Angry because your partner just won’t change? Try a fresh approach.

Conflict 10
Aaron and Mary
Aaron and Mary have been married 23 years. She is often angry. He is a very gentle soul who has a lifestyle admired by many. He has a lot of money, he “works” by playing golf 2-3 times a week while courting new clients, he has a gorgeous loyal wife and two beautiful children who are doing well in life.He is rarely angry. So, what’s the problem? Aaron drinks a little too much some times at his watering hole with his buddies but tells his wife he is somewhere else if she calls. He does this because he want to avoid being yelled at and criticized. He feels he is a grown man and shouldn’t have to “report” to his wife every time he has “a few beers- even if she had made family plans around his being home as promised. His attitude triggers Mary’s underlying anxiety and anger.

How does Mary React to this behavior? To put it in simple term, she becomes angry, ballistic, yelling, screaming and criticizing. She angrily threatens to leave the marriage. He quietly sits there and takes her criticism, promises to do better, but then several weeks later does the same thing, with another excuse as to why he didn’t notify her of his change of plans.

Mary sees the problem as quite simple: Aaron needs to control his drinking and become more transparent as to where he is when she asks him. She truly believes that he is much more to blame for the problem than she could possibly be. She blames him and sees him as needing to change his behavior in order to fix the problem.She even goes to a therapist who tells her that his drinking isn’t really a marital problem…. it is a personal problem. Neither think that Aaron is an actual alcoholic. Alcohol is not the problem as much as her not trusting where he is because he has a history of lying about it.

So why doesn’t he just change to please her and keep peace? Because, as noted above, he does not see himself as an alcoholic; rather, he sees himself as just someone who drinks too much sometimes and then lies about it to his wife,in order to avoid trouble. He argues that he only does this once every two months. She says it is biweekly. Besides, in his mind he has “earned” the right to have the life style he wants….including the merriment, as long as he is not hurting anybody, he is responsible, he is not unfaithful, and he also spends sufficient time with wife and kids. He reasons that she should be more flexible considering the great lifestyle that he gives her.

So, they are gridlocked. The issue they are struggling with is called a perpetual issue because it appears to be unsolvable. Her reaction to it isn’t getting the result that either one of them wants. He wants more leeway. She wants more reliability and trust.

So, how exactly should Mary react differently that might deal with this perpetual problem so that both an get more loving behavior from each other?

Here are some steps I would suggest to Mary:

Step 1– Stop criticizing /blaming if he drinks too much or he is going to miss family dinner to be with his friends/business associates. Accept that he is passive-aggressive and/or locked into a lifestyle and figure out a new reaction to it.Try to broaden your scope and diminish the importance of this specific behavior in your mind, in the context of many other good things he might do for you or your family.

Step 2– Sit down and have a “heart to heart” talk with him pointing out how you FEEL when he does what he does..mainly disrespected and not prioritized by him.Let him know that it causes resentment and anger in you which makes you want to pull away from him. The marriage may be at stake if his behavior continues. Point out that it is the NOT LETTING HER KNOW THAT CAUSES MORE OF THE PROBLEM THAN HIS NOT BEING THERE.

Step 3- Stand up for yourself regarding how you are going to handle it in the future….BUT do not threaten. Simply tell him how things are going to change if he continues….such as

-stop planning family activities around him…do not count on him being home at certain times. Do not schedule your events around his having to be home. Accept that this is the way he is sometimes and focus on his positive characteristics. Reward him when he is on time or when he does call.

-distance yourself emotionally from him and tell him that you cannot have a secure love for a man who treats you this way,because it is not fair, it is disrespectful, and it is very upsetting to you.

-start building your own life around things you like to do as a person. Be with your friends more, try not to make your husband the center of the world so much and stop feeling guilty about “me time” you need.

The idea here is that chances are very good he will change if you changes how you deal with the situation. By standing up for yourself, it now puts the ball in your husband”s court….it is now his decision what he is going to do.

