I grew up in a house where my parents never got mad at each other. Some parents save their fights for after the kids go to bed, but my parents never actually fought – never. They were both passive, which is the anger category where you avoid conflict at all costs no matter how much it hurts you. Sometimes this can lead to the passive person inadvertently growing resentment and/or distant, but my parents never did that either. What prevented that was they had an abundance of respect and understanding of each other’s differences – yes, they were very weird. They both assumed the other was doing their best to be their best as they were both striving to please God with how they lived (being Christian has its advantages if you’re doing things right). On rare occasions, my parents would give each other suggestions, so they weren’t dangerously passive, and there was enough trust between them to help keep each other accountable. For instance, when my parents had my older sister, my dad taught my mom to use the rule of three: three strikes and you get punished (a parenting technique I highly recommend). My dad was passive, but he was a firm disciplinarian, which helped my parents not be weak with us. My mom would discipline us, but like most moms, she struggled with it because typically a mom’s natural instinct is to want to make the child happy whereas a dad’s primary goal is to make his wife happy, which makes disciplining easier for him. In my house growing up, we knew our parents were in charge, which reduced our anxiety as young kids as we knew we could rely on them to protect us if we needed – weak parenting amps up the overall anxiety. My parents were to be respected and not seen as our friends or servants like a lot of today’s weaker parents. If my dad was alive today, since I’m grown up I’d like to think we’d be friends (we’d make fun of all of the stupid things we see), but growing up, we each had our role, and my parents’ role was to raise good people and not make a friend – they already had those.
My parents were a team, and they were great at it. They definitely weren’t perfect; there’s a reason I struggle with workaholism and my sister with perfectionism. When my dad passed away in their 37th year of marriage, my mom said the biggest thing she would miss was their prayer time together. I never knew they did that, but she said it was the most intimate thing a couple can do, which I can see – sex is easy; praying together isn’t. I’ll be honest; I’m not ready to be that vulnerable yet with my wife, but hopefully one day I’ll reach that level of trust and security my parents had with each other. Until then, I have something to work towards… among many others.
Growing up in a passive household, we had an uncomfortably large conflict maybe once or twice a year, which was pretty crazy when there were five of us. I don’t know who was in more shock, my wife or I, as she was from a house that yelled at each other at least five times a day – that’s four people times five times a day. They each yelled more in one day than my family had major conflicts in a year – there’s a reason I now study fighting. On the flip side, when my family did have a conflict, it would last a few days until it would be resolved or buried while my wife’s family would recover within minutes every time they yelled. Even now with my daughters you can see this. One minute my wife will yell at them for something, and then the next, she’s hugging them and telling them how wonderful they are while I’m slower to yell, but if I do, give me space because I need a chance to calm down. (For the record, it’s good for kids to occasionally get yelled at growing up because it’ll help them know how to better handle it later in life.) Together my wife and I are a wonderful balance… now… and for the most part; we still have moments. Before we were married our differences led to us almost breaking up many times, and even today it can lead to being frustrated with each other. Add in the fact that if you have one person who is more passionate with their anger and the other limited, you can guess which one of us is more passionate about affection. Yelling and being affectionate often go hand in hand like in Spanish soap operas. Similarly, slow to anger and slow to offer affection also go together. One offers more excitement and the more boredom… I know what I give, sweet boredom.
In my teens, my dad and I had a few big conflict moments, and I remember being alone in the car screaming, “Screw you!” and trying to figure out how I could afford to move out. I didn’t know back then that screaming alone in the car is incredibly healthy because it gets the bottled up emotion out without hurting anyone or adding to the conflict. If I had yelled “Screw you!” to my dad, I wouldn’t be wondering how I could afford to move out, I would be out of the house. My parents were incredibly generous and loving to their kids, but there was no tolerance for disrespect. Maybe it was because they tried so hard and sacrificed so much for their kids that respect was demanded, but either way, they taught us how to bite our tongue and not spout stupid stuff off at each other even in our anger. My wife…
In this mixed up world where parents have forgotten their role as the disciplinarians and teachers instead of slaves of so-called happiness for their kids, it’s no wonder so many young people spout their mouths off in a fight with anyone who upsets them. My parents taught me to shut up when I’m angry or I was going to, as Russell Peter jokes, “Get hurt real bad.” Learning to shut our mouths when we’re angry is one of the most important communication rules we can learn. Realizing what our partner’s say in anger are words of emotional outbursts expressing their anger and not true words should be another.
