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How to deal with difficult people coping with the aggressive driver when he is a loved one

45 year old John terrorized his family when they were his passengers. He would yell at them if they complained about his driving.

He would ignore them when they showed signs of discomfort and even seemed to enjoy scaring his passengers with his maneuvers such as tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, passing other cars dangerously, and pulling too far into crosswalks so pedestrians are unable to safely cross the street.

John would show aggression in other ways too — like insisting on choosing the radio station, controlling the volume of the radio, and controlling the temperature, the fan setting and where the vents are aimed while driving. He refused to stop for restroom breaks on long trips.

John was anything but “passenger-friendly” yet he did not see himself as the problem. Statistics show that while 70% of drivers complain about the aggressiveness of others, only 30% admit to their own aggressiveness. John saw other drivers as “stupid, ” his family/passengers as “whiney,” and the roadway as his personal terrain. Unfortunately, we all pay the price for this kind of distorted thinking.

High cost of aggressive driving

According to recent statistics, aggressive driving is at the core of numerous fatalities, injuries and dollar costs associated with accidents. More specifically, it is linked to:

  • Fatalities (425,000 per decade)
  • Injuries (35 million per decade)
  • Dollars (250 billion per year)

The cost to the emotional well-being of family members is also very high. Often, family members develop a fear of driving with the aggressive driver. While they may not talk about it, passengers may lose esteem, respect and affection toward the driver.

Younger passengers may also be affected later in life by being exposed to this kind of driving behavior. By watching and then modeling their aggressive-driver parent, the child may develop similar attitudes and driving behaviors when he or she becomes a driver.

Driving under the influence

At its root, aggressive driving is caused by poor ability to handle angry feelings. The aggressive driver is, in effect, driving under the influence of impaired emotions. Studies list many reasons why driving arouses anger in aggressive drivers. Some of the most common are:

  1. Territoriality. The car is a symbol associated with individual freedom and self-esteem. Our car is our castle and the space around it is our territory. When other drivers invade our space the aggressive driver responds with hostility to protect his “castle.”
  2. Restriction. In congested traffic, you are prevented from going forward. This can lead to frustration, anxiety and an intense desire to escape the restriction.
  3. Multitasking. We become irritated at others when we see them driving poorly while talking on the cell phone, eating, or performing personal grooming.
  4. Poor life planning. We don’t allow enough time to get to our destination on a consistent basis so we “press” to make up for the lost time and then become stressed and angry at other drivers who we see as frustrating our mad dash.

What can you do as a passenger?

While aggressive driving behavior ultimately must be changed by the driver himself, the following are some survival tips that may help until that occurs:

Refuse to passenger with such a person until he or she changes.

Share with driver how you feel when they drive aggressively. For example: I feel anxious about how fast we’re going (instead of “you are driving too fast”); I’m upset about the way you swore at that driver and I am fearful how it will affect our children who heard you; I feel afraid when you approach pedestrians too fast; I feel bullied by you when you won’t stop for a bathroom break.

Encourage person to look at their “driving philosophy” and to develop more empathy regarding how others (like the family) are being negatively impacted by his or her poor driving behavior. That is, help him see himself through the eyes of his family.

This honest feedback from loved ones can be a powerful tool to encourage the aggressive driver to become a better citizen of the roadways.

Sports parents who lose control

Pennsylvania — A parent body slammed a high school referee after he ordered the man’s wife out of the gym for allegedly yelling obscenities during a basketball game.

The referee was treated at a hospital for a concussion and released after the attack. Charged with simple assault, assault on a sports official, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct was a 47 year old father.

Kentucky – A father of a T-ball player was briefly jailed after an outburst against an umpire during a game involving 5- and 6- year-olds.

The accused threatened to beat the umpire moments before walking onto the field and starting a fight with an official., according to the criminal complaint. A girl who was playing in the game suffered a minor injury when she was struck in the face during the scuffle.

Every day in America and around the world, sports officials are physically and verbally harassed. Most incidents do not require police or medical assistance, but in some cases, the harassment turns violent.

The fact that such behavior occurs at sporting events involving youth participants is appalling in itself, but the frequency in which these reports now occur is even more disturbing.

NASO (National Association of Sports Officials) receives more than 100 reports annually that involve physical contact between coaches, players, fans and officials. The nearly 18,000 member organization is not the “clearinghouse for bad behavior,” says NASO President Barry Mano, but it is the belief by NASO that the reports it receives is only the “tip of the iceberg.”
Loss of control by parents has long-term negative effects on the lives of the children, the school, and the parents themselves, as the following story illustrates:

Florida—A Parent enters the soccer field to check on his son, who has been injured in a skirmish for the ball. Angry that a more severe penalty had not been levied on the opposing player, the parent confronts the referee and shoves him to the ground.

After the school had to forfeit the game, the parent was later banned from attending all extracurricular activities involving the school for at least one year and possibly through his son’s graduation.

What causes parents to lose control?

According to sports psychologist Darrell Burnett, Ph.D., often such parents are reliving unrealized dreams through their children. They somehow get caught up in the win-at-all cost frenzy.

The core problem comes from parents being too invested, emotionally and financially, in their children’s games. They sometimes have misplaced self esteem. Another factor, according to Dr. Burnett, is a general attitude in our society encouraging us to retaliate when frustrated rather than using negotiation skills: “somebody pushes their buttons and away they go.”

Can these parents change?

Yes, if they desire it. Learning to manage sports anger is a process of applying two of the eight core tools of anger control: (1) Adjust expectations of performance to realistic levels and (2) communicate displeasure you may have with assertive communication skills.

Specific tips for Sports Parents

  • Keep a moderate level of intensity – not completely detached, but not overly aggressive.
  • Adjust your expectations to a realistic level by putting the sporting event into proper perspective. Also:
  • Don’t yell at the coach or child. If you have an issue, discuss it assertively at the appropriate time.
  • Don’t try to coach from the sidelines. Again, if you have an issue with the coach, your child, or other children, discuss it privately.
  • Stay interested, supportive and positive.
  • Praise the effort and the progress as achievement, not just the outcome.
  • Model good sportsmanship.

How to control your emotions on the road

Dateline: December 4th. Orange County, California. A 29 year old man was shot to death, an apparent victim of road rage. According to newspaper accounts, he had a reputation for never backing down from a fight.

The man and his half brother were heading home from a plumbing job when the trouble began. Driving in a criminal fashion, three men in another car zoomed in front of their car. These men started hurling profanities and flashing obscene gestures at the brothers, who returned the insults.