Remember, you cannot control another person. But you can control how you react to the other person which often greatly influences what they do decide to do in the future.

10-hour local anger management classes

Anger, Elephants, and My Late Father

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My 94 year old father with whom I have always had a rocky, angry relationship recently died. At his memorial service in a small Midwestern town, I had an eye-opening experience. The room was filled with people who talked about how loving and giving my father was. About how humorous he was and how much of a joy he was to have around. “He was always giving,” they said, and doing nice things for others, like volunteering at the local hospital up until 2 days before his death. No one mentioned anything about his anger.

This was not the father I remember growing up with. I saw him as quite self-centered, self-absorbed, distant, moody, and grim. He was not much fun to be around most of the time in my memory. He was often angry and raging to the extent that my mother went around the house to close the windows so the neighbor’s wouldn’t hear his rants and embarrass her. As I remembered him as a child, he had almost zero empathy and very little flexibility in his opinions about things or people. He was often defensive and would not take responsibility for his mistakes.

Back at the memorial service, a local pastor stepped up the podium and make remarks about my father. This pastor had been counseling him for several years. He said that in later years, my dad had had many regrets and misgivings in his life and that he wished he could make up for his shortcomings, especially regarding how he treated his children. He decided to transform his life in later years and be a better person. I recall that he tried to connect with his children (including me) in later years but I could not get past the memory of who he had been and I could not trust that he had truly changed. So, out of anger and hurt I kept my emotional distance. Even in later years, I did not see my father as so many other people did. And, I didn’t realize that so many other people saw him differently than I did. When I was with him, I lived in my perception of him, as he did me.

So, why did I begin this blog with a picture of an elephant with men touching it? Because this picture is connected with an old parable that explains much. Here it is:

The Blind Men Touching The Elephant Parable:
Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features that you all said.”

“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not because they may have different perspective which we may not agree with. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, “Maybe you have your reasons.” This way we don’t get into arguments.

I was very happy that Dad ended his life surrounded by people who who loved him and could see him for what he had become and also accept him for what flaws remained. We should all remember that when we are angry or resentful toward someone for misdeeds or injustices, often our negative feelings are based on our Perceptions of the situation, not necessarily the full reality of the situation. You may have just been feeling the trunk, in our elephant metaphor, but not perceiving the ears or the legs. People are complex; we should try not to rush to judgment and assume that they are only as we see them. They may be much more or much less- or they may have changed over time and we didn’t see it.

So, the lesson here is that we should try never to forget the following:
Perception is your reality. But not necessarily the whole truth.

The result of this kind of thinking will be to lose a lot of that anger. Trust me.

AngerCoach Online

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.

AngerCoach Online

Anger Management In Action: Stop yelling At Your Kids

Screaming accomplishes Little
Screaming accomplishes Little

I hate to hear parents screaming at their kids. Why? Because it doesn’t work! It creates a bad feeling between parent and child! It makes the “yeller” look very bad socially (if done in public). It encourages “push back” from the yelled-at child. Did I mention that it doesn’t work? Anger Management is an important parenting skill.

When I was growing up on Cleveland, Ohio, I had a mother could have used anger management. She yelled a lot. Out of love and concern, mind you, but it was still yelling. Sometimes it was over minor things, other times over safety issues and other times over character development. She did it so much that my brother and I became immune to it, especially as we got older.

Truthfully, much of the time it went in one ear and out the other.

Our response to a yelling request was usually something like “yea…mom…right away.” as we went on with our lives. AS I write this now, I feel a little guilty about it, because she was right about what she was yelling about, but horribly ineffective in changing some of our behavior. Like picking up after ourselves. Or, doing chores. Or, coming in for dinner on time while out playing. Or,- and this was a big one- us two brothers not fighting with each other.

