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Frustrated. Bored. Sad. Anxious. Stressed. Angry. Scared. There are a lot of emotions for you to help your kids to process right now.

“My parent(s) lost their job.” 

“Is this about to be the end of the world?” 

“My best friend’s mom is being tested for coronavirus.” 

“Is this online school from home really getting me everything I need?” 

“My sister is getting on my everlasting nerve.” 

“Is someone I love going to die of this?” 

I’m not describing the questions, emotions, and thoughts of adults through COVID-19, though many share them. I’m talking about our children.

Many are hearing a new vocabulary that causes them to experience emotions during COVID-19 that are new to them.

Words like quarantine, shelter-in-place, unemployment, pandemic, stimulus, COVID-19 conspiracy, create questions and a need for understanding. It may signal that their world, their family’s world is changing or in their mind, moving away from something they’ve grown comfortable with and reliant on.

Our children are experiencing a moment in time that may well leave behind some defining changes in how they live their lives. My grandparents remembered the great depression like it was yesterday even though they were children when it took place. My parents remember the Civil Rights struggle vividly. They were teenagers. I remember 9/11. They will remember being quarantined, school shut down for months, sports and music seasons canceled, parents trying to homeschool, and being confined to the house. 

They will remember it because of the emotions that they experienced.

Many will know someone that contracted COVID-19. Others may not. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t affected emotionally. As parents here’s what we can’t do when it comes to how to help our kids process their emotions. We can’t…

  • Ignore the possibilities that COVID-19 is affecting our kids emotionally.
  • Tell our kids that their feelings are right or wrong.
  • Tell them how they should feel.
  • Make them talk.

Here’s what we can do to help your kids process their emotions.

We can…

Provide a safe space for them to share.

Must be non-judgmental and listen with as few expectations as possible. The fact that they can share with you what they are feeling can rob the emotion of some of its debilitating effects.

Help them name their emotions.

Whatever they share is real to them. Take time to understand what they are thinking and feeling. (Check out the Feelings Wheel for a list of emotions. THIS is another good guide to emotions.) Encourage kids to write down the emotions they have felt or are feeling during COVID-19. Write them down as they talk about them if necessary.

Simply be present with them to provide a sense of belonging.

Whether they are talking or not, spend time with your kids doing things together. This often helps to set up organic conversation later.

Acknowledge our own emotions.

Then share how we are dealing with them. Be honest and open enough to acknowledge some of the effects the COVID-19 quarantine is having on you.

Make sure physical needs are being met.

A full night’s sleep, healthy eating, exercise, getting outside – all of these matter when it comes to self-care. These all help our brain better process our emotions. We don’t process our emotions as well when we’re hungry, angry, tired or lonely.

Encourage them to talk with other trusted adults.

A grandparent, aunt, uncle, youth pastor, or coach are great options. I have accepted that there are some things my 13-year-old daughter feels more comfortable talking to her grandmother about than me. This isn’t a time for me to be jealous or controlling. I should be thankful that I have support to help us all.

Look for behavioral changes.

Is your usually quiet child talking all the time now? Is your social kid spending a lot more time by themselves? Are there some behavior cues that let you know they may be dealing with some unresolved emotions during COVID-19? 

Develop rituals and routines.

A routine can provide consistency and stability for our children. Within the routine, there are often spaces that lend themself to sharing and talking. Mealtimes, bedtime routines that include some time to reflect on the day, quiet time, family temperature checks, family meetings are just some of the environments where talking can take place. 

Be patient.

As adults, we sometimes don’t share until we’re ready to share. Your child may be the same way. Simply letting them know that they can come to you at any time is reassuring.

Seek out professional help.

If your child is obviously being emotionally affected in a significant way and they are possibly a danger to themselves or others, counselors are accepting appointments via video.

Helping your kids process their emotions means being prepared at any time for them to start talking.

You can’t plan or schedule emotional processing. I’ve had my daughter tack on a comment at the end of a trivial conversation that set off an alarm that something was bothering her. A little question like, “Will we have enough money to buy ice cream?” from my son signaled that he had been thinking a lot about how the current situation is affecting us financially. 

Listening. Listening is the name of the game. We’ve all heard the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as we talk.” As parents, we have to work to practice this principle. The more our kids talk, the better. The less we lecture at them, the better. This is a time where we as parents can be a tremendous aid to the emotional development of our children which will serve them greatly for years to come.

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Last week I checked in on a friend to see how she was doing. Her response, “Overwhelmed, stressed and a bit stir crazy.” One thing is for sure: She is not alone. It’s probably a safe guess to say that most of us are having a hard time controlling a variety of emotions — everything from sadness, anger, suffering, fear, and annoyance to impatience, depression, disillusionment, and vulnerability. All the feels for sure.

The big question is, what do we do with all we are feeling? Great question. It’s important that we intentionally do something with those emotions.

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge what we are feeling. Put words to the emotions rolling around inside. It might help to Google a list of feeling words to help you identify and express all the emotions you are experiencing. 

Write down all the words you believe you are experiencing. After you write them down, you need to know that none of those emotions are bad or wrong. They just are. It is now up to you to decide what your response will be to these emotions. In other words, you need to boss your feelings around instead of letting them hold you hostage and feeling like you are being tossed to and fro.