Things escalated until an illegal gun was pulled. Rather than backing down, the man got out of his car and began walking toward the gunman. Two shots rang out, missing the man who then continued to walk toward the gunman until he was shot and killed.

While this tragic incidence is illustrative of an extreme case of aggressive driving, there are thousands of lesser cases in the United States yearly. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, incidents of aggressive driving have increased by 7% every year since 1990; however, few courts mandate anger management treatment for traffic offenders.

Five Zones of aggressive driving

Research by Dr. Leon James at the University of Hawaii reveals five categories of aggressive driving. Which zone do you or a loved one fall in?

  1. The Unfriendly Zone: Example: closing ranks to deny someone entering your lane because you’re frustrated or upset.
  2. Hostile Zone: Example: Tailgating to pressure another driver to go faster or get out of the way.
  3. Violent Zone: Example: Making visible obscene gestures at another driver.
  4. Less Mayhem Zone: Pursuing other cars in a chase because of provocation or insult.
  5. Major Mayhem Zone: Example: Getting out of the car and beating or battering someone as a result of a road exchange.

Do aggressive drivers see themselves as such?

According to Dr. James and his research team, drivers who consider themselves as almost perfect in excellence (with no room to improve) also confessed to significantly more aggressiveness than drivers who see themselves as still improving.

What this means is that despite their self-confessed aggressiveness, 2 out of 3 drivers still insist on seeing themselves as near perfect drivers with almost no room to improve.

These drivers see “the other guy” as the problem and thus do not look at their own aggressive driving behavior.

What causes aggressive driving behavior?

While there is no one standard definition for aggressive driving, many psychologists see anger as the root cause of the problem. Regardless of the provocation or the circumstances related to problems on the road, it is ultimately our emotional state, our stress levels and our thinking patterns that either cause us to drive aggressively or lead us to be the victims of others.

In short, many of get us get in trouble because we are driving under the influence of impaired emotions, especially anger.

Like drunk driving, aggressive driving is more than a simple action or carelessness; it is a behavioral choice that drivers make.

It is normal and natural to feel angry when certain events frustrate us on the road. But, how do you deal with these angry feelings to cope with the situation more effectively?

Two ways to cope with impaired driving emotions

Research clearly shows that reducing stress and changing your self-talk can help you cope. It is important to learn these skills so you will not need the services of a criminal attorney for a road-rage related offense:

  1. Reduce your stress. Driving is emotionally challenging because unexpected things happen constantly with which we must cope. We often drive under the pressure of time, or the pressure of congestion and delays which add to our general stress level. Suggestions include listening to relaxing music or educational tapes on the road, leaving 15 minutes sooner, and getting up earlier so you are less rushed.
  2. Change your perspective with different self-talk. Learn to view the situation differently. Anger and stress are caused more by our perspective of things than the things themselves. Much research shows that what we tell ourselves also much to do with the emotions we create, including anger. Suggested self-talk statements that will reduce anger and stress on the road are:

Traffic delays are a part of living here. I must accept what I cannot change.
I will allow more time from now on to take into account traffic delays.
I do not need to take personally the bad or aggressive driving patterns of other drivers. They are not doing this to me personally; they don’t even know I exist as a person.

The person driving badly may be having a bad day and I need to be more tolerant or empathetic. Perhaps it is an old person doing the best they can. Perhaps it is a young mother trying to get to the babysitter on time after work. It could be someone who just came from the doctor’s office with bad news about their health.

Getting upset will not change the traffic situation; getting upset will only make me more miserable.

Anger in the workplace – key management strategies

Joe, a 15 year city employee with a good record began missing work, and showing irritability with supervisors and customers alike. He then started to shout at customers who frustrated him.

As complaints mounted, his supervisors “wrote him up” but did not try to discover the reasons for his drastic change of behavior. Finally, when mildly teased by a co-worker, Joe attacked and hit him. At this point, he was suspended and ordered to anger management classes.

Dealing with angry employees is not only challenging for managers, but extremely expensive in terms of wasted employee time, increased turnover rates, mistakes, and high levels of personal stress and illness. By contrast, proper handling can promote personal growth in the employee, reduce employee stress, and promote increased workplace harmony.

How prevalent is the problem of workplace anger?

In 1993 the national Safe Workplace Institute released a study showing that workplace violence costs $4.2 billion each year, estimating over 111,000 violent incidents.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 500,000 victims of violent crime in the workplace lose an estimated 1.8.million workdays each year.
This presents an astounding $55 million in lost wages for employees, not including days covered by sick and annual leave and a loss of productivity that has direct consequences for an employer’s bottom line.

Joe’s assault on his co-worker did not occur all at once. Anger storm clouds had been forming for quite some time. What signs should a supervisor or manager look for and how should it be dealt with? According to Workplace Violence, there are four levels of anger expression which need to be dealt with at the lowest level, to prevent escalation:

Four levels of workplace anger

  • Level 1 – Employee upset. Sensitive to criticism, and irritable. Displays “passive-aggressive” behaviors such as procrastination of work, expressing sarcasm, being late to meetings.
  • Level 2 – Behavioral symptoms escalate. Angry remarks are expressed. Employee is openly critical of others and the company. More emotional, less rational. Absenteeism and tardiness is common.
  • Level 3 – Escalating physical, emotional and psychological arousal. Raising voice, throwing things about, slam door, threats.
  • Level 4 – Assaultive behavior and or destruction of property.

Anger management training for supervisors and managers can help them as individuals and give them better skills to manage difficult employees, before the situation rises to a Level 4 crisis.

Key management strategies:

Strategy 1– Know your resources
Company resources include EAP (employee referral program), and HR (human resources). Community resources include psychologists, substance abuse programs, and anger management programs.

Strategy 2 – Assertive Communication
This means that you express your thoughts, feelings and opinions directly in an honest, open, straightforward and sincere manner. It also involves learning to actively listen to employees and being aware of non-verbal communication that goes beyond his or her words.

Strategy 3 – Set Limits
When you set limits with others in the workplace both parties know what they can expect from each other. When you clarify individual expectations, you avoid misunderstandings that can occur and thus avoid potential conflicts. For example, instead of asking support staff, “will you get this report to me as soon as possible?”, verbalize a specific time you need it.

Strategy 4 – Establish Consequences
In the real-world workplace, you may encounter conflicts with employees who are uncooperative or are unwilling to comply with the rules or policies of your company. As a manger, you may have to take an action that states to the employee the likely outcome of continuing problematic behavior.