When we became adolescents, she got desperate to get us to do things – now more serious things like having my brother not play tennis or baseball because he had osteoporosis in his arm. Or, insisting loudly that he practice the clarinet because lessons were being paid for. She pleaded, she harangued, she threatened, she yelled. nothing seem to work. My brother and I could easily persuade her to change her mind about things, to feel sorry for us, and….I must confess…manipulate her.

Except at some point she caught on and would utter those dreaded words in a threatening tone:
“Wait until your father gets home.”

Now that usually worked because my dad was….let us say charitably..a no-nonsense disciplinarian. Once he made up his mind about something, he never changed it, especially in terms of his parenting principals (like: “children should be seen and not heard;” “all teenagers are irresponsible,” and “get that mad look off your face, or I’ll give you something to be mad about.”

We were very well behaved in school because of my Dad’s edict that “if you get in trouble in school, you will get in twice that amount of trouble when you get home.”

But, at least he followed through on his “consequences” when we behaved badly, whereas mom often would not.Unfortunately, his rigid and unbending rules caused much frustration and stifled creativity. It also unfortunately taught us that there was no negotiating with an authority figure.. your only choice was to succumb/comply or suffer pain.If you have dogs buy retractable dog leashes review and make you kids walk the dog.

On a scale of 1-10, we would do what dad said at a 10. He only needed to say it once (most of the time).

Fair or not, at least we knew what the deal was and what the rules were. Break them at your own peril.

The “cost” of that approach to parenting was that there was little or no closeness between my father and his male children. We “listened” to him, but did not have a close emotional connection with him.

So, how do you get your kids to change their behavior without yelling or without losing emotional connection with them? In short, how can you be an effective parent?

First of all, don’t yell; it is useless most of the time, and in most circumstances. In fact, it makes things worse because as they get older kids start seeing you as emotionally unstable, and they mighy lose respect for you, which is not a good thing at all.Read more about this on www.portableacnerd.com.

There are many other ways to deal with your children.Being mindful of alternatives will make you a more effective parent.Following are some tips that should be helpful:

*Be consistent with your house rules. Write the rules out and stick them on your refrigerator. Then if your kids act out, it is against the rules, not you personally. It puts a degree of separation between you and the bad behavior or your kids.

* You and their other parent must agree on the rules and standards and back each other up (within reason), even if you don’t agree with each other 100%.

*Tell your children how you feel when they do such and such. Rather than telling them how stupid, wrong, or immoral they are, tell them how disappointed you are in their behavior.

* Before yelling, take a time out and cool down. Come back later to deal with it. it only takes a few seconds of rage to cause a lot of damage in your relationship with your children.

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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: In Trouble at Work?

bullying

Leroy’s Story
Leroy was a superstar in the Real Estate business, producing three times the monthly business of his nearest coworker. He was a driven, highly competitive young man who saw his manager as getting in the way of even higher production.

Tension turned to irritability. Yelling and shouting followed. On the day he was fired, he shoved his manager in front of alarmed coworkers who reported his behavior to HR. Anger management classes were required, along with a one month interim, before reinstatement would be considered.

As this case example illustrates, workplace anger is costly to the employee, the company, and coworkers. Studies show that up to 42% of employee time is spent engaging in or trying to resolve conflict. This results in wasted employee time, mistakes, stress, lower morale, hampered performance, and reduced profits and or service.

Clearly, poorly handled anger, frustration and resentment sabotage business productivity. Was Leroy justified in his anger? What skills should he learn to prevent future episodes?

Skill 1 – Anger Management
Using anger management skills, Leroy can clearly learn to control his behavior and communicate needs in a socially acceptable manner without disruptions to work and morale. The issue here is not if he was justified in being angry; it is how to best deal with normal angry feelings. A key ingredient to managing anger is learning to change “self-talk”- that inner dialog that creates or intensifies angry feelings. At work, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, but you don’t have to explode over it or be mean spirited in the process. Leaning new self-talk when things go wrong or others don’t do what you think they should can go a long way toward controlling that temper. Click here for a humorous example of how self-talk can change your life.

