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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.

How optimism can help—or hurt—your marriage

Beth and Tom were happily married for over 25 years— no small feat in today’s world. At first, their friends could not understand how their marriage succeeded, due to numerous perceived shortcomings.

However, closer scrutiny of their marriage revealed that it was their thinking patterns—the ways they explained and interpreted their partner’s behavior to themselves—that strengthened, rather than weakened, their marriage.

Tom’s lack of self-confidence? No problem! This only made Beth feel very caring toward him. His stubbornness and obstinacy? Again, Beth explained this to herself as “I respect him for his strong beliefs, and it helps me have confidence in our relationship.”

Beth’s jealousy? Tom told himself: “this is a marker of how important my presence is in her life.”

Beth’s shyness? No problem! Tom liked it because “she does not force me into revealing things about myself that I don’t want to…this attracts me to her even more.”

Marriage and health

Numerous studies have shown that the health of your marriage plays a major role in determining your overall physical health. Healthy marriage—healthy body!

Hold on to your illusions

Being able to see things in your mate that your friends don’t is a very positive predictor of marital success according to recent research by a professor at the State University of New York. Remarkably, satisfied couples see virtues in their partners that are not seen by their closest friends.
In contrast to this “illusion” by happy couples, dissatisfied couples have a “tainted image” of each other; they see fewer virtues in their mates than their friends do.

The happiest couples look on the bright side of the relationship (optimism). They focus on strengths rather than weaknesses and believe that bad events that might threaten other couples do not affect them. But, what if you are an optimist and your partner is a pessimist? That can work!

Or, the other way around? That can work, too.

However, two-pessimists married to each other place their marriage in jeopardy because when an untoward event occurs, a downward spiral may follow.

Pessimistic scenario

Unlike Optimists, pessimistic partners make permanent and pervasive explanations to themselves when bad events occur. (Conversely, they make temporary and specific explanations to themselves when good events occur.)

See what happens when Susie is late coming home from the office. Husband Jim explains to himself that “she cares more about work than about me!” Susie explains to herself that Jim is sulking because “he is ungrateful for the big paycheck I bring home!” and tells him so.

Jim defends himself by saying: “You never listen to me when I try and tell you how I feel!” Susie, being a pessimist, responds: “You’re nothing but a crybaby!”

Optimistic scenario

Either partner could have stopped this negative spiral by interpreting events differently. Jim could have interpreted Susie’s lateness as a sign of what a hard worker she is and noted she is usually on time. Jim could have seen that her lateness had nothing to do with her love for him, remembering all the times in the past that Susie has put his needs first.
Susie, if she had been an optimist, could have seen his sulking as a temporary state rather than a character flaw and tried to pull him out of it by pointing out that she really wanted to get home earlier, but her big account unexpectedly dropped in at 5:00 o’clock.

The Optimistic Marriage

The message is clear from both clinical experience and research: optimism helps marriage. When your partner does something that displeases you, try hard to find a believable, temporary, and specific explanation for it, i.e.: “He was tired;” “She must really be stressed,” instead of “he’s always inattentive,” or “he’s a grouch.”

On the other hand, when your partner does something great, amplify it with plausible explanations that are permanent (always) and pervasive (character traits), i.e.: “She is brilliant,” or “She is always at the top of her game,” as opposed to “The opposition caved in,” or “What a lucky day she had.”

How to be less angry in your marriage – Tips on how to become allies around issues

Tom and Mary have been married for 10 years. Both are employed. Let’s listen in on an angry conversation they are having in their kitchen while making dinner:

(curtain up)

Mary: Would it have killed you to stop off on your way home to buy me some Valentine flowers?

Tom: You should have seen the traffic. It was horrible. I didn’t have time to stop. Besides, last week you never picked up my dry cleaning like you promised.

Mary: That’s the feeblest excuse I ever heard! I’ll tell you what it REALLY is. You forgot to get me something because you don’t care anymore.

Tom: How can you say that? I just built that bookcase for you, didn’t I? And didn’t I just change the oil in your car last Saturday?

Mary: Fine! (said with a hollow and sarcastic tone)
Tom: Anything good on TV tonight?

(curtain down)

After this interchange, the children came into the room which resulted in Mary and Tom focusing on them and thus avoiding each other the rest of the evening. Although neither could admit it, they were both miserable and lonely, wanting to connect with each other but not knowing how.