Be sure to deliver consequences so they don’t sound like “threats,” but still get the message across.

How to deal with an adult bully

Sixty-four year old Bill was a married retired executive who sought anger management help on the insistence of his wife Ann. After 24 years Ann could no longer tolerate his bullying behavior toward her, their children, and their friends. He would often relate in an insulting, “get in your face” way using a loud, intimidating voice that frightened her.

She often felt like a little girl who was being scolded. He gave her orders with no thought for her feelings or how others were reacting to his behavior. If he did not get his own way, he would often pout or withhold needed finances from her.

Tactics of the adult bully

As this case illustrates, emotional bullying occurs when someone tries to gain control by making others feel angry or afraid. It is often characterized by yelling, and name-calling, sarcasm, mocking, putting down, belittling, embarrassing or intimidating. Ann said that they had no friends because of Bill’s behavior. He was forced into early retirement by his company due to alienation of upper management.

Bullies often have personality disorder

Like many bullies, Bill had a deep sense of insecurity about himself. He completely lacked empathy or the ability to perceive how he was negatively affecting others.

He honestly didn’t see himself as the problem and was constantly in dismay when others around him were devastated or offended by his behavior. Bill had what is known as a “narcissistic” personality disorder. He was only capable of interpreting events from his perspective. Pre-occupied with himself , he had little regard or understanding of the feelings of others.

Can bullies change?

While research shows that most bullies are unable to make deep changes to their personality, they are sometimes able to modify their behavior to the extent that they are more tolerable.

Usually, the motivation to change is inspired by outside influences such as employers, spouses, or children . Bill, for instance, desperately wanted his wife back as he truly loved her to the extent he was able to experience love. Other bullies we have seen in anger management classes decided to change at the threat of losing their job. Jim, a line supervisor in a chemical plant, fell into this category.

The case of Jim

An “old-school” manager, Jim often yelled and threatened employees to motivate them to produce more, thinking his behavior would be seen as positive by the company executives.

Unfortunately, too many employees complained, resulting in his being referred to Human Resources for intervention. Turns out, Jim didn’t want to be seen as a bully, had no awareness others were seeing him that way, and most certainly didn’t want to lose his job of over 25 years.

Thus, he was highly motivated to acquire more effective skills to relate to employees while still maintaining a high rate of production.

He did well in anger management as he learned our tools of anger control— particularly the tool of “empathy” which includes increased social awareness (seeing how he is coming across to others) as well as more sensitivity to the feelings of others.

Unfortunately, not all bullies are as responsive to intervention as Jim was. Many bullies remain bullies because they don’t see themselves as the problem. In this case, you may have to learn how to cope with their behavior, if you are in an unfortunate situation such that you need to continue to be with them but survive.

Four Ways To Cope

Focus on the positive attributes of the bully and try to ignore the negative parts. For instance, Bill had a very sweet and generous side to him when not being a bully— a side Ann could learn to focus on to survive the unpleasant times.

Be confident and look your bully in the eye. Speak in a calm and clear voice while asserting yourself by naming the behavior you don’t like and state what is expected instead.

Create a distraction or change the subject. Try using humor or a well-chosen word to disarm the bully. Give the bully’s ego what it needs. For instance, Ann learned to praise Bill more and give him more credit and acknowledgment for things he did do well. While this tactic is a little manipulatory, it never- the- less worked well to decrease the number of times Bill bullied her. And it allowed Ann to survive a difficult situation.

Rage behind the wheel: Can we help it?

Recent headline: “Road Rage may be due to medical condition called Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)”

What is the science behind this?

The study, reported in the June (2006) issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry was based on a national face-to-face survey of 9,282 U.S. adults who answered diagnostic questionnaires in 2001-03. It was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Results? About 5 percent to 7 percent of the nationally representative sample had had the disorder, which would equal up to 16 million Americans . That is higher than better-known mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The average number of lifetime attacks per person was 43, resulting in $1,359 in property damage per person. About 4 percent had suffered recent attacks. Many of these attacks violated both civil and criminal laws.

Is it real?

This study has created much controversy regarding exactly what is “medical” about road rage and how it differs from plain bad, inconsiderate behavior. Undoubtedly, criminal defense attorneys will be arguing in both civil and criminal courts that indeed it is a medical condition!

Take the two following headline which were published recently:

News Item #1: “Police search for shooter following road rage incident”
Date: June 10, 2006. City: Indianapolis, Indiana.
The event: At an intersection, two drivers were involved in a confrontation when one of them opened fire on the other at a stoplight.

News Item #2: “Man, 21, charged in road rage shooting.”
Date: May 21, 2006. City: San Antonio, Texas.
The event (according to news reports): “Around 3AM Samuel Hitchcock, 21, Daniel Pena, 17, and another man were driving when a pickup passed them on an inside lane, striking Hitchcock’s side mirror. Hitchcock followed the truck into a residential area to gather information and the truck made a sudden turn, stopping. Hitchcock pulled up next to the truck. Pena, who was in the front passenger seat told police the truck’s driver pulled a gun and started shooting at them, striking him and killing Hitchcock.

Are all cases like this due to Intermittent Explosive Disorder? Very unlikely! Some are and some are not. This is why it is important to have a professional assessment of each case of “road rage” to determine the underlying cause, such as IED — or some other problem.

Other causes that could come into play would include: alcohol or drug intoxication, stress, depression or bipolar disorder and, of course, bad, selfish or inconsiderate behavior. A good attorney will refer you to a doctor who specializes in diagnosing mood disorders to determine the specific cause in each situation of apparent road rage.

Road rage vs aggressive driving

The person who weaves in and out of traffic, tail gates, or cuts in front of you may not be showing “road rage” per se, but inconsiderate aggressive driving. He is not angry at you; he probably doesn’t even know you exist, being preoccupied with his own selfish needs.

IED seen in other life areas

It is also important to remember that persons who do indeed suffer from Intermittent Explosive Disorder may explode in many other situations besides road rage. Often they “blow up” at spouses, children, co-workers, or customer service employees.

Remedies for road rage

If road rage is indeed due to IED, there are two treatments that can help both adolescents and adults: (1)medications , and (2) cognitive training. The medications usually involve SSRIs (a type of anti-depressant). In my opinion, most people who show rage on the road do not need medication, but some do and will benefit greatly from them.

