One of the most important skills you need in marriage or in a relationship is how to stop an argument from escalating into an angry shouting match. If only one partner gets angry or loses their temper, it is much less likely the disagreement will escalate into a major blowout. That means less damage to the relationship and fewer bruised feelings and resentments on both sides.
You can’t stop your spouse or partner from getting angry – you have zero control over the emotions of another human being. But you do have control over your own state of mind and your own emotional responses. And even though you are just one half of your marriage, you will find that you can influence how serious an argument becomes simply by learning a few techniques to control your own temper.
Here are some techniques to consider in controlling your own temper, even when your spouse loses theirs.
1. Take a Moment to Think Before You Speak
The old advice your parents gave you about counting to ten before saying something is absolutely true. If your spouse loses their temper and yells something at you, the temptation is to reply immediately without thinking.
But usually that is just like pouring gasoline on a flame – you get a big explosion. Instead of replying at once, try taking a second to process what you’ve just heard, and to think of what you’re going to say back. Really count to ten, if that helps, or to a hundred.
If you can learn to use this brief pause, you will find that it keeps you calmer. You’re actually thinking about what you are saying, rather than just responding blindly and unthinkingly. You will not only help keep your partner from getting angry, but you will also keep yourself calmer.
2. Walk Away If You Need to
Children can teach us a lot about regaining our composure when we’ve lost our tempers. When a child is angry and throws a tantrum, often they do it because they simply lack the adult self-control to calm themselves down again. Unfortunately, some adults also lack this self-control.
If you feel yourself about to blow your top during an argument with your spouse, take a break. Leave the room for a few minutes. That is far better than just escalating the fight by shouting something cruel.
Just say (if you can say anything) that you need a minute to calm down and that you’ll resume the discussion when you’ve had a break. Be respectful.
3. Discuss Difficult Subjects When You’re Calm
If either you or your partner are angry, that’s not a good time to discuss important or difficult subjects. Learn what “hot button” issues trigger both of you and work to avoid them. Sometimes, setting a regular schedule for such discussions, whether about money, chores or whatever else, will drain some of the passion from them.
Have a monthly “meeting” where you talk about money or something else that causes you stress. This is much better than shouting at each other about it during a fight.
You may not look forward to this monthly meeting, but at least you will know it is on the schedule and you will be calmer when it comes.
4. Take care of yourself, physically and emotionally
Keeping yourself healthy, both physically and emotionally, is a great way to head off anger. Be sure you eat well, exercise, and get some time for yourself periodically.
Watch out for when you’re feeling “HALT” – hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Take time to eat, calm down, talk to a friend, or get some rest before you resume a difficult discussion with your spouse.
Exercise is a great way to release stress and tension in a healthy way that doesn’t have toxic effects on the people around you. Taking a walk every day, or a bike ride where you get out in the fresh air and sunshine, will change your perspective on many things.
Making these sorts of healthy activities a normal part of your life will make it much less likely that you yourself will “blow up” inappropriately with your spouse. If you’re more serious about this, find some time for regular meditation during which you clear your mind and focus on your breathing.
Meditation can give you a healthier perspective on your life and make many of your problems seem less serious.
5. Don’t Take Your Partner for Granted
Often our worst fights are with the people closest to us, the ones we love the most. Keeping your marriage physically and emotionally healthy is as important as doing those things for yourself. Remind yourself regularly how much you love and respect your spouse, and keep the connection between you alive and strong.
Falling into the kind of rut where you and your spouse behave like business partners more than people who love each other is a common problem, and a very unhealthy one.
By working together to keep a strong, lively bond between you, you will be able to change your perspective on the problems you have to face. That will make it easier for you to keep your temper.
6. Cultivate a Sense of Humour
Figure out how to laugh at yourself and at the common problems you share with your spouse and friends. This is not something that may work in the heat of the moment – bursting into laughter during an argument with your spouse may backfire and cause them to get angrier – but a sense of humour is a great gift to you when it comes to seeing your difficulties in the proper perspective.
Talk to your friends about how they’ve handled anger in their relationships. Realizing that other couples wrestle with the same problems may make them easier to bear yourself. Again, this change of perspective will help you keep from losing your own temper.