This month we discuss the whether the concept of “Peace at any price” is really valid when dealing with issues that come up in marriage. When dealing with problems in any relationship, assertive communication will often yield better results because it communicates feelings better than simply “clamming up”.
Jeffrey was a beleagueredÂ husband. Married for 15 years, he reported that his wife criticized him for nearly everything without giving him any recognition or credit for the good things he did for her and the family. He felt he could do nothing right, despite the fact that he was a very good provider, he was very engaged with his children, he was well-respected in his community and he had never done anything “awful” to her in their fifteen years together. Yet, he says he gets yelled at or criticized for all kinds Â of little things like forgetting to take out some trash on trash pickup day, notÂ answeringÂ one of herÂ questionsÂ correctly or quickly enough, asking for sex after a 60 day dry spell, or forgetting to pick up supplies at a store for their son needed for a school project.
When I asked him how he responded to her, he replied : ” I just keep quiet most of the time, but then I blow up every once in a while when I can’t take it anymore.” At this point, he maintains that his wife accuses him of being both “passive aggressive,” and also having “anger control issues.” When asked what he thought about that, he replies: “I often clam up because I just want to keep the peace.” When asked how well that strategy is working, he had to admit that often his silence or withdrawal makes things worse.
In therapy we are teaching this husband the skill of assertive communication in dealing with his obviously angry wife. AssertiveÂ communicationÂ is Tool Number 5 in our 8-tools model of anger management used in our local classes and our online anger programs. In marriage, it means respectfully but firmly standing up for yourself by communciating how you feel and what your limits are for tolerating disrespecful behavior from your partner. Asserting yourself also means to calmly and rationally explain your point of view on things and the fact that you have a right to your opinion also. To be assertive, Jeffrey needed to learn how to honestly tell his partner how her remarks or criticism makes himÂ feel and howÂ it creates more emotional distance in the marriage.
Finally, assertive behavior clearly communicates what you will or won’t tolerate in the future and involves giving alternatives of communicating that will work better for you. For instance, “your sarcasm turns me off and makes me not want to do it; but, if you ask me nicely, I’ll be more than happy to do it.”
What Assertive Communciation IsÂ NOT
Many people confuse assertive behavior with aggression or being “mean” to their partner. Nothing could be further from the truth! Assertive yourself DOES NOT mean attacking back, name-calling, getting revenge, becoming aggressive, threatening, or making wild accusations. It simply means honestly communicating how you feel, how their behavior is affecting you, and how you would want them to communicate to you differently. It alsoÂ gives the message Â that you deserve respect in the relationship, just as your partner does.
People who practice “peace at any price” instead of assertiveness in relationships often build resentment which then “explodes” periodically or creates emotional distance in the relationship. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, yet it is there. As I tell my clients and I explain in our online marriage class program, you can be honest now and deal with it( even if it is painful), or put it off and deal with it later(again, it may be painful), but deal with it you must at some point in time. Of course, sometimes it IS best to let thing slide, but doing so for long periods of time allowing resentment and frustration to build often makes things worse.
Assert yourself before Peace At Any Price turns into War Without Borders!
Have you noticed that in some homes anger spreads like wildfire. Sometimes it starts with a spark and slowly spreads. Other times it starts with an explosion and spreads quickly like an out of control forest fire. Either way,Â familyÂ anger often creates an uncomfortable, oppressive atmosphere in the home, like storm clouds suddenly spoiling a perfectly sunny day.
It can start with any family member who tends to be the “mood setter” of the house. In my family of origin, the mood setter was definitely my father. If he was angry, we all had to somehow cope with it, usually by avoiding him and walking around gingerly as if on eggshells. After the explosion, he “felt better” and was ready to beÂ pleasantÂ with all of us, but unfortunatelyÂ the emotional damage was done resulting in an attitude that the last thing we wanted at thatÂ pointÂ was to be with him. It is hard to un-ring a bell! Once the words are said, the insult delivered, or the derisive name Â called, the effects of these angry actions will not automatically dissipate because the offender himself or herself feels better having released it.