There are a few clues that can help you know if you are being held hostage by your emotions. For instance, you might be sleeping or eating more than normal. Perhaps you feel like you are on the edge of the cliff not knowing what you might do in the next moment. It may even feel like the people around you are constantly pushing your buttons and you have no capacity to keep yourself from going off on them. 

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR EMOTIONS? HERE ARE SOME TECHNIQUES YOU CAN TRY.

Breathe.

Seriously, take some deep breaths. Breathe in deeply and then slowly exhale. Do this a number of times. Practice this throughout the day versus only when you feel like your emotions are beginning to run wild.

Exercise.

This helps clear the fog out of your brain. Go for a walk, run, bike ride, or do a workout on YouTube. Do something that will work up a sweat and release endorphins. 

Make sure you are eating healthy, getting plenty of rest, and taking in Vitamin D.

(As in good ol’ sunshine!) It can also help you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Grab that journal you wrote your emotions in and consider specific things you can do right now.

You can write down ways you want to choose to respond when it feels like these emotions are trying to take over. Acknowledge the emotion and consider your plan of action to get it under control. Actually saying out loud, “I feel overwhelmed or angry right this minute,” is more powerful than you might think. 

Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?”

If you are a verbal processor, you might want to phone a friend and talk about what you are experiencing so they can help you put together your action plan. Playing music that helps you calm down is another option. Watching a show you really enjoy or utilizing some of the free virtual tours available to visit a place you love could be helpful.

Consider what you have control over or what you have the ability to influence.

Your attitude is for sure something you can control. When you feel tension and fear creeping over you, you can literally say, “No, not today,” and then go do something constructive like yard work, helping a neighbor who can’t get outside, or baking. Anything that puts your brain in motion in a positive way will work. When you are experiencing fear and your heart starts to beat fast, stop and assess the situation to determine what is real and what “could happen.” Differentiating between the two will help you be able to decide the best next steps. Sometimes, the best next step is to tell yourself that those thoughts are not accurate or true.

Your mindset matters.

Negative self-talk can keep you from handling your emotions constructively. If you tell yourself you aren’t strong enough or smart enough to handle something or that you just can’t, your brain believes what you tell it. Instead, try statements like, “I’m not sure of the answer, but I’m going to figure it out,” or, “Another day, another adventure. I am strong and I am smart. I can figure this out.” Then set yourself in motion to figure it out.

Taking control of your emotions is a process. As you try some of these suggestions, be patient with yourself. Start by doing one thing differently. As you begin to do that thing more consistently, add something else into the mix. Over time, you’ll probably see yourself managing your emotions instead of letting them manage you.

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After multiple weeks of being told we need to stay home, a lot of folks’ nerves are frayed (parents in particular). Life might have been complicated before—keeping up with schedules, work and home. Now, things seem 10 times more complicated. Everybody is under the same roof all the time with nowhere to go for a break. Many parents are silently asking how long they can actually survive social distancing and this COVID-19 crisis with their family relationships (and their sanity) intact. 

It’s true that most of us aren’t accustomed to spending so much time together. Things that you didn’t even know got on your nerves—well, now you know. And, some of them are seemingly little things. Maybe it’s the way someone chews their food, the amount of dirty laundry, or the constant questions without answers. Or maybe it’s the way your perfectly capable kids seem so totally dependent on you to do everything.

Honestly, it’s enough to make a parent ask, “Where do I go to resign?”

Before you turn in your notice, here are some things that might be helpful to consider. 

Emotions are running high for everyone. There’s tension in the air and we feel it even if we don’t acknowledge it. It has its way of oozing out of people through petty bickering, short fuses, tears and an abundance of energy. The close proximity to others in your home may feel like someone has you in a stranglehold. 

Even if you’re in pretty close quarters, there are some things you can do to help your family avoid unhealthy behavior during social distancing.

Recognize that your children are taking their cues from you. If you’re really struggling with all that’s going on, find ways to process your thoughts and best next steps. Even if things are upside down, when you know the next steps you’ll take, your children will follow your lead. Your children need to know that you’re working to ensure they are well cared for. This provides comfort and security, especially in times of uncertainty. It’s ok if you don’t know all the answers. Having rules, rituals, consistency and structure in place helps everyone to know what to expect and provides freedom within healthy boundaries.

Speaking of boundaries, establishing boundaries is helpful. It lets people know where the fence lines are for your family. If you haven’t had a family meeting to discuss what this looks like, now is a really good time to do that. Items up for discussion include:

  • How will household chores get done?
  • With whom outside of immediate family will we engage during this time of social distancing?
  • What time is quiet time in the house? (could be until a certain time in the morning, a period of time in the middle of the day or a time at the end of the day)
  • Where and for how long are people using screens? (for work and for leisure)
  • Is there unlimited access to the kitchen and food?

Getting in the groove of functioning as a team will help your family now. It will serve them well in the future, too.