Cognitive Training means learning to think differently about driving, aggression on the road, and other drivers. Cognitive training is an important element in many anger management programs, which a few states now require for “road rage” behavior and/or aggressive driving.
Some anger management classes and programs teach specific cognitive and behavior skills to control aggressive, inconsiderate, and dangerous driving behaviors.

These skill include:

  • Managing life stress better, including time-management skills.
  • Developing empathy for other drivers.
  • Learning healthy “self-talk” phrases.
  • Adjusting expectations of others on the road.

Five skills to deal with workplace anger

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.

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 – Acceptance

While sometimes workplace anger is manifest in “exploding.” other times it is born of grievances held by employees over any number of workplace issues. Much research shows that learning to accept and let go of the wrongs done to you can release your anger and resentment. This, in turn, may improve your health, and help you focus on your job instead of your negative feelings.

Is “acceptance” easy? Of course not. Nor does it mean that you think that whatever happened to you was right, or that you have to like the offending person. What it does mean is “letting go” of the negative feelings you now experience when you remember a negative experience or you encounter the offending person.

Control family anger with assertive communication

“Dr. Fiore,” my 42 year old married patient (Mary) began, “my family expects me again this year to host Christmas dinner and I am just too exhausted; what should I do?”
“Why not tell them how you feel,” I suggested.
“Because I don’t want to hurt their feelings and I feel guilty if I don’t do what is expected of me.”

Lack of communication such as this among family members is the root of much conflict, hurt, and misunderstandings any time of the year – but especially during the holiday season which, unfortunately, if often a time of great stress.

Mary’s dilemma is all too common – she wants to be a nice person and avoid conflict with family members, but then feels resentment and other negative emotions when she is overwhelmed or feels taken advantage of.

Unfortunately, not being direct and emotionally honest with people we love or care about can have long-reaching consequences because it gives other people the wrong message about you, what you need, and how they should respond to you.

The elephant in the room

When you have unexpressed feelings toward another person, it is like you are both sitting on a couch with an elephant between you. Neither wants to acknowledge the elephant, but its existence is there between you. The elephant acts as a barrier to real communication. It also prevents positive feelings from flowing between you and the other person.

Assertive Communication

Assertive communication is the art of speaking in a reasonable tone with good eye contact using “I” messages (as opposed to “you” or blaming messages) while clearly stating your needs, feelings, and requests. If you are an effective assertive communicator, you will also invite the listener to work toward a mutually satisfactory resolution of the problem or conflict, without offending them.

Speaking of offending, an important point to remember is that you won’t offend people if you stick to communicating your feelings, as opposed to telling others what they should or should not do!

The assertive communication formula:

There are four parts to effective assertive communication: Here is the formula:

I feel____________
When you____________
Because______________
I need___________

  • Part 1: “I feel”— start be expressing how you feel about the behavior. Stick to one of the five or six basic emotions: “I feel overwhelmed;” : I feel angry,” “I feel hurt.”
  • Part 2: “When”—What specifically bothers you about the behavior or situation? Examples: “when the family expects me to do this every year;” when it is assumed I will do it,” when no one else volunteers.”
  • Part 3:“Because”— How does the behavior affect you? Examples: “I feel pressured to do something I really can’t do this year,” and “it makes me feel taken advantage of.”
  • Part 4: “I need.” This is the tough part for people like Mary who feel guilty simply letting others (especially family members) know what their needs are. What this really means is giving the other persona clear signal of what you would like them to do differently so they have an opportunity to change.
  • Examples: “I need for the dinner to be rotated among the family; I need for everyone to bring a dish and I’ll cook the ham; I need for my sisters to come early and help with the setup”

Does the formula work all the time?

Of course not, but it works a high percentage of the time and it gives you a much better tool to deal with the situation than using anger – which rarely gets you the results you want.

If it doesn’t work at first, try different variations by using your own words – keep at it because sometimes people don’t immediately respond differently to what you are saying because of your previous established communication patterns with each other.

Also make sure that your tone clearly conveys sincerity, clarity, genuineness, and respect toward the other and his or her opinions.

Couples in crisis: How couple therapy mitigates stubborn psychological defenses

Guest article by Dr James Tolbin. Edited slightly and reproduced with permission.

Why does a couple typically seek therapy?

Research indicates that by the time a couple seeks couple therapy and arranges an appointment, the partners have been at war for multiple years on a range of seemingly unresolvable issues.

Often a recent event is characterized as a “crisis” that sent the couple over the edge, finally leading them to pursue therapy. But the couple typically has been in crisis for so long that both partners have grown weary from, and almost immune to, the ongoing conflict and persistent tension between them.

What does the average couple expect will happen in therapy?

For most couples who finally begin therapy, they often anticipate that the therapist will be a kind of mediator and/or judge who will assess the problems at hand and the strengths and weaknesses of each partner. And then, from his or her expert vantage point, the therapist will articulate a solution that involves a critique of what the partners are doing incorrectly in their relationship and what they need to do to “be better.”

In my view, this approach to helping a couple rarely, if ever, works.

This is so because, underlying the expressed problems the couple faces, is a firmly organized set of psychological defenses  each partner has developed to cope with the issues of the relationship.

What is a better way to conceptualize marital troubles?

A physical metaphor for how defensive processes in couples work is the way the human back responds to the trauma of a car accident, for example. Impacted by the force of the collision, the general alignment and expansive musculature of the spinal cord shift and lock into a new position designed to protect the vertebrae, tendons, and ligaments that were stressed or damaged in the accident. The shifting and locking into place of the spinal cord and its musculature is a defensive process that protects underlying anatomical structures from further injury.

And it is usually the case, medically speaking, that what the body does to protect itself from further injury results in symptomatic pain, chronic inflammation, and reduced flexibility which, taken together over time, actually prevent healing! Autoimmune diseases provide another example of how the body may inadvertently hurt itself in an effort to protect itself.

The defensive processes that have evolved in a relationship work in a similar fashion.

A husband, for example, who has been hurt by his wife’s ongoing ambivalence about having a child, may unconsciously respond to this injury through the protective strategy of, say, over-working, i.e., becoming overly ambitious or taking on too much responsibility in his professional life.

This defense, in turn, gradually becomes injurious to his wife; she responds to her hurt by becoming self-destructive in some way, an idiosyncratic defensive style that she unintentionally and unconsciously employs to find relief and buffer her from further anticipated disappointments with her husband.

