Something I find all too easy in my relationships is responding to something small in an explosive way.
I don't mean physically lashing out, but instead becoming upset at what my partner said and using an emotional outburst to turn a conversation into an argument. It’s easy for me to think I’m alone in this, but I’ve come to realize it’s not uncommon to unintentionally hurt the people who are closest to us. I’ve had to learn the hard way that taking charge of my emotions in my relationship is the key to finding peace, no matter how frustrating the other person may be acting.
Let’s use a scenario for this. Say I am having a conversation with my boyfriend. He is a very logical person while I tend to be much more emotionally driven. Sometimes we have discussions in which he makes it very clear that he disagrees with what I’m saying and proceeds to present his viewpoint. Immediately I will get tense and, though the tone he used was gentle, I will respond in a much harsher tone. This often ends with me saying something to the effect of, “You always do this!” or “You never listen to my point of view!” And from there we enter an argument where I am on the offensive, and he is just confused.
The problem in this situation is easy to see once you are outside of it. There was no need for my outburst; I was merely reacting defensively with emotions that boiled up inside of me rather than calmly listening to what my boyfriend was saying. The real point of conflict comes when I react, not when he disagrees with me. It is my responsibility to take control of my reactions rather than tell him to change his actions.
"The real point of conflict comes when I react, not when he disagrees with me. It is my responsibility to take control of my reactions rather than tell him to change his actions."
No two people are exactly the same. And no matter how similar you are to your partner there are going to be differences in how you respond to situations, what you think is appropriate, and how you react to emotions. The differences aren’t bad, and they do not have to hinder your relationship in any way. But, because they are unavoidable, they do require your conscious and constant effort to understand each other and refrain from unnecessary conflict. Below are a few steps that have helped me understand and control my reactions rather than let them control me.
1) Identify what causes your outburst-related emotions.
In an article by Psychology Today called, “Take Control of Who You Are,” author Lisa Firestone states, “Couples’ interactions are complicated because partners tend to read a lot of distorted meaning into each other’s words and behavior. Most of us aren’t just dealing with what the other person is saying or doing, but with what we’re telling ourselves about what the other person is saying or doing.”
In other words, it has to do with my interpretation of what he is saying or doing. My reaction to my boyfriend’s disagreement with me is blown way out of proportion because, in my head, I am taking it out of its true context. I know him; he is a gentle person who would never want to instigate an argument with me. Yet when we disagree, I react as though he were behaving unreasonably. When I get down to it, what sparks the emotion is primarily based on my previous experiences with former friends in high school who thrived off of starting arguments. In other words, I am allowing emotional reactions rooted in former experiences to dictate my current reactions to my caring, gentle boyfriend!
2) Differentiate what goes through your mind from who your partner actually is and how they are intending to interact with you.
This, unfortunately, is something you will have to remind yourself of every time the trigger comes up again, but with time it will become easier until it is no longer a problem. Whenever you feel yourself wanting to burst out, pause and take that emotion as an internal alarm to stop and redirect yourself. One of the worst things you can do in a relationship is to speak out of anger or reaction rather than with kindness and love. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” and this certainly applies to our reactiveness towards others. The words we choose to let out of our mouth can either enhance our relationship or tear it apart. If we do not want to cause rifts, we need to take action against rift-causing behavior rather than let it slide just because it feels good to react.
3) Step back and decide what kind of person you want to be in your relationship.
Remember that we can only be responsible for our own actions in a relationship. If your true desire is to foster a godly relationship with this other person and to use your differences to glorify God, then allowing your reactive emotions into the process is counterproductive. Strong relationships are grounded in patience, peace, mutual understanding, and self-control. Take out a pen and paper, and write down all of the characteristics you want to exemplify and grow in from this relationship. What kind of partner do you want to be? How do you want to treat your partner? Do you measure up? Once you are aware of how you need to change, then pray. We can start the process, but it is God who will help us see the process through to completion. It is only by working alongside Him that we can truly glorify Him.
Jessica Brest is the current marketing and communications intern for the Center for Marriage and Relationships. She will be graduating in spring 2019 from Biola University's public relations and broadcast journalism programs. Jessica loves writing and speaking. She is deeply interested in relationships and communication strategies and loves being able to grow in her knowledge and wisdom while she works! Also, her favorite holiday is Halloween and her favorite animal is ducks!