I’m proud to say that in over fifteen years together I’ve never yelled at my wife… I’ve yelled alone in the car many times, but I’ve never yelled at her, which has saved a lot of unnecessary hurt and backlash. I’m also proud to say I’ve never said, “Screw you!” to her (largely thanks to my parents who taught me to shut up when I’m angry), but I’ve yelled that alone in the car and written it countless times in my journal. There’s a reason you never read someone’s journal: it’s an emotional dumping ground of exaggerated and untrue statements. That being said, several times I’ve had to catch myself because I was very close to saying, “Screw you!” to my wife. Between tiredness, emotional exhaustion, and my wife being really good at finding my anger buttons that she likes to tap like a hungry woodpecker, and suddenly not yelling can be very difficult.
Couples will regularly ask me how they can stop fighting so much. One of the most important rules is to have a safe word that signals a time out with a time. As we get angry, we get dumber. As I noted earlier, my wife is quick to get angry and then to calm down while I’m slow to anger, but then I explode and take a long time to recover. Between us, my role is to call the time out and my wife’s role is to help us get back to normal. We both have our roles based on how we handle anger. I can’t resent her for making me be the one calling the time outs and she can’t resent me for being slow to recover because that’s part of who we are. Some things can’t be change, and only accepted and handled properly.
The most important part of the time out being called is having a time for when you return. You can have a pre-set time, so you give the safe word and you just know or you can make the safe word a time like “Five!” People have asked, “What if the other person doesn’t stop even when I say a time?” The answer is simple: Run! If a person is so caught up in the moment that after you call a time out, they don’t stop, you have to run away. Staying there will only lead to hurt. If your partner will walk up to you, drop a bombshell, and before you can respond, they call a time out, you have to give them that time out. They’re being a jerk, but you need to follow it. When you return after the time out, however, you can ask, “Did you purposely call a time out after you said your piece so I wouldn’t get to respond or did I misread that situation?” Notice the two options in the question? The two options are very important, and so is the best non accusatory tone you can muster. You don’t want to assume your partner is a jerk just like you don’t want to become a jerk like they appeared to be.
As far as the calm down period, my rule is five to fifteen minutes for smaller issues. That’s all you should need for screaming in a pillow, punching the bed, doing push ups, doing jumping jacks, or some type of explosive action to burn off your anger energy enough to return to talking. If it’s close to bed or one of you is really tired, you’ll want to wait until the next day when you’re rested because there’s no point talking to someone when they’re hungry, tried, or in too much pain to think properly. Beyond calming down enough to talk, some people will take a few days to a week to recover from the situation, but that’s way too much time lost to emotion. As a slow to recover from a conflict person, my rule is a day. Going to bed should be like unplugging the modem for 12 seconds – you should be reset for the next day. If you’re just as angry the next day, you are allowing yourself to build the situation up bigger than you should or you have past hurt you need to work on letting go… or you just suck at love because love is patient, kind, and self-controlled.
Ideally, when you come together after a time out you want to summarize two things in one sentence each: What made you angry (to help prevent in the future) and what is the goal for this conversation. This can be tricky without some guidance and/or practice, but it is what we should being aiming toward to prevent the time out being just a pause in the fight.
Couples also need to remember women typically want to talk it out while guys want to bury it and move on. This is largely because when couples “talk,” the guy ends up feeling criticized and made to feel like he’s not good enough and/or to blame for the fight while she’s innocent. Whether it’s happening or not, that’s almost always why a guy doesn’t want to talk with his wife about a conflict.
There are other tools for eliminating couples saying “Screw you!” to each other, but the main rule is saying “Screw you!” should be avoided at all costs. The second rule is you need to figure out what your partner is doing that sparks you wanting to say that. It’s always 50% your fault if you yell or receive someone yelling. As Brittany Spears taught, “You’re not that innocent.”
This week may you consider how you can reduce the temptation to say or receive “Screw you” in your relationship.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)