And, as you might imagine, her self-destruction further intensifies her husband’s need to protect himself, thus reinforcing his prioritizing of his workOn and one these insidious, mutually reinforcing dynamics evolve, tangling the partners in a web of toxic psychological tendencies that only strengthen their grip as the couple struggles against them.

What is needed for positive change to occur?

For positive change to even become a possibility for this couple, the defensive processes employed by each partner must be identified and reduced or entirely supplanted. The couple therapist functions not as a mediator or judge but more like a chiropractor, strategically intervening to unlock each partner from his or her chosen defensive style.

As this begins to occur, each partner can think and feel in ways that are more flexible and less oriented solely toward protection. Once partners feel less vulnerable, less gripped by the need and compulsion to defend, there is real potential for the achievement of enhanced levels of communication, mutual respect and understanding, and new pathways for attaining the kind of love each partner desires.

Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

James Tobin, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist based in Newport Beach, CA.

Don’t get angry – use conflict resolution skills

Guest Article by Sherry Gaba

Conflict is difficult for many people. People with codependency often learn to avoid conflict due to fear of abandonment, rejection, and/or criticism. Learning conflict resolution skills makes it easier to handle conflict effectively so you learn not to fear confrontation. Often with the need to people please and receive outside validation, codependents avoid confrontation.

The following are skills you can use to lean into conflict in a healthy way rather then avoid it all together:

  1. Prepare by getting clear about the problem.Clarify your position by writing down talking points as reminders and to keep you focused.
  2. Practice your talking points with a friend or in the mirror.
  3. Use deep breathing to control your anxiety prior to the meeting. Take conscious breaths during the discussion.
  4. Be ready to experience the “newness” that change brings. If you can shift your thinking from a focus on the unknown to recognize that change involves “newness”—new things, people, places, and ideas—with at least some of it bringing excitement and interest, you’ll feel a whole lot better about it.
  5. Be clear about your bottom line and the things you are willing to negotiate. Understand that negotiation is part of the process and expect it.
  6. Look for points of agreement. Find things that you agree on and talk about how to find a win-win solution that benefits everyone.
  7. Do your homework. It helps to have a good idea of what the other person wants to strengthen your position in negotiations.
  8. Use assertive language. “I want. . .” Or “I would like. . .” Ask what the other person wants, then work toward a solution that works for both of you.
  9. Ask for clarification or details about anything you are unclear on.
  10. Take a break. If you feel overwhelmed by the process, take a break. Go to the restroom or get a drink and take some deep breaths.
  11. Give positive feedback. Let the other person know that you see their point of view, or agree on certain key issues.
  12. Table it. If you do not get the minimum you are asking for, suggest that you table the discussion for now and talk about it again later. Don’t give up or give in unless you are certain you have reached a stalemate.

Downloads

Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

Sherry Gaba helps singles navigate the dating process to find the love of their lives. Take her quiz to find out if you’re struggling with co-dependency, sign up for a 30-minute strategy session, or learn more about how to get over a break-up. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com or sign up today for Sherry’s online group coaching program. Buy her books Love Smacked: How to Break the Cycle of Relationship Addiction and Codependency to find Everlasting Love or Infinite Recovery 

Poor Sleep contributes to Anger

Lack of sleep intensifies anger, impairs adaptation to frustrating circumstances

Losing just a couple hours of sleep at night makes you angrier, especially in frustrating situations, according to new Iowa State University research. While the results may seem intuitive, the study is one of the first to provide evidence that sleep loss causes anger.

Other studies have shown a link between sleep and anger, but questions remained about whether sleep loss was to blame or if anger was responsible for disrupted sleep, said Zlatan Krizan, professor of psychology at Iowa State. The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, answers those questions and provides new insight on our ability to adjust to irritating conditions when tired.

“Despite typical tendencies to get somewhat used to irritating conditions — an uncomfortable shirt or a barking dog — sleep-restricted individuals actually showed a trend toward increased anger and distress, essentially reversing their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions over time. No one has shown this before,” Krizan said.

Eight things you can do to improve sleep:

  1. Avoid alcohol, large meals, exercise and smoking at least two to three hours before bed.
  2. Turn off from work and technology at least an hour before bed.
  3. Go to bed as soon as you feel tired. If you wait too long, it will be harder to fall asleep.
  4. Avoid watching TV or reading an exciting page-turner in bed.
  5. Go to bed at around the same time each night. Ideally this should be before midnight.
  6. Sleep in a dark, well ventilated room.
  7. Deep sleep is the phase of sleep where you benefit most. It happens in the first third of your sleep. Avoid environments where you could be disturbed during this phase.
  8. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night

Read the original article from the Iowa State University website here.

The Anger-Damage effect on your heart: Guest blog from Dr Alan Levy

THE ANGER-DAMAGE EFFECT ON YOUR HEART

Guest Article by By Alan Levy, Ph.D.

How does anger do its damage and contribute to heart trouble? In this brief article, I explain the physiological and psychological mechanisms that are problematic ways of handling frustration and anger. I also present 8 helpful hints to better manage negative emotions and protect your physical and mental health.

How does Anger Affect our Bodies?

First, here’s how the physiological mechanism of anger works, according to the nation’s top heart-brain research centers, such as the Cleveland Clinic: Emotions like anger and hostility stimulate the “fight or flight” response of your sympathetic nervous system, releasing the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.

These chemicals significantly speed your heart rate and your respiration. Your blood pressure goes up, and your body is hit with a burst of fight-flight energy. That’s often what triggers someone to fly into a rage, to
begin yelling and even throwing things.

This heightened state of physiological activation is designed to mobilize you for real emergencies, but can become habitual. Chronically high levels of stress hormones cause extra wear on your cardiovascular system.

Even the walls of your arteries can be damaged by the frequent anger response, because of the extra load of glucose and fat globules secreted into the blood stream.

The Good News

The good news is that anger and hostility as a risk factor can be changed for the better, just as blood pressure or cholesterol can be modified. Of course, stress can’t be measured as easily as cholesterol, but you can learn to take responsibility for your emotional responses and modify them for the better. Here are a few tips to interrupt storms of explosive anger or relieve yourself of self-damaging, imploded anger.

