“Dr. Fiore,” voice on phone pleaded, “I need anger management classes right away. I blew up at my girlfriend last night and she said it’s over until I get help.”
As Kevin recounted first night of class, he and his girlfriend had argued in car over which route to take home from a party. Events progressed from mild irritation, to yelling and name calling.
Things escalated at home. He tried to escape, but she followed him from room to room, demanding resolution of conflict. He became angry, defensive and intimidating.
Frightened, she left. Later, she left an anguished message saying that she loved him, but couldn't deal with his angry, hurtful outbursts.
Kevin said that he normally is a very “nice” and friendly person. But, on this occasion, his girlfriend had been drinking before party. In his view, she was irrational, and non-stop in criticism. He tried to reason with her, but it just made things worse. Finally, as Kevin saw things, in desperation he “lost it” and became enraged.
How should Kevin have handled this situation? What could he have done differently? What actions should you take in similar situations?
Option 1: Time-out Take a 20 minute time-out (but commit to returning later to work on issue). Take a walk. Calm yourself down. Breath deeply. Meditate. Do something else for awhile. New research by John Gottman, Ph.D., at University of Washington indicates that when you and your partner argue, your pulse rate goes above 100 beats per minute, and you enter a physiological state called DPA (diffuse physiological arousal). Once there, it becomes nearly impossible to solve problem. You lose perspective. Your reasoning ability, memory, and judgment, greatly decline.
Taking a time-out allows both of you to return to your normal state of mind.
It is neither healthy or necessary for you to explode as a result of being provoked by your partner. Our recommendation: Turn heat down rather than intensifying pressure.
Option 2: Interact differently Many couples like Keith and his partner develop patterns of behavior that create miscommunication and conflict. Do you interact in one, or more, of these ways? Inattention - simply ignoring your partner when you shouldn’t. This is also called stonewalling, or being emotionally unavailable when your partner needs you, or not speaking to your partner for long periods because you are upset with them.