Turning each other into strangers

Even though they loved each other, Mary and Tom had effectively turned each other into strangers, feeling miles apart emotionally while sitting at the same table, sleeping in the same bed, and living in the same house.
Both felt misunderstood, angry, resentful and unappreciated.

Turning each other into enemies

In contrast, Dennis and Nancy , married only 6 months, found themselves constantly at odds with each other. Let’s listen in on their latest fight:

(curtain up)

Nancy: You left the toilet seat up again, just like a little boy. I almost sat in the water at 3AM this morning.

Dennis: You would think that an intelligent woman like you would remember to look to see if the seat was up or down before sitting down.

Nancy: You are inconsiderate and selfish and purposely do things to irritate me.

Dennis (to Nancy): I forgot! Get off my back.

Dennis (to himself): Why should I give in her to? Last week she wouldn’t even have sex with me after I bought her that expensive Valentine’s gift.

(curtain down)

Anger is a “fall-back” position

In both these marriages, anger is seen as “fallback” behavior—what the couple resorted to when they were unable to express themselves to their partners in any other way. Their goal wasn’t to fight: it was to be heard by the other, to control the other, or to get the other to change some problem behavior.

The crossroads moment

Truth is, at any moment in your relationship with your partner, you can elect to either antagonize them, alienate them, or turn them into an ally.

Solve the moment—not the problem

Anger in marriage is often generated by couples trying to solve an unsolvable issue. Many issues are unsolvable if attacked directly—this is true no matter who you are married to.

These issues are “perpetual” and successful couples find a way to be with each other despite these differences.

Rather than demanding change, (which often leads to frustration and anger), try instead opening up an honest dialogue around the dispute to develop deeper understanding of why both you and your partner feel as you do.

Seeing things from their point of view can do wonders to soften conflicts and decrease tensions, even if the original issue remains. Often your partner will try harder to change if they see that you are trying to understand them better.

You may also find that you too try harder to “soften” your anger if you feel that your partner is trying to understand your feelings around the issue.
Being on the same side of the issue—allies— is the key to dealing with it, even if the actual problem is never solved!

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.

Orange County marriage counselor asks: Is your marriage worth saving?

The Story of Mary and Bill

Mary and Bill were a nice couple empty nesters. Married 20 years, hey had built a nice life together. Their mortgage was low, their children were in college and doing well, most of the time they got along with each other fairly well. But one day Mary told Bill she thought maybe they should get a divorce. This rocked Bill’s world as he had no idea that she had still been planning this. Sure, she mentioned it several years ago, but then things had actually improved, so Bill figured the storm had passed.

For Bill, the marriage wasn’t perfect, but then he had lower expectations. Most of his unhappiness was in reaction to her unhappiness. He was happy to keep things as they were even though they had little in common anymore. Mary complained that she was emotionally lonely in the marriage, that Bill didn’t communicate with her, that he drank too much, and that he rarely paid attention to her anymore. She suspected he was having at least an emotional affair with a co-worker, though Bill denied this, pleading that they were just close friends.

Should this couple divorce? A look at some facts!

When a marriage is on the brink of divorce, commonly one person wants out more than the other. If couples divorce, seventy percent of the time it is the wife who initiates it. We call this a “mixed-agenda” couple because their interests are not aligned if one wants out more than the other. The “leaning-out” partner, like Mary, is convinced that there is little hope for the marriage, that they don’t want to live the rest of their lives in an unhappy and unfulfilling marriage. Who can blame her?

The “leaning-in” partner, on the other hand, like Bill sees things differently. Often they are desperate to save the marriage and are motivated to do almost anything. Yet, all the thing they are doing often makes things worse.

It is the leaning-out partner who calls most of the shots; in most states, a divorce cannot be prevented if one partner wants it.

To make a decision about divorce, both the leaning-out and leaning-in partners should consider the following statistics:

  • Many unhappy marriages recover. In one study, 94% of married individuals – both men and women- who said that their marriage at some point was in trouble also said that they were glad they were still together.
  • According to marital researcher Dr Bill Doherty, there is good evidence to suggest that with the proper help and willingness on the part of both spouses, many marriages that might otherwise end in divorce can become healthy, vibrant and supportive.
  • For marriages to become happy again, it requires that couples courageously confront their problems, learn specific relationship skills, and commit to staying together for at least a period of time.
  • Studies show that, for the most part, those who divorced and even those who divorced and remarried were not happier and better off psychologically than those who remained married.

