is borne out elsewhere in the New Testament. Ephesians 4:26 instructs us “in your anger do not sin” and not to let the sun go down on our anger. The command is not to “avoid anger” (or suppress it or ignore it) but to deal with it properly, in a timely manner. We note the following facts about Jesus’ displays of anger:

1) His anger had the proper motivation. In other words, He was angry for the right reasons. Jesus’ anger did not arise from petty arguments or personal slights against Him. There was no selfishness involved.

2) His anger had the proper focus. He was not angry at God or at the “weaknesses” of others. His anger targeted sinful behavior and true injustice.

3) His anger had the proper supplement. Mark 3:5 says that His anger was attended by grief over the Pharisees’ lack of faith. Jesus’ anger stemmed from love for the Pharisees and concern for their spiritual condition. It had nothing to do with hatred or ill will.

4) His anger had the proper control. Jesus was never out of control, even in His wrath. The temple leaders did not like His cleansing of the temple (Luke 19:47), but He had done nothing sinful. He controlled His emotions; His emotions did not control Him.

5) His anger had the proper duration. He did not allow His anger to turn into bitterness; He did not hold grudges. He dealt with each situation properly, and He handled anger in good time.

6) His anger had the proper result. Jesus’ anger had the inevitable consequence of godly action. Jesus’ anger, as with all His emotions, was held in check by the Word of God; thus, Jesus’ response was always to accomplish God’s will.

When we get angry, too often we have improper control or an improper focus. We fail in one or more of the above points. This is the wrath of man, of which we are told “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Jesus did not exhibit man’s anger, but the righteous indignation of God.
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Do You Display Defensive Anger? Three New Strategies to Deal with Verbal Attacks!

Doc, the new client said, I am not an angry guy. I only get angry when people piss me off. The rest of the time I am fine

This humorous interchange occurs often in our anger management classes. We gently explain that, of course, it is much easier to stay calm and rational when nobody is attacking us, when nobody challenges us or yells at us, or when nobody accuses us of things we didn’t do. On the other hand, anger and frustration are normal human emotions to experience when we are justly or unjustly  criticized, when we feel disrespected, when people treat us with contempt or when others are raging at us for any number of reasons.

Anger management is partly the trick of not taking the bait – of not dealing with an attack with more anger or hostility on your part. This is NOT to say that we should always just be passive by smiling and taking it. To the contrary, rather than yelling back, insulting with verbal abuse, threatening things you will never do, or bringing up every sin you can think of the other has committed in the past, you can use  much more effective strategies to  defend yourself.

Strategy 1- Take a time out and cool down. This is tool # 8 in our anger management program. It means NOT dealing with it at the moment when things are so heated up. Deal with the issue later when both of you are more calm. This does not mean you should avoid the issue: quite to the contrary, it means to deal with it, but at a better time.

Strategy 2- Calmly but firmly stand-up to the angry person while setting  boundaries and limits. . This means to let them know you will no longer tolerate their abusive anger and that the relationship will be severely injured if they continue. Some angry people only calm down when they are with someone who stands up to them; this is because they secretly despise what they perceive as weakness. I have seen many husbands, for instance, morph from lions to lambs when the the hands of a woman with a stronger personality than them who simply will not put up with their verbal abuse. These raging men do not want to lose the relationship so they are willing to do almost anything to save it.

Strategy 3- Stop Being a “Peace at any price” person. A peace at any price person believes that they should keep things peaceful at any cost, even to their self-esteem, their pride, or their self-respect. These people often find themselves with very angry partners who remain angry even though they do every thing humanly possible to stay out of trouble and avoid fights. The strategy here is to be more up front about things that bother you, before resentment builds and you explode over some trivial event. Some things just have to be dealt with and not avoided. Paradoxically, dealing with the issue in the moment sometimes decreases anger in your partner. Rather than making things worse, sometimes it improves things, especially if you let them know how you feel about the issue and how it is affecting you.

These three strategies are very powerful in dealing with defensive anger either in relationships or in other life situations.  You can learn more by enrolling in our online anger course or our online marriage education program. 

AngerCoach Show – Episode #15 – Peace at any price?

This month we discuss the whether the concept of “Peace at any price” is really valid when dealing with issues that come up in marriage. When dealing with problems in any relationship, assertive communication will often yield better results because it communicates feelings better than simply “clamming up”.