The Case of Tanya and her family
Any family member, ofÂ course, can be the mood-setter. Often it is an adolescent or even a younger child Â that sets things off in any number of ways. Take Andrea, a 15 year old child of Tanya, and step-child of her husband Edwardo. Â Tanya is what we would call a high maintenance child,Â alwaysÂ needing things, doingÂ poorlyÂ in school, and having an “attitude” that creates constant tension in the home. TanyaÂ ignoresÂ Edwardo most of the time; won’t even say “hello” as they pass each other in the hallway. This infuriates Edwardo who is paying all the bills for a very comfortable life style. He knows that if he “blows up,”Â however, it will seriouslyÂ disruptÂ his relationship with his wife Andrea whom he believes is far too tolerant of her daughter’s behavior. As a result, most of the time he suppresses (sits on) his anger. But, every once in a while he can no longer contain himself and explodes at Tanya for a relatively minor offense., which starts a whole cycle ofÂ negativity, yelling and screaming, threats, and general family chaos and angst.
Five Tips to Stop Family Anger In Its Tracks:
Often aÂ professionalÂ therapist is needed to help seriously dysfunctional family members learn to cope with each other. Before taking that step, however, the following five self-help tips may help:
1. While it is always theÂ responsibilityÂ of the angry person to learn to manage their angry feelings better (as we teach in our local anger management classes as well as our online anger classes, it is also true that the family’s response to the angryÂ personÂ has something to do with its continuance or escalation. Try different responses to the anger (as long as it is not physical or horribly abusive) and see if your new response de-escalates the anger. Sometimes the response could be something like “I feel disresped when you talk to me orÂ ourÂ daughter that way and I don’t appreciate it,” or “I know what you mean; I feel that way too; let’s sit down and talk about it.”Â SometimesÂ the response should be aÂ physicalÂ (non- violent) action. For instance, in my childhood home, when my father raged, my mother would go around and close all the windows of the house protecting my father Â so the neighbor’s wouldn’t hear. Do you think thisÂ increasedÂ or decreased the probability that he would rage again? Â There are many ways you can respond differently to get a different result; try one of them!
2. Get parenting help from a professional, if most fights or conflicts revolve around a child or the children. Be consistent with your parenting; if you promised aÂ negativeÂ consequenceÂ to their bad behavior, FOLLOW-THROUGH. The concept is called “tough-love” and sometimes you just have to do it, even if it breaks your heart. Â Your children already haveÂ theirÂ friends; your role, if you must choose, should be to be a parent – not a “friend” if that means letting them treat you like a peer.
3. Give the angry person some “space” instead of demanding immediate resolution of the issue. In our system of anger management, we call this tool “retreat and think things over.” Remember that different people have different nervous system and thus have different ways of dealing with stressful issues. Some people (especially teenagers) need alone time to figure things out. Give it to them, instead of escalating things by following them around the house demanding answers! You may beÂ overwhelmingÂ them.
4. De-Stress Yourself before dealing with family conflict. TheÂ simplestÂ way is to simply take in five deep breaths. It is amazing how this can calm you down. Your calmness can do a lot to de-stress other family members, too. Other suggestions would include taking a walk, listening toÂ soothingÂ music, or simply being alone for a while.
5. Be a good role model on how to handle conflicts Â as well as the anger of other family members. Don’t expect your children to handle anger well if they have no role-models in their home. Knowing how to handle humanÂ conflictsÂ that arise in all families is a skill that some people have much more than others. Think in terms of “how do we handle this conflict” and how can we parents deal with the conflict in a way that will teach our children how to do it.
In our local anger management classes, we regularly hear from clients as to what causes anger in theirÂ relationships. Recently a young woman revealed that “99% of our fights occur because my husband tried to fix what is bothering me.” At this point, the males in the class were astounded that this woman could be upset because her husband was trying to help her with a problem. After all, isn’t that what a good husband is supposed to do? Here is what happened:
Wife (who was home all day with their three young children) to husband home from work: “The kids were horrible today. I can’t get little Tommy to do his homework, Jessica is always whining and Andrea always has to get her way.”
Husband: Do you know what your problem is? Lack of organization with the kids. I have been thinking about it and here is my plan for you to solve these problems with the kids.
He then proceeds to lay out the whole plan.