Skill 2 – Stress management
Leroy was clearly under a great deal of stress, much of which was self-imposed. Stress often triggers anger responses. Managing stress can help prevent anger outbursts, as well as reducing employee “burnout” and hampered performance. Effective stress-reduction strategies include learning breathing techniques, adjusting expectations, improving time-management, and finding a way to mentally adjust your mind-view and self-talk so that stressors loose their power to stress you out. Other effective stress-reduction techniques include watching your nutrition, getting proper sleep, and taking care of your body through exercise.

Skill 3 – Emotional Intelligence
Popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman, much research shows that increasing “EQ” is correlated with emotional control and increased workplace effectiveness.

What is “EQ” exactly? According to Goleman, it is “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”

Fortunately, skills to improve your emotional intelligence can be learned. The critical EQ skills ones are empathy and social awareness. Empathy is the ability to see the world from the viewpoint of the other person. Lack of empathy is at the root of much anger and conflict because inability to see things from other points of view causes communication problems and frustration. It also causes employees, co-workers and managers to sense a lack of caring or concern for their well-being which is de-motivating in the workplace.

Social awareness is the people-skill of being sensitive to how we are coming across to others in the workplace. Many people are referred to anger management programs because they are seen by others as hostile, insensitive, or perhaps even degrading toward others. Persons with high EQ are constantly monitoring their own behavior as well as feedback from others as to how they are being seen by others. They then are flexible enough to modify their approach to get a different result, if needed.

Skill 4 – Assertive Communication
Communication problems frequently lead to misunderstandings, conflicts with coworkers and hurt feelings which may hamper concentration and work performance.

Assertiveness is not aggression, but a way to communicate so that others clearly understand your needs, concerns, and feelings. It starts with the familiar advice to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements which can sound accusatory, and may lead to defensiveness instead of cooperation.

Other communication improvements include acknowledging the concerns and feelings of others in your interaction with them, and being more sensitive to what others are saying to you “beneath the surface.”

Skill 5 –Adjusting Expectations
Anger is often caused in the workplace by a discrepancy between what we expect and what actually happens. Sometimes the problem is simply that your expectations are too high of yourself or others; or you have the wrong expectations to begin with. If you are frustrated with employees, remember that if they knew what you know, or they had the dedication you have, guess what? They would be doing what you are doing. Frustrated with co-workers? Try viewing them in a different light so that you can accept them they way they are, if there is no realistic way of changing things.

AMTC-AD-Dark

A Master Passive Aggressive

Some times you have to give the devil his due! Such is the case with my brother Tom, an intelligent but very manipulative young man as we were growing up in Ohio. He and my Italian-American father were constantly conflicting with each other because Tom was..well, very stubborn and my father simply didn’t have the skills to cope with him.

One particular encounter sticks in my mind, even though it occurred many years ago. Tom was a young teenager who decided he was not going to eat all of his dinner one evening. This was a direct violation of our family rules, almost as serious as “sassing back,” having a smirk on your face,”  or out of desperation, starting to eat a steaming plate of wonderful spaghetti before our grandmother finished her never-ending prayer thanking God for the meal.

But, I digress. Back to Tom. He told my dad he was NOT going to eat what was on the rest of his plate because he didn’t like it. Dad retaliated by declaring that he could not leave the table until he finished his meal.

Rather than arguing with him, my brilliant passive-aggressive brother said “OK.” So..he sat there. 7pm. He didn’t move a muscle. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t  fight. 8pm. He was still sitting there while the rest of us went on with our evening. 9pm. We all went to bed. Not Tom. He stoically sat there, “obeying” his father to the letter!

Now it is 8AM. My father comes down to breakfast. Where is Tom? Still sitting there looking at his plate of food. My dad announces: “It is time for you to go to school.” Are you reading closely, because now comes the true art of the passive aggressive! Tom says calmly” I can’t go to school even though there is a test today, because you told me I couldn’t leave the table until I finished my dinner. You can plainly see that I haven’t done that.”

