Don’t Talk to a Woman (or Man) on Fire
- Dr. David B. Hawkins The Marriage Recovery Center
- 2012 28 Aug
“I try to get away from her,” Dan said anxiously, recalling how angry his wife Deb, became at him.
“Yeah,” Deb answered during a counseling session. “He does that to provoke me. He knows I want to talk about things and he walks away from me.”
Dan shook his head in disagreement.
“I’m sure not trying to provoke her,” he said. “I just want to wait until she settles down.”
Deb was not convinced, adding smugly, “I think he knows exactly what he is doing.”
Dan and Deb’s struggle is a common one for couples. One often wants to “settle things” while the other is more content to let things simmer. One is often the Pursuer, while the other is the Avoider. The one wanting to “settle things” often has a greater capacity for stressful encounters, framing the argument in such a way as to even see it as healthy.
“I don’t think it’s good to let issues stack up,” Deb said, arguing for her point of view. “I will stay up until 2 AM if needed to get an issue settled.”
Dan shook his head in disgust.
“No way,” he said. “I’m out of gas by 10 and wouldn’t be able fight fair if my life depended on it.”
Who is right in a situation like this? Is it better to “not let the sun go down on your wrath” as Scripture says? Or, are there people like Dan who would rather tackle an issue with a fresh start in the morning? Perhaps there is a compromise.
Scripture has a lot to say about anger—much of it about managing this challenging emotion. The Apostle Paul says, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). What I think the Apostle Paul was getting at was not so much the criticality of not going bed while angry, but not storing up hurts. Who of us wouldn’t rather have issues settled with our mate before going to bed in the evening?
However, we have a small, or sometimes large, problem. What if you simply cannot get an issue settled that evening? What if, as is often the case, one mate is still in their Protective, Angry Self and cannot be reasoned with? In fact, they are so upset that they are not being reasonable. In their anger they have distorted the facts, lost perspective, have emotions running rampant and cannot share a calm, clear, compassionate, collaborative discussion? Without these qualities, any discussion is likely to go sideways.
May I suggest the following guidelines for talking to a woman (or man) who is on fire—angry, bitter, fuming and with a lost perspective.
One, you cannot talk to a woman (or man) on fire. Whether a man or woman doesn’t matter. Scripture also says, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered” (Proverbs 20:24). There is no reasoning with someone who is caught in a spiral of emotion. An easily-angered man, or woman, has lost perspective. She is in the proverbial Courtroom, building her case, argumentative and seeking justice from a sense of self-righteousness. There is no talking to her—or him.
Two, we must have the self-control to take a time out when in the Courtroom. If our mate will not become collaborative, we must seek a time-out. We need time to cool down, gain perspective and speak in a respectful manner. At least one of the two people must show enough restraint to not argue and become provocative. My wife and I practice the phrase, “I love you too much to argue with you.”
Three, we can only work on solutions to a problem from a conciliatory, collaborative mindset. In this Sanctuary setting, we listen to each other. We see the validity of our mate’s point of view. We see the wisdom in what they are saying and they take the time and attention to see the wisdom in what we are saying. There is a sense of connection.
Four, when two people are calm and collaborative, they more easily find win-win solutions to problems. Brainstorming is much easier when you are not trying either to make your case or defend it. Blaming disappears as we are curious about what our mate thinks and feels. We are gently curious about what our mate thinks. They are curious about what we think and feel.
Finally, we celebrate our new connection. Solving problems eliminates issues and brings a new sense of connection. We recognize that “we are in this together, and we can work things out.” This occurs when we practice self-control, managing our emotions and being curious about what our mate thinks and feels. We want the best for them and they want the best for us.
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Publication date: August 28, 2012