Source for some of material: Should I Try to Work It Out?Kindle Edition by Alan Hawkins, Tamara Fackrell, Steven Harris.

Most marriages end with a whimper-not a bang!

Most marriages do not end because of high conflict. Most end because of loss of emotional connection with each other. That is, the majority end with a whimper, not a bang. They end like icebergs break up….a tiny fissure that keeps getting bigger and bigger until the two iceberg halves just drift apart one day. Many times, partners later regret divorcing from this type of marriage.?

Should you judge your marriage with a snapshot or a movie camera?

A marriage relationship has developmental stages, just as children go through various stages of growth. Much marital discontent can be seen as “growth pains” as the marriage goes from one stage to another. All kinds of things change as the marriage matures: individual needs, demands on your time, occupational stresses, financial status, parenting responsibilities, partner health status, balance between emotionally merging with your partner yet maintaining your autonomy as a person, degree of empathy you have for each other, life dreams and goals.

Happiness or satisfaction in a marriage waxes and wanes throughout the marriage. It goes in cycles. Just because you take a snapshot of it today and see unhappiness, it doesn’t mean things will necessarily stay that way. Yes, things could get worse; but they also could improve considerably.

Many elderly couples say that even though they had many crises, they are glad they stuck it out because in the “movie camera” view of their marriage, things weren’t that bad and many issues were fixable that seemed hopeless at the time.

Five things each couple should consider before pulling the plug

The decision to divorce or not is often in the hands of the “leaning-out” partner.

Each case is different, so it is wise to seek professional help in sorting through the many issues involved in your particular case. Here are some things to consider:

  • High conflict or not. Some marriages end with a bang. We call these high-conflict marriages. Statistics show that unlike other kinds of marriages, high-conflict couples are happier over time if they divorce. No one should remain in an abusive relationship; most healthy people consider continual emotional or physical abuse as non-negotiable deal-breakers as to the continuance of the relationship! And studies show that children generally are better off if high-conflict parents divorce than if they stay together and continue fighting.
  • Hard vs soft reasons for divorce. Hard reasons include chronic substance abuse, domestic violence, infidelity, child abuse, or chronic financial irresponsibility. Soft reasons, such as described by Bill and Mary above, include “falling out of love,” “having nothing in common,” and “spending too much time with same-sex friends.” Hard reasons usually justify a divorce; soft reasons can frequently be changed so that divorce can be prevented.
  • Potential for change. What is the potential for change in either you or your partner? Some people can and do change; others don’t and have no intention to. Many people fail at marriage not because they are intrinsically bad people or bad marriage partners; it is because they have never learned the skills needed for relationship success. If you or your partner are motivated to learn better skills, the marriage may have a chance. Even if there is infidelity, 50% of marriages now survive – some are even better than they were before the affair!
  • How do you see your life improving with the divorce? Even though the grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, remember that the roots of the grass may be covered with manure. Are you miserable because of your marriage or because of you as a person? Remember, no matter where you go, there you are with yourself. Divorce may or may not make you a happier person, it may or may not improve your life.
  • Level of commitment for each of you to work on the marriage. Commitment to making a troubled marriage work makes all the difference in the world. Commitment means being willing to do whatever it takes for a period of time (maybe six months) to turn things around. Even if you do it mostly for your children, the important thing is to do it. This might include things like anger management training, getting sober in a rehab program, or devoting more time to the family or relationship.

8 things you can do TODAY to prevent angry partner blowups

Spending so much time together in social isolation during the pandemic is bound to challenge the patience and coping skills of many partners. Fortunately, new technology has been developed to help you stay calm called “Gaze-Spotting” based on the original work of Dr. David Grand, developer of a technique called Brainspotting.

STEP  1 : Walk away from hearted argument, telling your spouse you need some time to calm down- but that you promise you’ll return later to work it out. Do not yell, call names, or be nasty. 

STEP 2 : Sit in a comfortable place where you an be alone. Mentally scan your body from head to toe. Become aware of where in you body you feel the tension, the anger or the frustration with your partner that triggered your anger. 

STEP 3 : Also Notice in your body where you feel the most calm, grounded, and centered.

STEP 4 : Focus your awareness to this grounded, calm body place. Stay there for 10-15 seconds. Notice where your eyes are focusing while having your attention on your body calm place.. (You can do this with your eyes opened or closed.) Let your eyes settle on a spot (called a gazespot) and maintain that eye position. 