Wife: (now feeling defensive because she is hearing his response as critical, demeaning and unsupportive:) “You think I haven’t thought of all those things? Do you think it is easy to parent three children? You can leave every day and get away from it and then come prancng home like a hero. That really pisses me off! ”
Husband (who is completely flummoxed at her anger because he sees his response as logical, helpful and supportive. He loves his wife and wants to help her not be so frustrated at the end of the day.He also wants to come up with new solutions so she will look up to him) : ” Well, if that is how you feel, why do you ask me for advice to begin with? I’m just trying to help!”
Wife: ” I DIDN’T ask you for advice. I was just sharing my day with you. I just wanted you to listen and also to help me with the family stress now that you are home. “
Sound familiar? This scenario and similar variations of it commonly occur in otherwise good relationships, as well as in disturbed relationships. In our society many males are taught that it is their responsibility to “fix” things that are not right in his family and in his marriage. Problem is, sometimes while he is “fixing” (and being a good guy in his own mind), he isÂ is being seen by his partner as “controlling,” invalidating, or intending to make her feel “less than.”
Often conflict can be avoided if “fixer-husbands” can learn to sometimes just listen instead of immediately jumping withÂ solution to the problem or issue. Not that they should never come with solutions; instead, they should wait until they are ASKED for solutions or help. Until then, just being supportive and empathetic to your partner’s issues can go a long way toward relationship harmony. Click on the following short video to help you understand the power of empathy in relationships.
I recently returned from Phoenix, Arizona for a visit with a high school buddy that, save for a brief visit two years ago, I had not seen for fifty years.
What an experience that was – catching up with each other’ s lives covering a half of a century!
He had heard that I had become a psychologist, butÂ he had a little trouble wrapping his mind around how he thought I would be versus how he remembered me as a 17 year old adolescent. As old friends often do, we kidded around a lot as we reminisced, after which he asked, “‘How can you be a successful psychologist seeing people with serious problems when you kid around so much?”
The answer to that question is that appropriate humor is a valid therapeutic technique that can have much therapeutic value, even with people who have quite serious problems.
As Bill Cosby said: “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything – even poverty – you can survive it. “
Comic Bob Newhart (who played a television psychologist) said: “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.”
Actually, considerable research shows that humor is a powerful strategy to lower your stress level, dissolve anger and instantly give you new ways to view situations and thus new ways to respond. Often, mood is elevated just in the process of striving to find humor in difficult and frustrating situations. Laughing at ourselves and the situation helps reveal that small things are not the earth-shaking events they sometimes seem to be. Looking at a problem from a different perspective can make it seem less formidable and thus more solvable.
As we teach in our local anger management classes, as well as our online program, humor shifts the ways in which we can think and thus opens opportunities to be more “response-able” in dealing with whateverÂ is triggering our anger – without being overwhelmed by it. As Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman and activist) observed: “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.”
Laughter can also help us release pent-up feelings of anger and frustration in socially acceptable ways; it also reduces tension because it is often followed by a state of relaxation.
So, give it a try.Â If you are truly humor-challenged, here are some suggestions to improve:
- Start collecting amusing (but tasteful) jokes that you can use to brighten the moment.
- Take anger situations and flip them to see the funny side.
- Learn to laugh at yourself; it shows you are secure about who you are and what you want.
- Try seeing the situation from a different perspective
Often, we get phone calls from parents who are angry at their children, usually because they happen to have what I euphemistically call a “strong-willed child. ” These children are often defiant, controlling, rebellious, and non-compliant with normal parental demands or requests. Sometimes this extends to their behavior in school, but in other cases they seem to be fine at school and only problematic at home. Things can become so bad that the child can be labeled an “explosive child” involving verbal and behavior aggression and even violence.Â In its extreme, these children may be given numerous psychiatric diagnoses such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intermittent explosive disorder, Tourette;s Disorder, Depression bipolar disorder, Asperger’s disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Parents of strong-willed children often feel guilty and inept. But, while parenting certainly hasd a lot to do with the milder problems within the normal range, truly explosive children are a lot more complex than previously thought and may be the result of numerous factors. An excellent book to help parents with these children is “The Explosive Child” by Dr. Ross. W. Greene. Click here to learn about his “Collaborative Problem Solving Approach.”