This of course rendered my Dad absolutely helpless and defeated. If he made Tom go to school, he clearly lost the eating issue battle. If he made Tom continue to sit there, Tom got out of taking a test at school he wanted to avoid anyhow.

Brilliant!

My dad ultimately made him go to school, but there was no doubt that Tom had won the power struggle without raising his voice, arguing, or overtly resisting.

Passive Aggression is a way to express hostility toward someone else without appearing to be doing so, often rendering them helpless in dealing with you. Passive Aggressives often deny they are doing it while they are doing it. Instead they deny, excuse, rationalize or otherwise explain-away their obstructive behavior.

Passive-aggression is a destructive way to communicate because its goal is “I gotcha” instead of honest communication. You should protect yourself from such people. If you are the passive-aggressive, you should communicate more directly and honestly.

Watching someone like Tom can be entertaining, but it does not promote trust, closeness, or bonding with people in your life you care about or who care about you.

Who Attends Our Anger Management Classes?

What is your vision of who comes to anger management classes or takes anger management courses online?

People often wrongly envision that our classes are filled with people who physically abuse their spouses, are court ordered, and are generally the type of people you wouldn’t necessarily invite into your home.

That got me to thinking of who actually has attended my classes in the last 9 years in both Long Beach and Orange. For starters, both men and women attend my classes, but more men. Some are court-ordered, but nobody attends for physical violence. In California domestic violence( DV) or spousal abuse is a separate program which is regulated by the state (anger management is not). We see our program as a prevention to the more serious DV issues.

The most common reason for attendance is “voluntary” although there are varying degrees of volunteerism. Commonly people are required to attend our classes if anger is an issue in divorce or custody battles. Some are “spouse” ordered, but others are mandated to come by their workplace (to keep their jobs). Most are very nice people- in anger management class. Nobody gets angry in class – it is other people they get angry at.

In terms of occupation, clients are all over the board, from physicians to lawyers to oil rig operators. We had a priest once who was required by his Bishop to attend 60 hours. We have had mortgage brokers, air traffic controllers, and teachers. Other interesting occupations have included bar tenders, business executives, and professional musicians.

Some people come to class to appease someone else without really seeing themselves as the problem in a conflictual relationship. Others admit they have an anger problem and want to do something about it. More and more parents are attending because they are fearful that their anger may negatively  affect their children, if it continues.  A small minority resent having to attend but generally have a change of attitude by the time they complete the program.

Often participants feels that “the other person” should also attend classes and learn the skills taught. For this reason, we offer a reduced rate for some of our programs for family members of our participants. While most clients attend by themselves, couples are also welcome, although it is not always appropriate to place partners in the same class.

“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!

Anger Management or Therapy?

In our model of anger management, we teach skill-building, new ways to think, and new ways to respond when confronted with anger triggers. This is distinct from a “therapy” approach to anger management which may involve exploring understanding the deeper root causes of a person’ s anger. In some cases, therapy may also involve medications with anti-depressive agents or other drugs.

We recently had a young woman in our anger management classes who was discouraged because she had had a “slip” since completing our classes and had gotten angry at an obnoxious co-worker.  We re-assured her that this happens sometimes and that learning new skills like anger management should be seen as a process, not an absolute. With all processes, there will be ups and downs, forward progress and sometimes back steps.

That said, she happens to be a person who  also needed therapy to deal with her anger because of underlying issues in her life which she has not yet dealt with and which contribute to her angry outbursts. Understanding  where anger comes from doesn’t necessarily change it, but in this case it would probably help, if used in conjunction with the specific anger management  skills she learned in class.

As this case illustrates, as a psychologist, my answer to the question: “Will anger management work for me or do I need therapy?” is usually, “start with anger management (it is much cheaper and much faster), and then add therapy if needed.”  If you are already in therapy, but you still have anger problems, then I would recommend going to anger management to supplement what you are learning in therapy.