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The 8 Peace Practices
1. Breathing Exercise
2. Anchoring Technique
3. De-escalating Techniques
5. Challenging a Thought
6. Dismissing a Thought
7. 10-10-10 Rule
8. Your Divorce Story
When emotions are running high, a fight with your spouse can erupt out of nowhere and take on a life of its own. Just because your spouse is getting amped up doesn’t mean you have to match the level of aggression. You can de-escalate the intensity of the anger and bring the volatility to a level that will allow the two of you to process an issue or solve a problem.
Anger is like an onion. It has many layers. The top layer is the anger you’re seeing: the angry words, gestures, and tone. But underneath is something more tender: fear, love, or sadness. So when your spouse is angry, listen for what’s underneath the words. “You are really trying to rip me off in this divorce” probably means “I’m scared that I won’t be financially secure afterward.” And “You’re such a monster” probably means “I can’t believe we’ve come to this. I thought we’d be in love forever.”
Telling someone to “calm down” is probably the least effective way to get someone who’s upset to calm down, In fact, saying anything judgmental or negative about your spouse’s composure (“Don’t you dare talk to me like that!”) is definitely not a de-escalation technique. Neither is “I can see you are very upset, so let’s come back to this when you can calm down.”
When your spouse yells at you, most of what she says is likely exaggerated or simply not true. “You never paid attention to me” or “You always spent way too much money” is an irrational generalization. Nobody does something “never” or “always.” And when you peel back the onion, the real hurt comes through. “You never paid attention to me” becomes “Am I that unlovable?” and “You always spent way too much money” becomes “I’m terrified that our money mismanagement is going to affect our financial security.”
To de-escalate the situation, try any of the following techniques:
Listen. Just sit and listen, allowing your spouse to vent. Sometimes that’s all he needs. Let him go on with his diatribe and get it all out of his system. Let your spouse know you aren’t going to attack back, by saying, “Okay. Go on.” Nod your head in agreement. The goal in listening is to allow the anger to run its course and eventually sputter out. As you listen, be cautious not to appear patronizing or insincere since that will escalate the situation.
Agree. Try to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and understand why she is angry. Calmly say, “I can see why you are so mad. That would make me mad, too.” Even if you think that your behavior that prompted your spouse’s anger was justified, you should try to understand and acknowledge why your spouse might have a different interpretation of the situation. You want to show your spouse that you know she has a right to express anger, and that you understand that there are different ways of looking at a problem. Most important, you need to get underneath the anger to deal with what is really going on.
Say, “I’m sorry.” You can say you are sorry without assuming all the blame for your spouse’s anger. If your spouse is angry at you for something you did, apologize right away, even if you feel you have a legitimate excuse and didn’t mean any harm. You can deal with the particulars once he calms down. Saying, “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt when I didn’t tell you I introduced my new boyfriend to the girls” is not an apology that will diffuse an argument. Rather, saying, “I’m sorry I introduced my new boyfriend to the girls without talking to you first; that was a mistake” clearly demonstrates your efforts at collaboration.
Invite criticism. Say “Is there anything else? I really want to get to the bottom of this. What else have I done to upset you?” Wring the complaint dry. Be respectful, not taunting. You really want to exhaust the list so that you can be done with this issue, hopefully forever. Chances are you did do something that your spouse took too personally, which caused her to get angry. It is a brave act on your part to invite criticism, and it will allow your spouse to get all the issues out in the open. They are bound to come out at some point anyway.
Both of you will have anger, disappointment, fear, and other strong emotions to deal with during this process. How well you and your children will adjust to your divorce is directly related to how well you and your spouse deal with these feelings. If you deal with anger using these techniques, over time your spouse’s attacks and anger will either diffuse and become less frequent, or they’ll stop bothering you. Either way, you will unilaterally change the dynamic. And changing ugly dynamics is key to a divorce that successfully lets you move on into your new life.
Diana Mercer, Esq. is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services in Los Angeles, California ( www.peace-talks.com ). A veteran litigator, she now devotes her practice solely to mediation. Outgoing and down-to-earth, she makes clients and attorneys feel at ease in solving family law disputes, divorces, custody, premarital agreements and estate planning conflicts. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010) www.makingdivorcework.com/buybook.html and Your Divorce Advisor (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and writes for the Huffington Post www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-mercer as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work makingdivorceworkblog.com. She is the co-author of Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Fireside 2001). She's an Advanced Practitioner Member of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) and is admitted to practice law in California, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and before the Supreme Court of the United States.
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