Anger can be like a truck barreling uncontrollably down a mountainside. Damage is going to be done to your relationship unless you immediately find a runaway-truck ramp!
Preventative measures can help keep anger from escalating. For instance, taking time for more exercise to relieve stress, or, saving difficult discussions for when you’re well rested, giving them the best chance for success. However, once you realize the truck is picking up speed and the brakes aren’t holding—you need an exit strategy.
First, identify that you’re getting heated. This seems like it should be easy enough to recognize, but if your spouse is the one pointing it out with statements like, “Why don’t you just calm down!”—you might not accept that you’re headed for trouble.
People feel emotionally overwhelmed when they enter a measurable emotional state called “flooding.” Physiologically, your body is responding to stress by releasing adrenaline into your system, draining blood from your brain to send to your major muscle groups. You are in a “fight or flight” mode without the capacity to make sound decisions! This is the place where people say and do things they regret.
How do you know when you’re flooded? One practical way is to take your resting heart rate, then add 20%. At 60 beats per minute, 20% would be 72 beats per minute. If your pulse reaches 72 bpm, there’s a good chance you’re flooded, and exiting is essential.
Plan an exit phrase with your spouse. Using a signal like, “I need to go lay down for a while. Let’s talk about this in about an hour,” gives you time to regroup without abandoning the discussion. Once you’ve exited your goal is to regain your calm.
Start with controlled breathing. Inhale deeply, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly. Do this several times to send the message to your body, “I’m OK!”
Find the tension in your body and intentionally release it. Some people get tense shoulders or a knot in their stomach, others grind their teeth. Try to increase the tension in the area that affects you by flexing those muscles for a few seconds, and then let them go as you relax.
Capture your thoughts. What were you thinking when your heart started racing? Challenge your thoughts with the question, “Is what I think about this true?”
Remember, you need to get the truck back on the road. These important topics need to be discussed, just not now. Regain your calm, gather your thoughts, and get professional help if needed.
You’ll have the opportunity to enter the on ramp with constructive conversation again soon.
You can do this!