I just got into an argument with Kari last night. It was over cleaning the house for our Airbnb guests coming in for Coachella weekend. After the fight, I just sat there at the dining table fixated on why she wouldn’t clean the room. A couple of hours later I finally got up from where I was sitting and started cleaning the place.
We all know that petty arguments are often unnecessary and unwarranted. Not only do we end up sleeping on the couch after arguing, we lose time, productivity, and energy! Today, I’m going to talk about separating emotion from the problem and my top 3 strategies on how to deal with our emotions.
In the ICU, I often treat patients with medical emergencies. Usually, the first question I ask myself is, “Is the patient hemodynamically stable?” By that, I mean can the patient breath or is the blood pressure too low or is the heart rate and rhythm too erratic? Basically, are there any issues that can kill the patient right now? If there are, I deal with those first and then I start managing the underlying problem. I think the same way of thinking is applicable to arguments in relationships. Instead of hemodynamic stability and the actual disease, there is the emotion and the problem itself.
With arguments, oftentimes we are angry. Anger clouds the mind and prevents us from seeing clearly. There have been multiple studies documenting the negative effects of anger including this fascinating experiment (Lerner & Tiedens; 2006). The study showed that participants who were exposed to negative emotions such as an anger have a more pessimistic view about death as compared to the participants who were exposed to positive emotions. So why should we let anger take over when we argue? Instead, I think we should learn how to deal with our emotions, or stabilize our vitals, before tackling the real issue that caused the argument in the first place. Here are my three top strategies:
- Step away. This is probably the easiest to do. Remove yourself from the environment, take a walk outside, go into another room, whatever. As long as you are away from the negative energy filled area.
- Get present. In Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, he says “If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” My favorite way of getting present is to listen to the silence between the words. Kind of abstract, I know. Next time you’re talking to somebody, try focusing your attention to the gaps between each word/sentence. It feels really good and it centers me immediately every time.
- Let go. Now this one’s a little tougher, but the rewards are bountiful. Here, try to become an observer of your emotion. Just pretend like you’re a third-party in your head watching the emotion. Don’t fight it, analyze it, describe it, or anything like that. Just let it be. Once you’ve done that, let it go. Let it go like you’re tossing something in the trash or putting your clothes away. I always feel clean and fresh when I successfully do this technique, and you should to.
Usually, once the emotion has been dealt with, the problem becomes much easier to solve. So try these techniques out, and you’ll be surprised at what you find. Afterwards, share with us your experience and even other ideas on how to deal with arguments!