For cases in the more normal range,Â we teach inÂ our anger management classes and Online programsÂ how to better cope with strong-willed or difficult children by learning the eight tools of anger control – and then applying these tools to themselves too!
It was labor day when 8 year old Brandonâ€™s mother heard a commotion from her childâ€™s room. Seems that his 14 year old visiting cousin said something that upset Brandon which caused Brandon to strike the other boy. His mother Michelle hysterically called her therapist wondering what to do and how to handle the anger in her young son which seemed to be escalating as he became older.
Her therapist wisely explained that children become angry in a variety of situations. Common causes of childhood anger include: frustration, needing attention, feeling powerless, being misunderstood, not feeling good about themselves, feeling helpless, being belittled or made fun of, not having physical needs taken care of, having a parent take over instead of asking if the child wants help, being disappointed, having difficulty saying what they need, or being punished.
The problem of excessive childhood anger is growing. Yet many parentsâ€”like Michelleâ€”feel they donâ€™t have the tools to teach their children how to deal with normal angry feelings in an appropriate manner, without hitting or yelling at others, or losing control. Therefore, some parents ineffectively deal with their child’s anger by demanding that he or she stop being angry. Worse, some parents actually yell at or hit their child in attempts to â€œteachâ€ their child not to be angry. That is like putting them alone in the woods unarmed with a raging black bear to teach them not to be fearful!
Alternatively, good parenting requires teaching children the practical skills needed for anger control.Â Although feeling angry is a part of life that no one can avoid because it is â€œhardwiredâ€ in our brains as a protective and survival mechanism, we can teach our children positive ways to cope with these normal angry feelings. Learning the tools of anger management empowers children, makes them more effective and pleasant human beings, and improves the world by decreasing hatred, violence and conflict.
Following are six tips for parents to help their children manage anger, based on our model of anger management called the “eight tools of anger control”
Tip #1- TEACH HOW TO RESPOND INSTEAD OF REACT
Parents can teach their children the difference between feeling angry and acting on anger.Â Michelle explained to Brandon that feeling mad is neither good nor bad, but hitting someone out of anger is not OK. She then explained that we have choices as to how to deal with angry feelings.Â Encouraging your child to take time-out until they cool down, to keep a journal, draw, or talk out their emotions are positive outlets for feelings of anger.
Providing a means by which to channel feelings into positive actions is another tool to help your child deal with his or her angry feelings. Examples might include taking a relaxing walk, writing letters and cards, doing something nice for another person, or donating time to a worthwhile community project geared toward helping others.
In the short run, life at home will be easier when children learn how to work through anger. In the long run, children will continue developing ways to cope with anger as they become teenagers and adults, and will pass these skills along to their own children.
Tip #2- BE AWARE OF HOW YOUR CHILDREN ARE SEEING YOU
Start by setting a good example. Children learn from observing your behavior. Be aware of the messages you are sending your child in terms of how you behave toward them, how you behave toward other people, and how they see you handling your own anger and stress.
Unfortunately, some misguided parents create hatred in their children by modeling prejudice, intolerance, disrespect or violence toward other people that may be different from them or have different word views. Teaching â€œempathyâ€ (the ability to see the world from the perspective of another), openness, tolerance and understanding are extremely valuable anger-management tools to teach yourself and your children.
Tip #3-TELL CHILDREN PERSONAL STORIES OF TRIUMPH
Your children need to hear stories of how you may have overcome hardship, adversity, or other life challenges. Research shows that hearing your stories of empowerment over rough times or situations can make your children feel more attached to you, and give them more hope for themselves to be able to overcome their life difficulties. Having more optimism and developing more positive attitudes can often reduce anger in children and adults alike.
Tip #4- BE CONSISTENT IN PARENTING
At any age, anger is often generated between the gap between what is expected and what actually occurs in reality. With children, it is especially important to outline exactly what the consequences are (positive and negative) for their behaviorâ€”and then stick to it! Consistency makes children feel more secure, less anxious, and less likely to react angrily if they donâ€™t get â€œtheir own way.â€ Parental consistency between parents or other adults in your childâ€™s life is also very important to create stability and a sense of predictability.
