I can yell louder than you!
John and Sue each held the remote that could trigger each other’s anger in a heartbeat. Their fights were sometimes about serious issues like parenting their children or how to budget their money, but more often were about small stuff.Leaving a dirty dish on the counter, failure to take out the garbage on time, not turning off the lights, even as small as where the toothpaste was squeezed could erupt into loud threatening arguments full of threats, ultimatums and character assaults. Sometimes these testy debates would be in front of the children who would run and hide or try to get between their parents to tell them to stop fighting!
Their fights could sometimes go on for hours, days and longer.
I call this an aggressive-aggressive style of conflict. If you and your partner are on this side of the Relationship Conflict Scale © *, you have little or no filters on what you express. The conflict could feel like open warfare, with mean and at times abusive threats, blaming, putdowns, name-calling, criticisms, swearing, power-trips, controlling behavior, etc…Fights can be loud, scary and out of control. You may often blame others for your anger. The risk of physical fights, violence and abuse increases. Your children will often experience a great deal of anxiety when hearing your fights and arguments.
Aggressive styles of fighting are on a continuum of mild to severe. Learning to manage your fighting and deciding to limit open conflict in front of children, while restarting communication, can prevent this style of communication from destroying your relationship and family.
What can you do and where do you start?
1. You must decide that you have had enough of this conflict! You can start by becoming aware of what this aggressive style of conflict is doing to your emotional and physical health as well as that of your children. Even if just one of you decides that you have had enough, you start a change process. You must begin by taking responsibility for your part of your conflict.
2. Learn to Disengage. **see Rules for Taking a Time Out
When I send warring couples home from our counseling sessions with the sole task of not fighting, I have them temporarily lower and or drop all expectations of their partner for at least a week. Even though couples may not have started actually listening and talking with each other in a productive way, they are often relieved that they are able to manage their conflict if even for a short period of time. Dropping expectations of your partner may take work on your part.
3. Identify what triggers your anger. Your triggers are often tied to your expectations. What does your partner do or not do, that you allow to push your anger buttons? Instead of constantly trying to change your partner by blame, yelling and screaming which often does not work, you can feel the power of learning to not let his behavior drive you crazy! This will take a shift in thinking and behavior as well as practice on your part. Some partners may need anger management assistance. * See Step 1 Couples Home Study Course
4. Learn to listen and talk. As simple as this sounds, it is the most difficult, but most possible. Many fights among couples start because anger and conflict have replaced listening to each other. Really hearing and expressing yourself openly with your partner without judgment, blame and criticism forms the basis of a connection between people. This is where real feelings and thoughts can be expressed. Under all the fighting is a huge hunger and desire to be heard and understood.
If you are finding this too difficult to do on your own, you may need to seek out third party help
Relationships that develop and meet needs learn to manage their conflict and restart communication again and again each time they get stuck. Relationships that don’t, usually end staying stuck with more distance and space…sometimes permanently.
*Relationship Conflict Scale, pg. 11 Taking Space – How To Use Separation To Explore The Future Of Your Relationship and Couples Home Study Course – Steps 1 & 2.
** see Rules for Taking a Time Out pg. 16 Taking Space – How To Use Separation To Explore The Future Of Your Relationship and Couples Home Study Course – Steps 1 & 2.