  1. Recognize, as early as possible, when you’re beginning to feel angry.
  2. Pause, before saying something or doing something impulsively. The time-worn advice– “count to ten”– is still wise.
  3. Put the situation into perspective. Ask yourself if this issue will matter 5 years from now.
  4. Say to yourself: “If this is as big a deal tomorrow as it is now, I’ll deal with it then, when I’ve cooled off a bit.
  5. Realize that, even though someone else’s behavior might have triggered your upset, blaming them for it won’t help you take responsibility for handling it well enough to regain your emotional balance.
  6. Understand that acting angry is not the way to show that you really care about something or someone.
  7. You may understand the nature of your problems with anger, but if you can’t put your insight into practice, it’s time to consult with an experienced therapist. Even a brief investment in counseling can
    produce remarkable results.
  8. Finally, remember to take this to heart: a change of heart comes from a change of mind about how you handle frustrating situations.

To sum it up, stressful reactions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, or mood instability can add up to increased risk for all kinds of medical problems, including heart trouble. Taking care of your emotional health will pay off with big dividends in maintaining your physical health and well-being.

Dr Alan Levy is an seasoned psychologist who practices in Costa Mesa, California. His website: alanlevyphd.com

Downloads

Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

How to reduce resentment toward your partner – even if your partner won’t change!

Do You Have Resentment In Your Marriage?

Mary, age 40, came to see me recently for a consultation on how she could improve her marriage and deal with an angry husband who refused to see a marriage therapist. She was extremely resentful, unhappy and depressed. She had tried “everything” to get her husband to change- all to no avail.

The resentment Mary was feeling was normal when a partner has grievances toward their partner which are unexpressed – or- when your partner does not respond even when they are indeed expressed. Take our free Anger Quizto assess the degree of resentment in your marriage. Many times grievances are formed in a marriage because some essential needs are not being fulfilled – needs which you want satisfied through the marriage. After all, satisfaction of some of those needs are the reason you married in the first place.
Mind you, just because you have normal needs doesn’t necessarily mean you are “needy.” We all have needs, as a famous psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote about way back in the 1940s. Here is a simplified version of his needs diagram. In Maslow’s theory, lower needs (such as having enough to eat) need to be satisfied before higher needs such as “esteem” seem important.

The question is:to what extent should we look toward marriage to satisfy some of these needs?

According to Dr. Finkel, some people put too much pressure on the marriage to satisfy those needs without considering other ways to get them satisfied – so that the marriage can still survive and you can be happy again.

Fact is, many people never ask themselves exactly what their needs are and to what extent they expect their marriage partner to satisfy those needs. When I asked Mary what she wanted or needed out of her marriage, she looked at me like a deer in the headlights.

She had never asked herself that question; she only knew that she was very unhappy with her life – and very unhappy with her husband who never seemed to change even though she constantly expressed her frustration and resentment to him.

You may not be aware of some of your needs

In reality, it not a simple question to answer for a number of reasons. First, you may not be aware of some of the needs you actually have – like needing to feel safe or needing to be acknowledged often for your contributions. If that is the case, you might want to consult a psychologist to help you sort it all out. After all, it is unfair to your partner to resent them for not satisfying needs that even you don’t know that you have.

Need satisfaction is a moving target requiring re-calibration

Secondly, what partners need from each other often changes as the marriage goes through different developmental stages (yes, marriages have developmental stages just like children do). Successful couples find a way to adapt to these changes and strive toward satisfying these changing needs either through the marriage itself or in other ways.

This often requires a recalibration of your relationship which is accomplished by asking yourself some basic questions, rather than holding resentment toward your partner who isn’t changing despite your pleas.

Three questions to ask yourself about your needs:

  • What needs do I have that can only be satisfied through my partner? Some needs indeed can only be satisfied by an intimate partner. After all, that is why we got married in the first place. Examples of needs in this category are to develop and sustain a warm emotional climate in the home, have a steamy sex life, co-parent and enjoy your children.
  • What needs do I have that can be met through our partner or some “other significant other” (OSO) such as a friend or other family member? Examples of needs in this category are to receive emotional support when something bad happens at work, celebrate when something good happens at work, debate politics, attend cultural events, travel.
  • What needs do I have that can be met through our partner, through an OSO, or on our own? Learning to meditate, anger management, deepen relationship with God, learning to play the piano, writing that long-promised novel.

When Mary looked at her list of needs, she was shocked at how much she was asking of her marriage. With her therapist, she began working on a more deliberate plan for meeting her needs.

The most difficult part of course is evaluating what to do about needs that indeed can only be satisfied by one’s partner. The good news is that often through re-calibration, we can create a different vibration in the home so that our partner might respond by being more motivated to indeed try harder.

For instance, if your need is to have a warm emotional climate in the home, you might work on being less critical and more trusting by letting go of resentments caused by things done in the past. How do you do this? Through the process of “forgiveness.” You can learn to forgive either through therapy or through a a faith-based approach (all religions encourage forgiveness).

Five tips for preventing resentment from ruining your marriage

When you and your spouse hit rough times, it seems that no matter what you do, things get worse.

You blame your spouse; your spouse blames you and nothing changes.

Out of desperation, you eventually step back from your situation and try to think more clearly. And thankfully, when you aren’t mired in the muck, you actually figure out more productive ways to handle your differences. You are determined to do better the next time a challenging situation rears its ugly head.

And then it happens. It feels like a déjà vu. The same old argument starts unfolding.

You and your spouse have been there so many times before.

And although you promised yourself that you would take the high road this time- to remain calm and loving in the face of controversy-your anger and resentment have another plan for you.

You are going to do the same old thing because you’re mad and resentful as hell and your spouse doesn’t deserve better treatment. All the brilliant planning for a better outcome goes right out the window.

Resentment wins. You lose. Sound familiar?

If you want to improve your relationship, you have to find ways to triumph over resentment so you can live up to the promises you make yourself to approach your spouse in more productive ways.

But the sixty-four thousand dollar question is, “How?” The following are five tips for rising above resentment.