“Peace At Any Price” is Often The Wrong Strategy

Jeffrey was a beleaguered husband. Married for 15 years, he reported that his wife criticized him for nearly everything without giving him any recognition or credit for the good things he did for her and the family. He felt he could do nothing right, despite the fact that he was a very good provider, he was very engaged with his children, he was well-respected in his community and he had never done anything “awful” to her in their fifteen years together. Yet, he says he gets yelled at or criticized for all kinds  of little things like forgetting to take out some trash on trash pickup day, not answering one of her questions correctly or quickly enough, asking for sex after a 60 day dry spell, or forgetting to pick up supplies at a store for their son needed for a school project.

When I asked him how he responded to her, he replied : ” I just keep quiet most of the time, but then I blow up every once in a while when I can’t take it anymore.” At this point, he maintains that his wife accuses him of being both “passive aggressive,” and also having “anger control issues.” When asked what he thought about that, he replies: “I often clam up because I just want to keep the peace.” When asked how well that strategy is working, he had to admit that often his silence or withdrawal makes things worse.

Assertive Communication
In therapy we are teaching this husband the skill of assertive communication in dealing with his obviously angry wife. Assertive communication is Tool Number 5 in our 8-tools model of anger management used in our local classes and our online anger programs. In marriage, it means respectfully but firmly standing up for yourself by communciating how you feel and what your limits are for tolerating disrespecful behavior from your partner. Asserting yourself also means to calmly and rationally explain your point of view on things and the fact that you have a right to your opinion also. To be assertive, Jeffrey needed to learn how to honestly tell his partner how her remarks or criticism makes him feel and how  it creates more emotional distance in the marriage.

Finally, assertive behavior clearly communicates what you will or won’t tolerate in the future and involves giving alternatives of communicating that will work better for you. For instance, “your sarcasm turns me off and makes me not want to do it; but, if you ask me nicely, I’ll be more than happy to do it.”

What Assertive Communciation Is  NOT
Many people confuse assertive behavior with aggression or being “mean” to their partner. Nothing could be further from the truth! Assertive yourself DOES NOT mean attacking back, name-calling, getting revenge, becoming aggressive, threatening, or making wild accusations. It simply means honestly communicating how you feel, how their behavior is affecting you, and how you would want them to communicate to you differently. It also gives the message  that you deserve respect in the relationship, just as your partner does.

People who practice “peace at any price” instead of assertiveness in relationships often build resentment which then “explodes” periodically or creates emotional distance in the relationship. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, yet it is there. As I tell my clients and I explain in our online marriage class program, you can be honest now and deal with it( even if it is painful), or put it off and deal with it later(again, it may be painful), but deal with it you must at some point in time. Of course, sometimes it IS best to let thing slide, but doing so for long periods of time allowing resentment and frustration to build often makes things worse.

Assert yourself before Peace At Any Price turns into War Without Borders!

How Important is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

In a recent session, 65 year old Dan, a retired insurance manager, was reflecting on mistakes he had made in his life. At the top of his list was an incident twenty years earlier when he received a home visit from a corporate V.P. who was vetting him for a large promotion as a district manager of a large insurance company. Things were going smoothly and the promotion seemed like it was going to be a shoo-in, at least in Dan’ s eyes. Then, came the subtle test which Dan didn’t even realize was a test: The V.P. asked Dan if  it would be possible to drive him to another office, about 100 miles away, the next day so he wouldn’t have to rent a car. Dan politely declined, pleading work obligations at his current office. In his mind, Dan thought the V.P would be impressed that he was so dedicated to the more important office tasks on the job instead of wasting time driving 200 miles (round trip)  the next day.

As time went, Dan learned that he was being blocked from promotion by one vote. He never did get his promotion and to this day he is certain that this was due to the fact that he completely mis-read the real “test” that the V.P. had exposed him to. It was a failed test he could never recover from. Dan, like many people, lacked a quality for both business, personal, and marriage success called “emotional intelligence” or “EQ.” It differs from “IQ” (regular intelligence) in that it deals with one’s people skills, sensitivity to emotional isses srrounding factual issues, the ability to understand the emotions and feelings of others, social sensitivity, and accurate perception of how your actions are perceived by others.

Dan did not understand that the V.P. was probably testing Dan’s loyalty to him, Dan’s ability to be a “team,” player, or possibly Dan’s sense of priorities. Dan was completely unaware that his decision would be viewed negatively by the V.P. and did not even perceive the subtle change in the V.P.’s demeanor and attitude after being refused the special favor he had asked for.

