Consider a Controlled Burn: How to Manage Anger in an Argument

My wife and I are members of the Morton Arboretum.  Over the years we have logged many miles walking the beautifully landscaped paths, finding something interesting in  every season.  Recently on a spring walk, I took this picture of a controlled burn that is conducted annually in designated areas.  To the casual onlooker the aftermath of the burn, a ground cover of smoldering ash, may suggest something afoul occurred.  Actually, the burn was intentional, planned to unearth the healthiest vegetation the environment can offer.  Controlled, or prescribed burns are designed to prevent major wildfires and to enhance growth in the ecosystem. As we walked that morning I thought about how often couples have wildfire arguments that do a lot of damage to their relationship (and family if they have kids).  Couples who don’t know how to resolve their conflicts, tend to let them accumulate, much like fallen leaves settle on the ground over seasons.  When something finally ignites the residue of past conflicts, an intense conflict occurs.  Anger flares out of control and individuals say and do things that inflict harm on one another.  The aftermath of a wildfire conflict is devastation, and sometimes the innocent (children) are hurt in the process.  Wildfire conflicts are unnecessary if couples learn how to manage their anger and resolve their conflicts successfully, together. In my work with couples I often say, “either you manage your conflicts or your conflicts manage you.”  The same principle applies to anger; you have to learn how to control it.  Men often state that they avoid conflicts because they fear how they will react in anger.  However, this strategy does not work because the conflicts build and eventually the guy explodes in anger.  This is not a gender-specific problem.  Women also struggle managing their emotions in conflict.  The combination of two people out-of-control emotionally will produce a wildfire argument.  A controlled burn is a safer, healthier option. Here’s some tips on how to conduct a controlled burn:

Manage your emotions so you can express them carefully

Take deep breaths while you count to ten.  This will relax your mind & body. Use “I statements” to make your point.  “I became angry when…” vs. “You made me angry when…” Take yoga or other body/mind relaxation courses to develop good habits. Seek counseling as a means to learn anger management skills.

Confront the problem early before it accumulates over time

Avoiding issues in a marriage only makes them harder to resolve over time. Be willing to listen to your partner’s perspective on the issue. When an offense occurs, repair it immediately.  Say you’re sorry.

Establish clear boundaries as you address the conflict

Be sure that the time is convenient for both. Avoid discussing conflicts while you multi-tasking. Do not stockpile other conflicts on top of the current one. Focus on the problem, not the person.

Seek mutually respectful outcomes

Consider your partner’s needs as important as yours. Affirm each other’s right to express their point of view. Work together to reach win-win outcomes.

3 Benefits of Managing Anger in an Argument

NATURE PIC1. Controlled burns are a safe and effective means of resolving conflicts and building a healthy relationship. 2. Unpleasant emotions like anger or frustration are expressed in a controlled, respectful manner, minimizing the risk of harm. 3. Problems are resolved quickly and relationships within the family blossom. If you are hampered by wildfire conflicts and can’t seem to stop the cycle, I recommend you contact me.  I enjoy helping individuals and couples learn how to do controlled burns.  The outcome, like this other springtime picture depicts, is beautiful.