How to Control Your Anger: Retreat and Think Things over

Jim and Mary Jones loved each other deeply, but often went into horrific verbal battles over any number of issues. They would argue and yell for hours, often into the night, leaving both of them exhausted, emotionally disconnected, hurt and resentful toward each other.

FightingBoth became so upset they were flooded with negative feelings which prevented their being able to repair the damage, to think rationally, or to problem-solve the issues at hand.

Much of this emotional suffering could have been prevented or least minimized had they learned anger control tool #8:

—“Retreat and Think Things Over.”

Basically this means to temporarily distance yourself from the situation for a period of time so that both of you can calm down. This allows your bodily systems to return to normal, and allows your normally good reasoning and thinking ability to return.

Easier Said Than Done

Yes, it is much easier said than done. It is one of those tools that sounds deceptively simple, yet it is by no means easy to do for at least two reasons:

There is a common myth that all relationship conflicts should be “settled” in the moment while the intense feelings are present. If you do not do this, you may be accused of “avoiding” the issue.

Once stress or anger levels escalate to a certain point, one or both partners reach a point of no-return, due to flooding of the brain with intense emotions. This makes it almost impossible to disengage from each other and stop the fight.

Heed these Warning Signs

You know it is time to Retreat and Think Things Over when you are:

• Feeling overwhelmed during an argument
• Raising your voice to an unusual level
• Feeling your temper is out of control
• You notice your heart racing
• Sense your muscles tensing
• Can’t think straight and you start to feel hostile.

Why this tool works

Temporarily removing yourself from the situation allows your body to return to normal, provides a cooling-down time. It also allows your brain to return to its normal state where you can reason and think better.

This tool helps prevents you or your partner from saying unfair or hurtful things in the heat of battle—which can easily escalate into further conflicts and resentments, causing you and your partner to become even more emotionally cut-off and distanced from each other.

Some Basic Rules

While the concept of “Retreat and Think Things Over” is simple, it will not work very well unless the following rules are

Rule #1: You can only use the tool for yourself - not your partner. It does not usually work for you to tell your partner it is time for them to retreat.

Rule #2: Announce that you need to take a time out and Retreat before you do it. This should be done using assertive communication in a way that clearly conveys your need to leave before thing get out of hand, as opposed to your leaving to merely avoid dealing with the situation.

Rule #3- You need to commit to a reasonable length of time to return and deal with the issue— no longer than several hours, as a general rule.

Rule #4: Don’t drink or use drugs to get high during this time. It will be much harder, if not impossible, to convince your partner of your sincerity in wanting to work things out if you return intoxicated or high.

Rule #5: Be very careful and very selective in who you talk to during your Retreat Time. While there is a natural tendency to contact a friend or family member who is sympathetic, you should be careful.

Why is this important? Because they may have a permanently negative view of your partner, even after you have made-up and things are now fixed in the relationship.You can’t necessarily expect your family to turn the positive emotions back on like you have.

Temporarily removing yourself from the situation allows your body and mind to return to normal, allowing your normally good reasoning to return.

Dr. Tony Fiore

After graduating from Purdue University in 1972, he has been active in both community mental health, the private practice of psychology, and teaching, coaching and writing for over 30 years. He has completed numerous certificate programs including Human Sexuality at UCLA, Personal Coaching at the Life Coaching Institute, and Anger Management at the Anderson and Anderson program. To add to his experience and training in conflict resolution, he has also received advanced training in Marital Therapy at the Gottman Institute in Seattle, Washington and he is a certified group leader in the Keeping Love Alive Program by Michele Weiner-Davis.

Dr. Tony Fiore is a California licensed psychologist (Lic Number PSY6670), trained marriage therapist, coach, anger management expert, and author. He has worked with hundreds of couples and individuals in his clinical practice and has taught nearly 1000 anger management classes in southern California since 2002. With a partner, he had co-authored several widely-used books on anger management based on a model of anger management which is now taught to hundreds of other professionals across the country.

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