In my experience as a marriage therapist, consultant, and anger coach, lack of or limited emotional intelligence leads to conflicts in the workplace, in relationships and in families. Often  people with low EQ don’t realize they have low EQ, and honestly can’t figure out why people react so negatively to them. Take the example of a couple I had worked with in marriage counseling. Thirty five year old Dorothy was pregnant for the first time. In session, she said to her husband, “I am fearful that I won’t be a good mother.” Instead of reassuring her, his response was: “Why?  that’s a dumb thing to be worried about.” You could see the change of emotion in her face when she heard that, but her husband didn’t have a clue that his remark might upset her.

In our anger classes we teach the skills of empathy and social awareness to increase a person’s emotional intelligence. In short, one way to increase EQ is to step back and see your behavior or response from the viewpoint of the other person. It is the ability to realize how you might be coming across to others and how your remark or behavior might or might not be seen or heard from their point of view – not yours.

Persons with high EQ are sensitive to the feelings of others and look beneath just the content of a question or behavior to the underlying emotional issues – and then responds to these emotional issues. Had Dan had higher EQ he would have asked himself how his refusal might be seen by his V.P. That interchange wasn’t about his getting to his next appointment. It was about trust, loyalty and priorities. Likewise, the pregnant wife was really communicating insecurity and also asking if she could count on him for help and support.

Work on increasing your emotional intelligence and you might be surprised that your life will work better for you. It is worth the effort because research shows that persons with high EQ are more successful, have better relationships, and are actually healthier than others.


Single Because of Anger?

criticism

We often get calls from single people who request help with anger management because they have just lost another relationship due both to their anger AND  the  inability of their boyfriend or girlfriend to deal with their criticisms, angry outbursts, or  sarcastic ways of communicating. Fact is, if you are used to communicating in an angry way, you might find a partner who can tolerate it and deal with it, but the reality is that most can’t and won’t. They  just decide to move on, if they feel your anger is out of control.  After all, one can only deal with a porcupine for so long.  As I have described in other blogs, poorly managed anger is one sure way to tank your relationship.

Of course, when an angry single person seeks consultation, their first remark is usually that they wouldn’t be so angry if their partner only would.……(fill in the blank) or wouldn’t………..(fill in the blank) or wouldn’t have.………(you get the idea).  Yes, we empathize. That is probably true. However, what brings down the relationship is not the anger itself. Rather, it is how you and your partner deal with it that makes the difference. If your anger is justified, your challenge is to take responsibility for it, control it and learn how to communicate the issue in a way that is more effective and doesn’ t blow you partner out of the water, so to speak.

This requires the use of the eight tools of anger control that we teach our anger management students locally and in our  10 and 16 hour online distance learning classes. Recently, I discussed these tools  and  was interviewed  by Hadley Finch, of “Tribe of Blonds-“ an internet website and radio show devoted to singles. Topic of the show was : A Lasting Love – Your 8 tools to Control Anger and Keep Love Alive. You can hear the interview by going to http://bit.ly/bBM6ZR

Learning to handle anger with your partner is actually a task of learning to communicate more effectively with each other about issues that bother you in the relationship. Some issues are solvable while others are not in the sense of one person or the other needing to change something. Learning to accept that which probably is unchangeable as well as learning how to resolve conflicts around those issues that indeed can be changed are skills that will go a long way to lasting love and making a relationship work for you!

Anger in your relationship? Guys: Before Trying To Fix, Just Listen

In our local anger management classes, we regularly hear from clients as to what causes anger in their  relationships. Recently a young woman revealed that “99% of our fights occur because my husband tried to fix what is bothering me.” At this point, the males in the class were astounded that this woman could be upset because her husband was trying to help her with a problem. After all, isn’t that what a good husband is supposed to do? Here is what happened:

Wife (who was home all day with their three young children) to husband home from work: “The kids were horrible today. I can’t get little Tommy to do his homework, Jessica is always whining and Andrea always has to get her way.”

Husband: Do you know what your problem is? Lack of organization with the kids. I have been thinking about it and here is my plan for you to solve these problems with the kids.

fixing husband

He then proceeds to lay out the whole plan.

Wife: (now feeling defensive because she is hearing his response as critical, demeaning and unsupportive:) “You think I haven’t thought of all those things? Do you think it is easy to parent three children? You can leave every day and get away from it and then come prancng home like a hero. That really pisses me off! ”

Husband (who is completely flummoxed at her anger because he sees his response as logical, helpful and supportive. He loves his wife and wants to help her not be so frustrated at the end of the day.He also wants to come up with new solutions so she will look up to him) : ” Well, if that is how you feel, why do you ask me for advice to begin with? I’m just trying to help!”