  • To prepare for the next challenge, ask yourself, “How will I resist the temptation to allow resentment to run my life?” Most people believe that feelings are the trigger for how we behave.If we are fearful, we should avoid anxiety-producing situations. If we are shy, we must stay away from people.If we anticipate failure, we need to avoid challenging activities.But psychology has taught us that the best way to overcome negative emotions is to push ourselves to do the very thing we resist.When we face our demons, the demons go away.And it is then that we realize that feelings don’t have to run us. We can choose our how we act and react despite our feelings.The same is true for dealing with long-standing resentment in relationships. You can feel resentment and still behave in loving, productive ways toward your spouse.You can notice that you feel angry, but you can choose what you do next. In those testy moments, ask yourself, “What can I do to resist the temptation to give into this resentment?”You might need to take a few deep breaths or go for a walk. Perhaps asking your spouse for a time out would work.You might notice what that little voice inside your head is saying when you are angry. Is it fueling the fire by telling you your spouse is trying to make you angry?If so, turn down the volume of that voice. It’s just a thought and it isn’t helpful. Decide to replace it with a more positive thought such as, “She is doing the best she can right now.”
  • Understand your role in things spiraling down You might be wondering how you can beat resentment by understanding how you contribute to the problem. Here’s an example.George was extremely unhappy about his sex life. He and Fran made love once a month. If George had his way, they would make love three times a week. Clearly, there is a sizable desire gap in their marriage.If you ask Fran whether she likes sex, she will tell you, “Yes, but I don’t like having sex with George when he is angry.” Fran needs to feel close to George emotionally before she wants to be physically close.But George insists that he is angry because Fran won’t have sex. The angrier George becomes, the less Fran wants sex. The less Fran wants sex, the angrier George becomes. You get the picture.This is obviously the case of two rights. If George wants Fran to desire him, he has to be nicer to Fran. If Fran wants George to be nicer to her, she has to consider his need for touch.But even if George knows that he needs to be nicer to Fran, he might say that he can’t because he is so resentful about Fran’s blatant disregard for his feelings. However, if he can understand that part of Fran’s withdrawal has to do with his irritability, he can empathize with her and feel less resentful.When you feel resentful towards your spouse, ask yourself, “What are my steps in the dance we do together when things aren’t going well?”“What could I do differently that would, in turn, change our dance entirely?”And once you acknowledge that you really do have something to do with the problematic situation- and the solution- you will feel more compassion toward your spouse.Compassion helps you rise above resentment.
  • Focus on results Rather than pay attention to your feelings of resentment, when things go haywire, ask yourself, “What do I want to have happen?” “What’s my goal here?”In the same way that George realized that he had to be nicer and kinder to Fran if he wanted her to be more affectionate, he didn’t always feel like behaving that way.However, over time, he started to connect the dots…”When I’m kinder to
    Fran, she wants to be closer to me physically.”Observing the results of your behavior as opposed to the feelings you have inside is a sure-fire way to increase the odds you will get more of your needs met.And once that happens, resentment dissipates.
  • Forgive Judging your spouse harshly and feeling angry isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s downright harmful.Even if your spouse is making mistakes, it doesn’t mean he or she is doing it purposely. Poet and sage, Maya Angelou says (adapted a bit), “People do the best with the tools they have. If they knew better they would do better.”I totally believe this.If you truly believed that your spouse isn’t out to hurt you and that you are willing to wipe the slate clean, you will feel better and start acting in ways that signal you are ready to let go of the past.No one can free you from the shackles of resentment. You have to do it yourself. It doesn’t just happen. It requires a conscious decision to forgive and move forward.Once you realize that holding a grudge is really hurting you and your marriage, you can choose forgiveness and resentment will gradually melt away.This will make it easier for you to stick to your marriage-strengthening plan.
  • Remember, you are not perfect either I’ve heard it said that people who think they’re perfect have lousy memories.And isn’t that true? Everyone makes mistakes, even you and me.Remembering that you are great but not perfect will make it easier to be less judgmental of your partner.We are all imperfect beings.Don’t feel guilty about your mistakes but on the same count, don’t hold your spouse to a higher standard. If you do, you will have a hard time letting go of lingering feelings of anger and resentment.
  • Have compassion for both of youHere’s a personal challenge. The next time you feel resentment welling up in you, implement one or more of these five tips and see how much better you feel.

It’s a formula for success. 

© Michele Weiner-Davis, all rights reserved. michele@divorcebusting.com 303.444.7004 PO Box 271 Boulder, CO 80302

Needing to be Right- A Sure-Fire Losing Strategy for Partner Communication

When I was a young psychologist, I recall a young woman in my practice who was very upset because men simply didn’t see her as very feminine and treated her like “one of the guys,” instead of like a “girl” as she deeply desired. I asked for an example of what she meant.”The other night we were having drinks in a bar and one of the guys said that I wasn’t very feminine,” she said.

“How did you react?“I asked her.

With a serious face she said, “I stood up, took a swing and knocked them all to the floor.”

Psychologists call this self-defeating behavior. In over 15 years of conducting anger management classes in southern California, and hearing hundreds of stories of relationship conflict, I have seen this pattern repeated over and over again. Partners need, want and deserve different things in a relationship, but go about getting it in the wrong way due to poor marital communication.

It’s like looking for a herd of buffaloes  in New York City, or convincing people who live in Antarctica to purchase air conditioners. It ain’t going to work.

Think in terms of Losing vs Winning Strategies
Married people often don’t step back, take a look at themselves, and ask if they are going about it the right way to have a loving and devoted partner, to feel deeply connected to their spouse, to reduce conflict, or to have a peaceful home with happy successful children. But, for good marital communication, having strategies to achieve marital harmony often separates successful couples from others. Successful couples regularly employ what we call “Winning Strategies,” while other couples unfortunately use “Losing strategies”, (which they often learned as children) yet expect good results.

To improve  marital communication, we begin a series of blogs on losing strategies regularly employed by couples in trouble, in the hope that you can improve your marriage by not using them in the future. Then, of course, a series of blogs will follow of winning strategies- those ways of communicating that are used by black-belts of relationship success. Full disclosure- This material is based  on the writings of famed therapist Terry Real in his book “The New Rules of Marriage”. I would highly encourage you to download his book and read it as soon as you can.

Losing Strategy 1- Needing to always be  Right. 

I was raised by the philosophy that there is a right way to do things, and a wrong way. This way of looking at the world certainly ensured a shared vision of things (it encouraged all family member to see things the same way) but it also stifled creativity and individuality. Instead of teaching us to consider “options” in how to deal with a problem or issue, we were taught that if “A” happens, then you handle it by doing “B.” If somebody tried a “C’, they were told they were wrong because, again, there is only one “right” to a problem or situation.

Of course, sometimes this IS true. The ‘right” solution to prevent tooth decay is to brush daily; the “right” way to have money in the future is to save it or invest it. The “right” way to stay healthy is to eat your fruits and vegetables, exercise, and don’t smoke.

But, other times it decidedly is NOT true. Or, in many cases there can be multiple truths – not “the” truth. People can have long lives eating meat or not. Heavy drinkers are not necessarily alcoholics. People who don’t go to college can still become  millionaires. Dishes can get clean in the dishwasher without pre-washing them. There are multiple ways to get to a destination in your car. Different people feel loved differently. Some people can change bad habits easier than others. Some children respond to tight discipline and tight structure much more than other children.

