Valentine's Day is this weekend, and spring is around the corner. Leo Tolstoy once said, "Spring is the time of plans and projects." According to FindLaw.com, the month of March coiincides not only with fortunate plans and projects but also with the unfortunate peaking of divorces.
Because remarriages don't tend to improve divorce rates, many couples opt to save their hard-earned existing relationships through embarking upon a course of couples therapy. Couples therapy often teaches couples to understand their conflicts and resolve them more successfully.
Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) can be one tool in your relationship toolbox, helping you and your partner to diminish anger and resolve your conflicts more successfully. In some cases, improved conflict resolution may lead to fruitful communication and more loving actions, ultimately helping a couple to avoid divorce.
Indeed, anger often divides couples who don't understand its role in perpetuating conflict. REBT encourages couples to not only notice an angry feeling but also to use it as a signal to revise anger-inducing beliefs (known as demands) that lead to unhelpful behavior. REBT encourages resolving demands before attempting to settle a conflict. Once beliefs are rationally revised, couples can reapproach their relationship more calmly, in the spirit of mutually respectful communication and cooperative problem solving.
Here are 12 Steps from REBT that you can start using to reduce angry conflicts and avoid divorce:
1. Use your anger as a signal. When you feel angry, it is a signal that you have an expectation/should/demand. The demand can be in the form of a "should" or "should not" thought (you shouldn't have said that, you should have done that, or why did you do this/why didn't you do that?), and the demand leads to the anger you're feeling.
2. Pay attention to "why" questions. Often, "why" questions are just masked demands in that they are rhetorical. When you say, "Why didn't you call me," you may have a hidden demand such as, "You should have called me."
3. Honor the healthy part—your rational preference. Underneath your demand is a healthy preference/wish/desire. It usually takes the form of wanting, wishing, preferring, etc. (I wish you would have said this, or I want you to do that.)
4. Refrain from solving it until you're calm. Angry feelings often lead us to behave in less productive ways that don't help us reach the real goal that is underneath the demand.
5. Pay attention to what your anger triggers in your partner. Is your thinking and resultant anger leading to the productive problem solving that you really desire?
(a) Does it contribute to more conflict? When one of you approaches the other in anger, your partner may think, "You shouldn't get angry at me." This type of thinking leads to your partner feeling defensive. In defensivenes, your partner may actually turn this onto you. In other words, they put a should on you. (You shouldn't be angry at me, or Why are you getting so angry?)
(b) Does your partner panic? When one of you approaches the other in anger, the other may think, "Something bad is going to happen." This type of thinking may stem from your partner's history with his or her family of origin, past partners, or from his or her history with you. It often leads to anxiety, and your partner may become panicky and react in a less than productive fashion.
(c) Does it contribute to your partner becoming more emotional? When one of you approaches the other in anger, the other may think, "I'm disappointing you. I'm bad." This type of thinking may lead your partner to feel shameful, guilty, and depressed. These types of emotions often lead people to turn off their coping and retract or retreat.
6. Underneath your partner's irrational anger, there is a rational preference. Your partner may wish you understood his or her real feelings, wish you'd be more patient, wish for your help/approval/support, or wish for greater connection. These types of desires may hide underneath demanding attitudes that are left unexplored.
7. So, the best thing is usually to start by shifting out of your own anger. When possible, give yourself time to shift out of your own anger. Coming back to the topic with your preference in mind can be like working on a goal—you know what you're up to and you remain calm.
8. If you feel angry again, call a time-out; use REBT before proceeding. Notice when you feel angry and revise your demand using REBT.
9. Return to the conversation when you are no longer angry. When you are able to express what you want as a preference, and when you can find a way to peace without getting everything you want, you're on the right track.
10. Accept that disappointment is a part of working through conflict. Just because you want something and ask for it, it doesn't mean that your partner will want to do exactly as you want.
11. Problem solve until there's a compromise you can both graciously accept.
12. Practice high frustration tolerance. High frustration tolerance looks like patience to others. What high frustration tolerance means in REBT is that you will focus upon the long-range fulfillment of your goal to have a more peaceful and happy relationship, rather than quick fixes (short-range hedonism).
For greater success in conflict resolution, learn to understand your own anger, respond appropriately, and resolve conflicts from a non-angry stance. Visualize the peaceful and harmonious relationship you're creating through your patience and perserverence.
Once you've achieved a succesful resolution to your conflict, REBT encourages couples to take behavioral steps to reinforce each other for their good work. For example, you can both schedule a time together where you play, have fun, and relax with each other. You can communicate positive feelings and compliment behaviors that were helpful. This fuels the relationship and adds momentum to what is working!
If you want to be able to approach the stresses of life as a team, learning to respond appropriately to each other's anger (and your own) can be an important first step. Some couples also find that couples therapy reinforces this process, teaching them to resolve longer-standing challenges, including coping with conflict.