Donna Smaldone
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Friday / September 16 / 2011

Learning the art of argument: Lesson #4: Control anger escalation

Learning the art of argument is crucial to having a healthy relationship. This series challenges and equips you to identify your art (whether you consider yourself an artist or not). Today, LESSON #4: Control anger escalation

On April 19, 2010, my friend Barbara Nemith posted the following on Facebook: “I am listening to a truly HORRIFIC fight between a married couple. It hurts to listen to. I truly feel great sadness for them. I have tears in my eyes. It makes me wonder how we let ourselves pledge love forever and still allow ourselves to get to the point where bystanders are pondering 9-1-1. I guess we forget the love.”

Notice she said nothing about what they were arguing about? The what doesn’t matter.

What a heartbreaking account of a scene I’m sure many of us have witnessed – and some of us have participated. Once you reach the point where bystanders are pondering an emergency call, neither of you is successfully communicating anything other than perhaps the buffoonery of, “I’m planning to win come hell or high water”. When you strive to hurt or wound someone with the intent of “winning”, you’ve already lost.

Relationships are shaped and molded by conflict. The reason my relationship with my husband Skip is so strong is not because of the good times but because we’ve been purposeful in learning the art of argument in the difficult times. Let’s face it, the Disneyland moments are easy.

Learning to control anger escalation is crucial. There may be times where it’s best for one of you to press “pause” by exiting the situation to cool down. Those are the arguments for which strangers consider dialing 9-1-1 and it’s best to avoid such a heightened level of no-return. Another way to press “pause” is to introduce ‘floaty talk‘.

I was first introduced to ‘floaty talk about three years into our marriage. Skip-n-I were having a heated debate and had crossed into the land of, “Bet I can insult you more cleverly than you can insult me!” I can’t remember if this was before or after our visit to the land of, “Bet I can chuck more of our stuff on the floor than you can!”

Before things became too elevated, Skip started talking to me in a very calm voice. He said something to the effect of, “I realize we’re in a no-win situation right now. Clearly I’ve hurt your feelings and I don’t want to do or say anything else to hurt you. I love you and if we can remove the heightened emotion, I think we can talk about the real issue.”

To which I responded with a warm, loving smile and something along the lines of, “You’re right, Sweetheart. Thank you so much for being such an amazing man, who cares so deeply for me and our marriage. I love you.”

Okay… perhaps it was more of a furrowed brow, a sarcastic laugh, and… “Seriously? What’s with the cutesy new voice? I’m not buying this new… floaty talk!”

And voila! ‘Floaty talk‘ was born… and named.

Fast-forward past the immaturity to the many benefits Skip-n-I have learned by practicing ‘floaty talk’ to control anger escalation:

* Calm tones are more effective than yelling; we can actually hear one another

* We use constructive words instead of demeaning words

* We’ve learned so much about each other’s heart, thought-processes, and love language

* Compromise is a shared goal, and it’s much easier to reach

* We value one another’s feelings

* Joy and pride have grown for each other as well as our marriage

* There’s a desire to say the 7 magic words

* We don’t want to waste time in heated arguments and instead are able to process the real issues

Let’s not forget the love! Let’s pledge love forever and NOT allow ourselves to get to the point where bystanders are pondering 9-1-1. As you nurture your art of argument, practice the art of Floaty Talk to learn to control anger escalation. Then share your story with us here.


Don’t miss the rest of this series:
Learning the art of argument: Lesson #1: Feelings are valid
Learning the art of argument: Lesson #2: Understand your arguing roots
Learning the art of argument: Lesson #3: Choose the right words
Learning the art of argument: Lesson #4: Control anger escalation

2 responses to “Learning the art of argument: Lesson #4: Control anger escalation”

  1. Rick says:

    Another terrific post with a lot of useful and helpful information, Donna.

    I believe that if arguing–assuming that’s the word we want to use–is done right, it can even deepen and enrich a relationship. But that’s not always the case, surely. As you write, there is an art to arguing effectively, maintaining the dignity of both parties, and taking your partnership to a more profound level.

    Chris and I have witnessed a few of these public arguments your friend wrote about on Facebook. I call them “Drama in public,” and it’s usually very uncomfortable to encounter. Do these people even know what the hell they’re doing when they argue in public, how asinine they look, and what they’ll likely have to do to recover from it later, if they can? I doubt it. They’re just in the heat of the moment.

    I’m very impressed with what Skip did during the argument you write about having with him some time ago. It takes a conscious person to understand what’s happening at the time it’s going on, to put the brakes on it, and to steer it in a different, more constructive, direction altogether. But what respect Skip showed you, and your relationship, at the time. He gets full marks from me.

    How some people can abuse, in such scathing and hurtful ways, those they’re supposed to love during arguments is beyond me. To what end? Something Oprah said on her show countless times has stayed with me: in an argument, “Do you want to be right, or do you want peace?” I choose peace. It isn’t worth being right. The price you pay for that is enormous. It could even cost your relationship.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      “Drama in public” is a great way to capture it, Rick. Too often when people are about the “individual win” (which we know is non-existent), they neglect the effect of the “relationship loss”. Very sad and unfortunately, all too common. We’ve gotten too far away from love and commitment FOREVER and more into WIIFM (what’s in it for me?)

      Skip indeed gets props for his loving nature and true desire to make our “us” better. I’m a lucky, in-love gal for certain.

      Props, too, to you-n-Chris for heeding Oprah’s advice of seeking peace instead of “being right!”

      Love, Donna

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