More often than not, they're wrong.
Aggression has a job, and in certain arenas can be positive. Those arenas are not your intimate relationships. Aggression is separation and it is domination, it's job is to take up space, grab the powerful position, and convince the other person to back down. That's fine if you're playing sports, or negotiating a contract.
In relationships, however, what we ultimately want is closeness and connection. Aggression will kill any chance you have of that.
Step One: Recognizing Aggression
Here is a list ( in no way comprehensive) of how you may be showing aggression:
- Sustained eye contact
- Unilateral Withdrawal (whether you are leaving the conversation or leaving the room)
- Body language: balling fists, bowing chest, looming, eye rolling, puffing breath, large or rapid movements
- Violence: pushing, grabbing, striking, or throwing/breaking objects
- Criticism or Defensiveness
- Verbal or Vocal Contempt: sarcasm, name-calling, character assassination, over-generalization, High-Low arguments, interruptions (cutting-off), talking-over
- Passive Aggression: verbal jabs or zingers, revenge
If you really want to know what you do, ask your partner. They will probably be able to make a list much faster and more thoroughly than you. They, after all, have a front row seat to it every time you get angry or frustrated.
If you find yourself wanting to argue with their list ( I do not say it that way! or That's not aggression!), don't! Decide right now that you will accept what they say as true. Even if it isn't perfectly true, that's how they perceive it, and that is what will make the difference in your relationship.
Work with your partner to come up with a non-threatening signal that either you or your partner can use to communicate the recognition of aggression.
Step Two: Take a Collaborative Break
Aggression is often the strategy of choice when you are experiencing flooding (Diffuse Physiological Arousal). Simply put, your brain has interpreted a situation as threatening and is preparing you for a possible emergency (the fight or flight response). That moment in the argument when someone throws gas on the fire? This is what we're talking about.
The thing is, when you're flooded, your brain isn't firing on all cylinders. It is really easy to mess things up and really hard to incorporate new skills. You are less likely to believe your partner if they say you're being aggressive (you are), and a lot less likely to care.
So what's the answer? Take a break. Calm down. Do some physiological self-soothing. Come back together and do something to repair or reconnect. Then, if it makes sense, try that communication again. If it feels too challenging, set an appointment to discuss it later.
Step Three: Physiological Self-Soothing
There are many ways to accomplish this, and not every way works for everybody. For some, a distracting show or video game is ideal. For others, that is an ideal opportunity for rumination and increased stress.
I am a big fan of a change in scenery and a mindful connection to the present moment. Take a walk, take a drive, go to another room and shut the door. It doesn't matter, but definitely get out of each others faces -- and no talking until the break is over!
Now that you're alone, start taking some very slow, very deep breaths. No need to count them, but turn your attention to the physical sensation of breathing. What does it feel like to breathe in and to breathe out? Do this 10 or 20 times. Then check in with yourself, do you feel calm? If not, do it again. If so, great, but you still need to stay separate and do something calming for the rest of the break. Don't go back early.
This sounds stupidly simple, but it's not that easy. Your brain will let you pay attention to your breath for about 2 seconds, then it will interject something. You'll remember something she said, or you'll start to rehearse how the next conversation will go. That's ok, but stop doing that and turn your attention back to your breath. Two more seconds go by and you're right back in that rehearsal or you're just wandering. Stop. Turn your attention back to your breath. Do this over and over again.
If you are having a lot of negative thoughts and feelings toward your partner, consciously bring to mind your favorite memory of them, or their best traits, or what you love most about them. Force your brain to think of them positively and with compassion.
Step Four: Try Again Without The Problematic Behavior
Whatever you were doing, now try the opposite.
Step Five: Repeat
If you find this challenging, don't be afraid to get some help. Anger and stress management are the two most common reasons men seek therapy. You're not crazy, there's nothing wrong with you. You just have some strategies for getting your needs met that aren't working for you.
I can help you change that.