Wife: ” I DIDN’T ask you for advice. I was just sharing my day with you. I just wanted you to listen and also to help me with the family stress now that you are home. “

Sound familiar? This scenario and similar variations of it commonly occur in otherwise good relationships, as well as in disturbed relationships. In our society many males are taught that it is their responsibility to “fix” things that are not right in his family and in his marriage. Problem is, sometimes while he is “fixing” (and being a good guy in his own mind), he is  is being seen by his partner as “controlling,” invalidating, or intending to make her feel “less than.”

Often conflict can be avoided if “fixer-husbands” can learn to sometimes just listen instead of immediately jumping with  solution to the problem or issue. Not that they should never come with solutions; instead, they should wait until they are ASKED for solutions or help. Until then, just being supportive and empathetic to your partner’s issues can go a long way toward relationship harmony. Click on the following short video to help you understand the power of empathy in relationships.

Empathy as an Anger Management Skill

AngerCoach Show – Episode #9 – Managing Expectations

This months episode discusses the benefits of managing your expectations. Learn what your expectations are, where they come from and understand how the world around us influences our expectations. When we understand these things, then we can better adjust what our expectations are when it comes to our lives, our relationships, our families, our possessions and our jobs. If we find ourselves frustrated by these things then it’s possible that we have formed unrealistic expectations about these goals. By adjusting our expectations to more realistic levels, we can avoid the anger that comes from being let down, and we will find ourselves living happier lives as a result.

Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

How To Tank Your Relationship – Lesson 1

tanking relationship

Miguel has just gotten off the telephone with his buddies with whom he made arrangements to play basketball Saturday morning. Unfortunately, he did not discuss this first with Maria who obviously is very upset over this. From her point of view, Miguel often makes plans independently, just as if he was still a single guy. She had other plans for them Saturday morning and now she has to re-plan her whole day. Worse, she wanted more time with Miguel and was looking forward to it this weekend. Miguel, on the other hand, doesn’t have a clue as to why Maria is so upset. To him what he did was “business as usual.” Besides, he felt that a man shouldn’t have to get “permission” from his wife to play basketball with his buddies.

With this blog, we begin a series of reports on how to tank your relationship.  Researchers now know which habits predict relationship success and which predict disaster, so we herein present a tutorial on what to do to increase the probability that  your relationship won’t succeed or that you will never get from your partner what you need.

On the other hand, if you learn how to respond differently to your partner (that is, use better relationship habits)  when you feel that he or she is not treating you well, you might just start seeing changes in both your partner and in your relationship.

In our example, it is obvious that Miguel  acted in a way that Maria saw as selfish and, from Maria’s perspective, he should have talked to her  before he made his plans. But, partners often act  in ways that the other sees as selfish, uncaring, misguided or just plain wrong. (Miguel  sees the situation very differently, as he has a different perspective). May marriage survive and even thrive with one or both partners having these negative traits. So, it is not the traits  themselves that tank a marriage.

According to marriage research, because of this difference in perspective,  what causes additional damage to the relationship is how Maria responds to Miguel’s behavior (and how Miguel responds to Maria’s upset).  So, let’s now look at different ways Maria could handle the situation:

HOW TO TANK THE RELATIONSHIP: Lesson 1–   If Maria wants to cause more relationship damage and decrease the chances that Miguel will change, she should repeatedly do the following:

  • Take the attitude that Miguel did what he did because he was selfish, uncaring, or immature.
  • Take the attitude that he did not care enough for her to think about it before he made his plans with his friends.
  • Assume that there is a clear “right” and “wrong” way to deal with same-gender friends and same-gender activities when in a marriage.
  • Seeing Miguel as the whole problem instead of seeing the issue as  their having different opinions, priorities or ways of navigating life.

Alternatively, Maria can respond differently and increase the probability that Miguel won’t do this again in the future, if she does the following. These are relationship “habits” that research has found are related to better success.

  • She should avoid jumping to conclusions and keep an open mind, asking Miguel calmly why he did what he did.
  • Hear Miguel out and refrain from disputing or debating what he was saying before he was able to explain fully.
  • Tell Miguel in a loving way that she feels hurt and unloved when he makes plans without including her and she would appreciate it if he did not do that in the future.
  • Rather than criticizing Miguel, ask him to work with her to find a solution that takes both  perspectives of the situation into account.

In our next blog, Lesson #2 on ways to tank your relationship and how to avoid that outcome, if you wish.