Tip #5- REDUCE FAMILY STRESS
Coping with family stressors is an important tool of anger management, as angry outbursts are much more likely to occur as personal and family stress levels rise. There are many ways to buffer family stressors such as maintaining regular rituals for eating together, sharing the day with each other, finding time to play together, and emotionally supporting each other.
Parents can also help their children learn to calm themselves or self-sooth when angry.Â It is often helpful to calm their anger by using the five senses: touching, smelling, tasting, hearing, and seeing. Squeezing play dough, splashing in water, running around outside, listening to music, painting a picture, tensing and relaxing muscles, taking slow deep breaths, or eating a healthy snack are all good responses to angry feelings.
Children who respond well to touch can be taught how to massage their own neck or arms as a self-calming technique. These same children also may find a great deal of comfort in stroking or caring for a pet. To reduce stress, try telling your child the following:
* letâ€™s draw a picture about how you feel
* a warm bath sometimes helps wash away angry feelings
* when you feel hungry and irritable, tell me and Iâ€™ll find a snack for you
* sit down and take slow deep breaths until you have calmed down.
Tip #6 â€“ TEACH YOUR CHILD HOW TO SOLVE PROBLEMS
Parent can teach their older preschool, school-age and teenage children to problem solve as a “prevention” tool for getting angry. Michelle, for instance, taught Brandon to â€œstop and thinkâ€ the next time he was angryâ€”before losing control and striking other children. She also taught him how to listen to his cousin with both his eyes and ears, before getting upset so that he could â€œnameâ€ the problem and discuss what was upsetting him.
Turns out that Brandonâ€™s cousin had made a disparaging remark about Brandonâ€™s father who happened to be incarcerated. Once the issue was named, Michelle taught Brandon to think of different ways to solve the problem. They agreed on Brandon telling his cousin how much it hurt his feelings to hear â€œbadâ€ things about his father. As a final step, they agreed to discuss how well their planned worked in a few days.
Most children will need adult help in thinking through this process and coming up with creative problem-solving techniques, but the skills learned will serve your child well throughout his lifetime and might greatly reduce stress in you rhome.
There is no way to completely stress-guard your life, as stress is a normal part of life, growth and evolution, but scientists have discovered that developing an attitude of reducing stress as much as possible (and then actually doing the appropriate things) can put you in a health envelope, increase longevity, and promote peace in your life.
Exercise. We all know that exercise is good for us; its effect on stress and your health is considerable. Walking, running and other aerobic activities for twenty minutes three times per week has been shown to reduce stress.
Diet. A healthy venus factor diet reviews diet helps to stress-guard us in many ways, no matter what our age. Sugar intake should particularly be watched as blood sugar levels can greatly affect mood and
Sleep. Not getting enough sleepâ€”or having your sleep interrupted at the wrong times during your sleep cyclesâ€”can cause you to be very irritable the next day.
Relaxation and Meditation. Much research shows that relaxation or meditation can greatly reduce our stress and make us feel better. Simple deep breathing when tense has a great
benefit to you in reducing stress and coping with things better. Try it!
This months episode handles the topic of how to deal with a passive aggressive person. To help us understand this behavior, we interview Dr. Roselyn Laudati who helps us recognize passive aggression in ourselves and others as well as provides excellent tips on how to handle this behavior.
Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.
A recent trend seen in anger management clients is that of young mothers seeking skills to deal with anger and frustration experienced in parenting their children. Under much stress, these mothers find themselves “blowing up” at normal childhood behavior and not having the tolerance and patience they would like.
In fact, some recent parenting books are now recommending anger management for mothers who are having difficulty coping with their children. After getting angry, these mothers often feel intense guilt and shame for their behavior.
The eight tools of anger control taught in The Anger Coach classes can be of great help to these mothers. These tools include dealing better with stress, adjusting your expectations of your children, learning how to respond instead of react,and changing self-talk (your internal dialogue) to reduce anger and stress.
In a recent edition of “Stress Scoop”, research shows that happily married couples are healthier and live longer, possibly because they have less stress.
“…a recent study showed that even if spouses usually get along well, the stress caused by a brief argument can slow healing of a surgical wound by as much as a day.”
“If such a short spat in a lab can have such effects, one can only wonder what the response would be to a full-fledged fight at home lasting hours or days.”