STEP 5 : As you keep your eyes on this “Gazespot,” focus on the argument you just had with your partner. While you think about it keep your eyes on your Gazespot.

STEP 6 : Think of how irritated you are at your partner and notice how activated you are around it. Pick a number from 1-10 which you will use as a gauge to represent the degree they have triggered your anger. 0 is neutral and 10 is highly activated. 

STEP 7 : Without judging, continue to observe your thoughts as you gaze at your Gazespot and bring your awareness to your calm body place. Your mind may wonder as you keep your gaze on the spot. Just notice without directing your thoughts. 

STEP 8 : Continue to observe what is going on in the various parts of you mind with curiosity, but try not to have expectations or  judgement about what is going on. 

Think about the original issue with your partner. How are you feeling now? Take an AngerCheck from 0-10. Continue a long as you like. End when you are ready and note your brain will continue to process.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS ANGERCHECK TECHNIQUE, SCHEDULE A CONSULTATION WITH DR FIORE BY CALLING 714-745-1393 or click here to schedule an appointment yourself

Lovehacking: Quick fixes to improve your marriage or relationship

How Love-Hacks can give your marriage a tune-up

To fix a truly troubled marriage takes much effort and commitment. But, many marriages or relationships just need a tune-up. One psychologist, Dr. Eli Finkel, calls these “Lovehacks” in his new and very well-researched and well-thought-out book “The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.”

Lovehacks provide an efficient method for keeping our marriages afloat during challenging or busy times. There are times when we simply lack the ability or the motivation to make hefty additional investment, and there’s no shame, says Dr Finkel, in doing little things to make the relationship a bit stronger than it would be otherwise.

Lovehacks, according to Dr Finkel, have three defining features. First, they don’t take much time – which is crucial for today’s very busy and stressed couples. Second, they don’t require any coordination with, or cooperation from, our spouse. This is very important in those marriages wherein one partner is working harder or is more motivated than the other to resuscitate things. Third, they don’t require a major change or shift in expectations as many other marital therapy interventions do.

Love-Hacks fall into two major categories: those focused on countering weaknessesin your marriage and those focused on savoring strengths.

Lovehacks focused on countering weaknesses in your marriage

Marriage research clearly shows that how we think about and behave in conflict-relevant situations in our marriage is the factor that most reliably distinguishes successful from distressed marriages. As Dr Finkel says, some reactions are like a can of kerosene, others like a bucket of water.

Lovehack #1-Give your partner a break.

Practice perceiving negative behavior differently. It isn’t what they do as much as HOW YOU REACT AND INTERPRETE WHAT THEY DO that causes a problem – or not! Psychologists call this “attribution.”

For instance, your partner is late getting home from work causing you distress. To what do you attribute his lateness? Here are some possibilities:

  • He is late because he is a thoughtless jerk
  • He is late because he forgot to look at his watch at work
  • He is late because his crappy car broke down again
  • He is late because he got stuck in traffic

If we’re confident that our partner is, by and large, a decent person who want to do well by us, we should make attributions that give him or her the benefit of the doubt.

Lovehack #2-Reinterpret conflict.

Using this lovehack, spouses think about a conflict in their marriage from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. This helps both partners gain perspective of the conflict with high empathy – so each can see the issue from the perspective of the other.

Lovehack #3-Adopt a growth mind-set about marriage.

You have a wide latitude in considering whether problems in your marriage are fixable. People with destiny beliefs think that partners either are or are not “meant to be.” They view conflict and other problems as indicators that they are simply incompatible with their partner.

On the other hand, people with strong growth beliefs think that partners can cultivate a high-quality relationship by working and growing together. So they are willing to try and fix things more when inevitable conflicts occur.

Lovehacks focused on Savoring Strengths:

Lovehack #6-Cultivate gratitude.

Gratitude serves as a “booster shot” for romantic relationships. Research shows that people who experience elevated levels of gratitude also experience stronger relationship commitment and are less likely to break up.

Lovehack #7-Help each other celebrate life’s achievements and successes.

When you respond to your partner’s positive life events in an enthusiastic, celebratory way, ask questions about it and show positive emotion about it, love often grows between you.

Lovehack #8-Affectionate touch.

This lovehack is particularly promising for helping our partner look at us with new eyes. Touching our partner makes them feel more loved by you and more secure in their relationship with you.