Can’t change your partner? Try Looking in The Mirror!
Posted Sep 17 2010 3:33pm
Anger is an emotion. But, angry emotions often trigger a specific behavior (like yelling, throwing things, hitting, insulting someone, etc) which causes problems for you either at home, at work, on the road, or in your family. Most people in our anger classes tell us that one of the reasons they exhibit the angry behavior is because they want to change someone or something, they want somebody to think a certain way (or not) or to do something (or not).
That is another way of saying that the angry person is trying to somehow “influence” the behavior or thinking of another. Unfortunately, angry behavior usually does not work; even if it does, the cost is so high that it almost always just isn’t worth it. We teach that there are better ways to influence others without getting angry or antagonizing others. But, where to start?
Questions to ask yourself: The place to start is by looking in the mirror. As painful as it might be, ask yourself if you are behaving in ways that increase the probability of getting what you need and want from your partner? In other words, you have a lot more influence than you might think in terms of getting different responses from your partner. Ask yourself, how do other partners behave that do get what they want or need? (I know what you are thinking: “The reason they get more of what they need is because they have a better partner.” That may be true, or partially true, but it also may not be. So, better to first ask, “Do I behave like people that do get more of what they want or need ” and then see what happens if you change.
Case study Jose and Maria have been married for ten years. Jose has his own business; Maria is a stay- at- home mom. Jose sees Maria as lazy because she often does not prepare meals regularly, she does not clean the house up to Jose’s standards, and she often is too exhausted to do fun things in the evenings. Worse, according to Jose, Maria rarely ackowledges his great contributions to the marriage (he is very successful in business, and he is a good dad) ), she rarely shows affection, and praise of any kind is very rarely given.
Jose handles his frustration by yelling at Maria, calling her horrible names related to laziness, and accusing her of using a diagnosis of depression as an excuse for not doing the things, in his mind, she should be doing. As I asked Jose in one of our sessions, what does he think the probability is of getting her to do more around the house by yelling, calling her names, and criticizing? Research shows, I told him, that yelling, name-calling and criticizing decreases the probability of change in partners.
Jose decided to try to change things by applying the tool of Respond Instead of React (The third tool of anger management in our system- Video; Respond Instead of React ). Next morning, the kids were screaming, he needed help and his wife was still in bed. But, instead of yelling at her as usual, he went upstairs and calmly told her, “Honey, I need your help. I am overwhelmed down here.” Guess what? Maria at first did not stir, but five minutes later she came down the stairs and pitched in. Now this was not an earth-shaking change, but it was a start and it meant a lot to Jose.
There are ways to influence the behavior of someone that work much better than other ways. These ways can be called “relationship habits.” Just like you should copy the golf swings habits of golf champions if you want to improve your golf game, or the financial habits of very successful people if you want more financial success, you should copy the habits of those that may be more successful in relationships than you may be. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks- and often they should!