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 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.

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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!

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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 #11 – Anger and Sex

This months episode we discuss the relationship that sex and anger share. As a practicing Psychologist and Marriage Therapist, I have come across many couples who experience sexual frustrations in their relationships. Often times anger can arise from sexual frustration, and as this episode discusses, sexual frustration can result from anger. In this podcast we teach four practical and easy-to-employ techniques for reducing sexual frustration and anger in your relationship.

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 2

blackandwhitethinking

In our last blog, we taught you Lesson 1 of how to tank your relationship: React to bad behavior by your partner  in way that indicates that you think they are 100% wrong and you are 100% right. Then assume that there is only one way (your way) to view or look at the situation, so there is no need to try to see things from the perspective of your partner.

Today we continue with our lessons on how to tank a relationship- just in case Lesson #1 hasn’t worked for you yet:

How to tank your relationship: Lesson 2- Handle anger toward each other poorly.

african american couple fighting

To tank your relationship, get “stuck” in your anger either as the partner with the original anger or as the partner who is on the receiving end of anger. Either way, getting stuck in anger can quickly turn to  disgust. Eventually, you might even get to contempt for your partner which is a deathblow to most relationships. With a contemptuous attitude, you don’t even bother to get angry back at your partner because you tell yourself “I won’t stoop to my partner’s level by getting angry.”  So you stonewall (don’t talk at all to your partner), become passive-aggressive (get back at your partner in a sneaky way), or emotionally shut-down.

Fact is, research on successful couples (as described in a book by marital therapist Brent J. Atkinson called “Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy”) shows that anger itself is not a dangerous emotion for marriages. Many highly successful couples regularly blow up at each other. Blow-ups are not necessarily destructive (within limits). Rather, partners getting stuck in their resentment for having been attacked is an equally serious  issue that brings down a marriage.

That is because when a person fails to stand up forcefully when feeling disregarded or criticized harshly, they almost always harbor resentment and in internal attitude of contempt (That is, they think of themselves as “better”  in some sense than their exploding partner.) And, as mentioned above, having contempt toward your partner is a very serious problem in terms of longevity of the relationship.

Caution: Only read the next paragraph if you have decided NOT to tank your relationship:

So, what is the healthy way to handle anger in a relationship? First, if you are the primary angry partner, learn to communicate better and deal with normal angry feelings more effectively without destroying your partner or the relationship in the process. There are many ways to handle anger so that you get a better result and you get more of what you truly want from your partner! These techniques (including something called a “softer startup”)  are what we teach in local anger management classes as well as in our online distance-learning program.

Second, you do not have to suffer in silence if you are in relationship with a person who handles their anger poorly.  The trick is to stand up for yourself and deal with the issue rather than “stuffing it” and building resentment through the years. (Of course, do not put yourself in a dangerous situation by standing up for yourself with a truly raging or violent partner).

Research strongly shows that partners of people who act badly in any way (including anger) have more influence than they think on future occurrences of that bad behavior by their spouse. You do not have to tolerate it and can even change it to some extent if you do the right things.

Spousal Anger May Shorten Life

In a recent edition of “Stress Scoop”, research shows that happily married couples are healthier and live longer, possibly because they have less stress.

“…a recent study showed that even if spouses usually get along well, the stress caused by a brief argument can slow healing of a surgical wound by as much as a day.”

“If such a short spat in a lab can have such effects, one can only wonder what the response would be to a full-fledged fight at home lasting hours or days.”