Children who are raised to believe in the right or wrong philosophy eventually marry other children who also believe this. So, why is this a problem?  They clash because they were taught different ‘rights’ and “wrongs” – and they were not taught to be tolerant of those differences – and they often certainly were not taught to embrace individual differences, nuances, and variety in our world.

Some partners go so far as to feel “disrespected” if their spouse does things their own way. For example, what sane person puts the glasses in the cupboard upside down to prevent dust from accumulating in them? Everybody know glasses go right side up but CUPS go upside down, Right? Or did I get that wrong?

Learn to disagree without being disagreeable
Successful relationships depend on developing successful strategies to deal with disagreements and conflicts without destroying each other in the process. You can disagree without being disagreeable.

The trick is to focus not only on the argument but on HOW you argue and communicate- in other words, focus on the process as well as the issue. Very hard to do in the heat of battle but this skill separates beginners from black belts in marital communication. It helps to remember that (1) subjective reality cam be different from objective reality, that (2) Words spoken can have different meanings for each partner, and that (3) Body Language conveys tons of information, regardless of the words you use.

Subjective vs. Objective Reality
What is the difference? Let me explain it this way: You and your partner are sitting in the therapist office and your partner says “It is cold in here.” You say,  “there you go–always complaining. Actually it is NOT cold in here- the temperature is 72 degrees.” Who is “right”?
Objective cold is not the same as subjectively “felt” temperature.If your partner feels cold, the reality for him or her is that it is cold in the office , regardless of the actual (objective) temperature. Would you argue like Perry Mason to prove your case that your partner is crazy and that it is NOT cold in the office? I grew up in a home where that is exactly what happened – which typically then caused a major argument.

The truth is, most of the time nobody cares if you are factually (objectivity) right or not!

I recall the case of  Mike and Ann who fought about everything. Mike was incapable of understanding this idea that partners can perceive things quite differently. To test him, we did the following dialogue:

Therapist: “Mike, what is the color of that lampshade over there?”

Mike: It is beige.

Therapist: “Ann, what color do you think it is?”

Ann: “It is Brown.”

Therapist to Mike: “Mike, why do you think Ann sees it as Brown and you see it as Beige?”

Mike: “Because she is lying.”

What are you going to do with a person who thinks that way?

Often words spoken can have different meanings to each partner:
A second reason that partners argue over things is because spoken words can have different meanings to each partner even though the same word is used to describe something. To remedy this,try to remember the famous words of Robert McCloskey:

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

? Robert McCloskeyThe remedy here is to be sure to clarify what you mean by the words you use.Example:

45 year old Sam to Therapist: “We only have sex  once a month. Last time was 4 weeks ago- on a Saturday night.”

Sam’s Wife to therapist: “That is simply not true. We had sex just 3 days ago. Tell the therapist the truth.”

Sam to wife and therapist:” That wasn’t REAL sex – that was only Clinton sex.”

Finally, remember that your body language conveys more meaning than do your words: What does your voice tone communicate? Your voice volume? Your facial features? Your general tension level? All these forms of communication are being “picked up” by your partner regardless of what your words say. Monitor yourself when you are talking to your partner for an appreciation of what you may be communicating to them with your body language.

How To Deal With a Passive-Aggressive Partner

HOW TO DEAL WITH A PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE PARTNER

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

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

Common passive-aggressive behavior in relationships:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast forward twenty years…

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

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

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

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

FIVE STEPS TO DEAL WITH THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PARTNER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PERSON

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

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

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

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

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Can Personal Values Differences Destroy a Relationship?

You bet they do. Often the seeds of destruction are in the relationship the moment you meet even though it my take many years for it to actually die. Famous marital researcher Dr John Gottman teaches and trains therapists as follows:

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Often that is often because partners have different values about life, relationships,money, parenting, orderliness, in-laws, or sex.

Take Cliff and Mary, for example. Cliff is a very successful 42 year old restaurateur in a local beach community. He literally works 18 hours a day. He almost can compete with Jay Leno in terms of the number of luxury automobiles he has in his garage. Every year he treats his extended family from Eastern Europe to a two week vacation at Disneyland, then gives each one (about 20 people) $25,000 to return home with. Yet, his marriage is falling apart as he opens up yet another restaurant.

His wife Mary begs him to be home more of the time, but he sees that as nagging. He values only occupational success, everything else in life is secondary- even sex. He could care less. When he needs it, it is available all around him. He says women have been throwing themselves at him since he was 12 years old. Why does he need a wife for sex or emotional comfort? If she is unhappy, then she should move on, he says.

He does agree to therapy but almost falls asleep during the session because he has been up most of the night. In the session, while his wife is in anguish, he yawns. He wants her to just return home and enjoy the affluent life he can give her; why should she complain, he reasons, when she can have almost anything she wants? What other man could give her such a life?

Value differences are hard to reconcile even in marriage therapy, because neither partner is right or wrong. There are many ways to live life. Demanding that your partner change their values because they differ from yours is a sure path toward relationship conflict and ultimately destruction.

In our example, Cliff lives his life by the values of success, money,hard work, and complete devotion to what one does to succeed. Mary values relationship, love, family life, and emotional connection to one’s spouse.

The only hope for this marriage to survive with any kind of harmony is for her to surrender to the reality that neither she nor her husband is capable of changing their very different but deeply ingrained values. Cliff has already mentally surrendered and has no intention of changing himself. Mary, however, is in anguish daily, still trying to reform her husband.

Mary can certainly make the decision that these value differences are deal breakers and that this type of marriage is not for her. Who would blame her?

But she could also make the decision to accept what is and find a way to create her own life around this reality. This would work because Cliff has basically told her he doesn’t care what kind of life she builds, as long as it doesn’t require more time or emotional involvement from him. Some wives would relish this freedom while enjoying the fruits of a very affluent lifestyle.

Value conflicts such as this one require us to look deeply into ourselves to discover what we really believe and what is important to us. When we make decisions based on values instead of emotions, our lives work better with much less turmoil.

As I often tell my clients, if you can’t change the direction of the wind, you must adjust the sails to get to your destination.

10-hour local anger management classes

Successful Couples Repair Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10-hour local anger management classes

Anger Class 101: Silence is an Anger Management Tool

They say that silence is golden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You An Anger Hypocrite?

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

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

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

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