Editor's note: Today's article was assembled from content on Coaching with Dr. Ann. Used with permission.

Get mad?

Of course we do!  We all do.  It’s a basic fact of living within 50 yards of any other human being.  And even if we were all hermits, we’d probably still find something to get mad at ourselves for.

So what do you do when you get mad with someone who matters in your life?  Maybe it’s someone in your family or someone at work who you simply can’t avoid.

The first thing to know is that anger is not all bad.  In fact, it can be an important signal, because it lets us know something can be improved in the relationship.

Being angry doesn’t mean, by the way, that the other person is wrong.  It just means that something is wrong – we don’t know what yet!

And that gives us a chance to respond in two ways: wisely, or not-so-wisely.

None of us bats 1000 every time. I can point to myself as Exhibit A to prove it!  But in every situation, there are wiser steps we can take to handle conflict in a healthy way.

Today, let’s look at a first key step.

The first rush of anger usually brings along a guest, which is the physiological outpouring of adrenaline to gear us up for a good fight.  That’s helpful if you need to go into mortal combat.  However, for most of us, the rush of adrenaline seems only to contribute to rash decisions and poorly chosen words.

So the first step to take when you are angry is: to take a step back.

Now you can step back to make war, as in, “That’s it!  I don’t want to deal with you and your rubbish for one second more!”  Or you can step back to make peace, as in, “I need time to find a way to work this out.”

Stepping back in peace is what we want here.

You may signal to the other person that you plan to step back, by saying something like, “ I need time to think,” or “I’m going to take a break from this right now.”

Stepping back does two great things:  it gives the adrenaline time to wash out of your system, and it gives you time to gather your thoughts.

Time can be your best friend in a conflict.  There’s so much you can do with that time you’ve just created.  We will look at that in the next part of the series.

But for today remember,

A first step you can take to deal wisely with conflict is:  to step back.

What is your initial reaction when you feel angry with another person?  Do you tend to jump right in, or do you pull back so you can cool down?

Q&A

Dear Dr. Ann, 

My husband and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum of personality types. I am introspective and pragmatic. He is extroverted and impulsive. 

It is difficult for me to have an adult discussion/argument with my husband without it escalating to a yelling match. I know that we both play our part in the downward spiral. We say that we love each other but after 15 years of marriage, we are still dealing with the same communication issues that faced us during our first year of marriage. How can we learn to argue constructively? What should I do to repair our relationship?  

Thank you,

Carrie M.

mom and business owner, NJ

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Dear Carrie,

This is a tough place to be, but not impossible. The fact is that we can all learn to argue more constructively and we can all improve.  

An important beginning:  both parties have to be motivated to “fight to win” – win for the marriage, as opposed to winning for themselves. 

What comes next?

When tempers flare quickly, as you described, it becomes pretty near impossible to have a positive discussion in the moment.  I like to describe this state as “hearts racing, heads scrambled.”  It’s similar to first falling in love, but not exactly!

So a next step is…to step back 

Why step back?

This helps us to follow that timeless wisdom in medical practice, which is “First, do no harm.”  By simply not saying something that you will later regret, you may have already won half the battle.  

So step back.

Then, use the time to gather your thoughts and prepare your heart.  For some, it may involve scribbling furiously in a journal ‘til they get clear on what they truly want to say.  For others, it might involve praying to help adjust their perspective on their spouse.  

Finally, return to your spouse in a spirit of love.  You are on the same team, after all!  You want to find a way to solve the issue…together.

But there is a key caveat.  Many of us don’t have a whole lot of practice at doing this.  It’s not the first idea that comes into our heads. Usually, the first instinct is “fight or flight,” not “respond with reason”!  As a result, we can get stuck in a negative cycle.

If that’s the case, my feeling is that meeting with professional go-between (coach, therapist, counselor) can be a big help. You have a neutral setting, with a helpful mediator, who isn’t invested in either side being right. There, both partners can practice using their new muscles of calm cooperation.

If hubby’s willing to go, then go!  If he (or you) are not willing to go, then you have to figure out: what’s the alternative, and can I live with that?  That becomes your boundary line for improving your communication, and your marriage. 

This is a coaching start.  Many blessings on your journey.  It’s hard work and it doesn’t happen overnight.  But it can be done!

Warmly,

dr ann

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Dr. Ann is a M.D. who writes, speaks, and coaches.  Her mission is to empower women in life and work!  Coaching With Dr. Ann is syndicated on Crosswalk.com, and has been featured on BlogHer.com, MichaelHyatt.com, Fox news, and Good Morning America.  

Copyright Dr. Ann 2012

Publication date: September 21, 2012