Always Under Fire? (under fire, part 4)
Today is the final installment of “Under Fire.” How to manage when your partner (or anyone else) is angry with or is criticizing you.
In week 1, you learned how to empathize, disarm, and negotiate. In weeks 2 and 3, we took a step back and focused on what to do between arguments, so that you can be most effective next time. You learned how to examine your automatic thoughts, and you paid attention to your emotions.
Putting it all together
Now, with all of that knowledge and self-reflection, we are going to circle back around and once again, think about how to manage in the moment, when your partner is angry, but with an added method.
Use the CARS method
This method is especially good for you if your partner has a pattern of being aggressively defensive. You know what I mean, every argument is dramatic, every grievance seems monumental. You feel like you are frequently under attack, not just once in a while. And, by the way, you might not want to tell them that you think they have that pattern. Because they are not like that to be hurtful or malicious. People like this have a lot of internal stress, but they perceive it as external danger. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, and they certainly wouldn’t articulate external danger. But, truly, that is the way it feels inside to them. So, if your partner might have this pattern, this video is especially good for you. Much of what I am about to tell you comes from the work of Bill Eddy, Ph.D., who has a series of books helping people deal with what he calls, high conflict people, in a variety of situations.
Remember, best not to mention to your partner that you think they are a “high conflict” person. First off, remember the first Under Fire video. Before you start to defend yourself or negotiate, you want to make sure you connect with your partner, so you really want to empathize straightaway. Negating what they say or trying to defend yourself will only backfire. It shuts down your partner’s thinking brain and activates their threat response in their emotional brain.
Here’s What to Do-
Empathy, attention, and respect (what Bill Eddy calls EAR) will allow the thinking portion of their brain to stay open so that they will be able to actually hear what you are saying. So, empathize straightaway. “I can see how upsetting that was for you.” Make sure they know that you are paying attention. You could even say, “Tell me more.” Then let them know they have your respect. Remind them of something you like about them. Such as, “I respect how much effort you put into our relationship” or “You really put your all into parenting and I appreciate that.” You don’t have to do this. If you can’t think of anything you respect or like at that moment, don’t say anything. But if you can think of something complimentary, and can honestly tell them, it is very effective.
Eddy also has another helpful acronym- CARS, which stands for-Connect (with EAR statements) that I just mentioned.
Analyze your options in responding and in possible solutions to the problem.
Respond to your partner’s possible accusations and/or misinformation.
Set boundaries related to how you want to engage.
I am not sure he had spouses or partners in mind, when he developed this, but it would be good to use, especially if you frequently seem to have a large amount of conflict during disagreements.
Let me explain.
We already went over the C, connect with EAR statement.
A, analyze your options. This is where you step back and make a conscious choice about what to do next. If you need to, ask your partner to give you a minute, or 20, to gather your thoughts. But commit to coming back and finishing. Remember everything you learned about checking your automatic thoughts and listening to your emotions. It is a time to think, “What do I really want to get out of this argument?” and “Is it more important to be right or to be related?” It is a time to get calmer, get out of your emotional brain, and back into your rational brain.
R, respond. Now you can say your peace and correct misinformation and/or miscommunication. Remember, using phrases like, “you may be right, but I remember it this way” really helps. Another tip in your response is to focus forward. Make suggestions about how to do things in the future to avoid the same outcome. Focusing forward really helps to get out of the muck that rehashing brings. Try to come to an agreement as to what would constitute a successful outcome before you offer specific solutions.
And S, set boundaries. Things like, “I appreciate how upset you are, but I can only talk to you when you are not yelling.” Or “I cannot stay up until 2AM fighting anymore. The next time we argue, I can only do so until 10 PM. We will need to table anything unfinished until the next day.”
Please note, only use this, or any other technique if you feel safe to do so. If you are in an abusive situation, your safety is your number one priority.