How to Let Calmer Heads Prevail. Part one.

Cassie and Phil loved each other dearly but often found themselves in heated verbal battles over almost anything and everything. The most minor disagreements quickly became a full-fledged war over who was right and who was wrong.

This left Cassie and Phil feeling exhausted, emotionally disconnected from each other, nursing hurt, and harboring resentment that grew with each argument. 

When an argument ensued, both immediately went on the defensive; their bodies moved into fight or flight mode, and they hurled insults and comments they would never say when their minds were reasoning. 

Much hurt and resentment could be alleviated if they learned to “Retreat and Think Things Over.” However, many factors prevented them from doing this. First, let us look under the hood and see what happens biologically when we argue.

What Happens to Our Bodies When We Feel Anger?

The first thing that happens is our brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This quickly begins to course through our bodies, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure (this is why some people feel their face flush when stressed.)

Muscle tension and heightened awareness are also felt, helping us with our instinct to either fight or flee.

However, as some senses are heightened, our reasoning ability decreases markedly. This can lead to verbally responding in a manner we would not do under normal circumstances. 

Unfortunately, our body’s reaction to anger and stress can also lead to some people acting or behaving in a physically or verbally aggressive manner. There is a technique I teach to my patients to prevent arguments from escalating. However, there is a small catch.

The Solution Sounds Easy…But Is It?

Walking away from a heated argument allows you to process the physical response within your body, calm down, and resume the conversation when you can both reason and think calmly and without heightened emotion.

However, this advice I offer my patients, especially those seeking anger management, sounds very simple. Still, in reality, it is much harder to put into practice.

As I mentioned earlier, when the brain floods with our fight or flight hormones, it can reach a point of no return where one or neither partner backs down. Both choose to argue to the bitter end and say and do things they later regret.

One may accuse the other of “avoiding” or “running away” from the problem. The other may feel invalidated, or that a resolution must occur, and by walking away, their partner is refusing to confront the issue and find a solution.

Worse still is when one partner needs space and the other, instead of allowing them the time to cool down, follows them from room to room, escalating the argument and leaving the other with no means of escape.

This is a no-win situation for all involved. So, how do we approach this so that both couples feel validated and issues can be broached and resolved even when heated conflict arises?

What are the Warning Signs?

You may be laser-focused on your physiological responses when engaging in a heated argument. However, it is essential to be aware of the external factors in most arguments that warn you it is time to walk away and calm down.

  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Raised voices.
  • Feeling your temper rise or getting out of control.
  • Feelings of negativity and being unable to focus on your thoughts.
  • The argument escalates rapidly.
  • Unable to speak logically and being aware of this.
  • Wanting to move away or flee from the fight.
  • Heat racing, muscles tensing.
  • Minor issues suddenly become significant problems.
  • Inability to calm yourself and reason during the argument.

Why Retreating to Think Things Over Works.

Temporarily distancing yourself allows you time to calm down, for your body and the hormones to return to normal, and for your brain to go back to its normal state, allowing you to think clearly and rationally. 

Take the High Road.

During a heated argument, our emotional brain takes over from our thinking brain. When this happens, our brain is taking the low road, the path that allows our brain to think on its fundamental level. Our emotional brain doesn’t care for diplomacy, politeness, or the feelings of the person you love most. 

When you retreat before an argument becomes heated, you allow your emotional and thinking brain to work together so that you can understand your emotions and verbalize them effectively while considering your partner’s feelings. This is taking the high road in an argument.

So, How Do I Take the High Road?

In theory, this technique is straightforward, but it takes work, time, and practice, and it helps to have some basic rules to fall back on in times of stress. Stay tuned for part two where I teach you the steps to take the high road and how to overcome differences and make the necessary changes creates a harmonious relationship.

To learn more, download our mini-course, “Why couples fight: A Psychologist’s guide to understanding relationship conflict.”

In this mini-course, we emphasize the importance of centering your mind and body, creating a state of mental and physical calm. We teach you the value of being mindful of your emotions and the importance of acting objectively rather than subjectively. Additionally, we explore concepts such as “dropping the bone,” mastering the art of taking the high road in an argument, and how to deflect sarcasm. While these skills are crucial to every relationship, they are often overlooked. Here, we guide you and help you develop these essential skills so that you can rely on them when stress and conflict inevitably arise.

Our entire course is also available on our website, as well as books, our blog, and other classes., follow the link and start your journey to a harmonious relationship. 

To schedule an appointment, please click here.