"Dr.Fiore,” the voice on the phone pleaded,“I need anger management classes right away.

I blew up at my girlfriend last night and she said it’s over until I get help."

As Kevin recounted the first night of class, he and his girlfriend had argued in the car over which route to take home from a party. Events progressed from mild irritation, to yelling and name calling.

Things escalated at home. He tried to escape, but she followed him from room to room,demanding resolution of the conflict. He became angry, defensive and intimidating.

Frightened, she left. Later, she left an anguished message saying that she loved him, but couldn't deal with his angry, hurtful outbursts.

Kevin said that he normally is a very “nice” and friendly person. But, on this occasion, his girlfriend had been drinking before the party. In his view, she was irrational,and non-stop in criticism. He tried to reason with her, but it just made things worse. Finally, as Kevin saw things,in desperation he “lost it” and became enraged.

How should Kevin have handled this situation? What could he have done differently? What actions should you take in similar situations? The following steps have been found to be extremely useful in both our local and online anger management programs:

Find a way to temporarily disengage from the conflict and find a way to convince your partner to allow you to do that! Take a walk. Calm yourself down. Breath deeply. Meditate. Do something else for awhile.

But, for this to work you must also commit to returning in a specified period of time (usually 20 minutes to one hour) and dealing with the issue.

This recommendation is based on solid Research by John Gottman, Ph.D.,at the University of Washington. His group found that when you and your partner argue, and your pulse rate soars, you enter a physiological state called DPA (diffuse physiological arousal). Once there, it becomes nearly impossible to solve the problem. You lose perspective. Your reasoning ability, memory, and judgment, greatly decline.

Taking a time-out allows both of you to return to your normal state of mind.

It is neither healthy nor necessary for you to explode as a result of being provoked by your partner. Our recommendation: Turn the heat down rather than intensifying the pressure.

Step 2: INTERACT DIFFERENTLY when you are talking to each other again. Most relationship difficulties arise not only because of issues between the partners, but also because of inability to resolve conflict around those issues-and those are different processes.

In their efforts to resolve conflicts, many couples like Keith and his partner develop patterns of behavior that create mis-communication and more conflict. Do you interact in one, or more, of the following ways?

*Inattention - simply ignoring your partner when you shouldn’t. This is also called stonewalling, or being emotionally unavailable when your partner needs you, or not speaking to your partner for long periods because you are upset with them.
Intimidation - engaging in behavior intended to make your partner do things out of fear. This includes yelling, screaming, threatening, and posturing in a threatening way.

*Manipulation - doing or saying things to influence your partner, for your benefit, instead of theirs.

*Hostility - using sarcasm, put-downs, and antagonistic remarks. Extreme or prolonged hostility leads to contempt – a major predictor of divorce.

*Vengeance - the need to “get even” with your partner for a grievance you have against them. Many dysfunctional couples “keep score,” and are constantly trying to “pay back” each other for offenses.

*Criticism – involves attacking someone’s personality or character, rather than a specific behavior, often coupled with blame. Like contempt, criticism is a second major predictor of divorce.

Instead, try the following ways to interact and communicate:

*Start by actually listening not only to what your partners says, but what he or she means. Partners in conflict are not listening to understand; rather, they listen with their answer running because they are defensive. Unfortunately, defensiveness is another predictor of divorce.

*Stick to the issue at hand. Seems obvious but is very hard to do in the heat of battle. Focus and stay in the present.

*Learn to forgive. Research by Peter Larson, Ph.D., at the Smalley Relationship Center, suggests a huge relationship between marriage satisfaction and forgiveness. As much as one-third of marriage satisfaction is related to forgiveness!

*Communicate your feelings and needs. Tell your partner how you feel about what they do, instead of accusing them of deliberately offensive behavior. Use “I” statements rather than accusatory, or “you,” statements. Learn to communicate unmet needs so that your partner can better understand and respond to you. For instance, If you are feeling fear, it may be your need for emotional safety and security that is not being met; communicating this is far more effective than lashing out at your partner in an angry tirade.

Discrepancy between what we expect in a relationship and what we actually get often is at the root of relationship anger. Frequently the problem is more on the side of having wrong or unrealistic expectations in the first place. In fact, research shows that at least 60% arguments between couples are over the same issues - issues that will probably always be there in that relationship. These issues are called "perpetual" issues and cause couples to become gridlocked over them. By the way, the average couple has about ten of these perpetual, unresolvable issues.

So, what do you do with them if they are not solvable? Again, research shows that successful couples find a way to be with each other around these issues instead of arguing over them, getting upset because they exist, or trying to change the other person.

Often couples like Kevin and his girlfriend get into conflict not because they have an issue with each other, but because they try to solve it by talking it to death,sometimes until 3AM or 4AM - or later. Usually one of the partners is more guilty of than the other. But, the simple fact is that sometimes excessive talking about the problem (or talking about it when the time isn't right, or if one or both partners are intoxicated) )makes it worse - not better. Pick a better time to discuss it and see better results!

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Tony Fiore is a licensed psychologist,coach,marital therapist,and anger management trainer in Southern California.His company, The Anger Coach(www.angercoach.com) , provides classes,products, and programs for individuals, couples and workplace.He has also developed on online anger management program (angercoachonline.com). With Dr. Ari Novick, he has authored a new model of anger management called the "eight tools model" described in two books and used for certification training of other professionals (angercertication.com).