Even though your family is all together, don’t assume they’ll automatically talk about the thoughts and feelings that are rolling around in their head. This is a scary time for everybody. Establishing a quick daily check-in makes it possible for you to share information and answer questions. It’s also a good chance to talk about the flow of this particular day and address concerns or misinformation anyone may have.

With everyone under one roof, establishing times when you expect people to be in their own space away from everybody else can help. If your children share a bedroom, perhaps there’s another location one of them could be. The goal is for people to have a break from being on top of each other. It can be as simple as going outdoors when the weather is nice. Maybe it means taking a long, hot shower or a walk in the rain. It may even help to get up earlier or stay up a little later to have time alone.

What Each Person in Your Family Needs to Know

According to the authors of the Survival Skills for Healthy Families program, each person in the family needs to know:

  • How to speak up and say what they need. The ability to say what you want helps others to know what you’re thinking and feeling. It also opens the door for understanding.
  • How to listen. As a listener, we can choose to seek connection, be respectful and look for understanding. Or, we can react, fight and argue. 
  • How to cooperate. Teach your children how to find balance between their needs and the needs of other family members.

Realize that there’s a time to talk and time to listen. Everyone wants to feel heard when they speak, so ensure that your home is a safe place for family members to express themselves and discuss things without dismissing them. Acknowledge your feelings, and really listen to work through the emotions you’re experiencing. Show empathy and remember that if all this is hard to process as an adult, it can be even more challenging for younger family members to understand or express what they’re dealing with on the inside. Those things will probably show up in how they behave, so it’ll take some wisdom to dig deeper as you handle misbehavior while helping them understand their emotions.

It’s highly likely you will encounter challenges while you are in close quarters. By looking for solutions together, you’re modeling how to find answers to other sticky situations down the road. In order for your family relationships to come out stronger on the other side of this pandemic, these are a few safeguards you can put in place now to help keep the peace in your home.

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Controlling your emotions is hard, regardless of your age. When you’re in the checkout line at the store and a 2-year-old has a meltdown because they can’t have a candy bar, nobody is shocked because well, they are two. It’s totally another story when an adult who is unable to regulate their emotions has a public meltdown.

Unfortunately, a rising number of teens and adults seem to be struggling with emotional and impulse control, and the results are often disastrous. Think road rage, someone cutting in line or even publicly expressing a different opinion in a rude manner.

The Child Mind Institute defines self-regulation as the ability to manage emotions and behavior in accordance with situational demands. Consider it a skill set that enables children, as they mature. It directs their own behavior toward a goal, despite the unpredictability of the world and their own feelings.

It includes:

  • Being able to resist highly-emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli,
  • Calming yourself down if you get upset,
  • Adjusting to a change in expectations, and
  • Handling frustration without an outburst.

Children who don’t learn this skill struggle to self-regulate as they get older. And, if you’ve ever experienced this out-of-control feeling, you know it’s not a good thing. Often controlling your emotions feels the same. There is good news, though. If you didn’t learn this skill as a child, it is still possible to learn it as an adult.

Your emotional brain processes information in two milliseconds. Keeping yourself under control during a frustrating experience involves being able to pause between the feeling and your response.

There is a trigger; someone pushes your buttons (we all have an easy button). An instant reaction follows, accompanied by a strong emotion, often followed by a feeling of remorse. This is the body’s automatic built-in protection system, AKA “fight, flight or freeze.”

Your rational brain, which helps you make sound decisions, processes information in 500 milliseconds, 250 times longer than your emotional brain. People have to learn how to assess situations quickly, but if they don’t pause long enough to discern what is actually happening, their emotional brain can take control before their rational brain has a chance to kick into gear. 

If you or someone you know struggles with self-regulation, it’s not too late! You just have to be intentional about choosing to behave differently.

Think about what you can control and what you cannot. You cannot control how other people behave, but you can choose how you will respond or engage with them. Sometimes, the best response is to do nothing.

Learn how to master your feelings, versus letting them master you will serve you well. For example, when someone cuts you off when you’re driving, you suddenly feel your heart rate go up, adrenaline starts flowing, and your first instinct is to go after them. However, if you practice emotional regulation, you can take a breath, even acknowledge that that makes you angry, but then let it go because the consequences of your actions could bring harm to you, that driver and others who never involved themselves.

This should not be interpreted as people not being able to stand up for themselves or being silenced. Instead, learning how to master controlling your emotions can help people develop calm and constructive ways to have their voice heard. When people are out of control, it’s highly unlikely that anything positive will come from the situation.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Looking for relationship resources? Click here!

Popular artist Taylor Swift is aware of her critics and the harshness of their comments, especially after the time she sang off key with Stevie Nicks. One critic said it was the beginning of the end of her career.

These comments definitely affected Swift. So, what was her response? She wrote a song: Mean. 

You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me,

You have knocked me off my feet again, got me feeling like I’m nothing…

While there have always been mean people, many would agree that there seems to be more mean behavior than even a decade ago.

“I believe as a society we are seeing more meanness and we have become more tolerant of it,” says Dr. Gary J. Oliver, emotional intelligence expert. “While bullying has always been around, we have seen an escalation of inhospitable, hurtful and demeaning behavior – and not just in adults who have lived a rough life. We are seeing this behavior in children as well.”

So, as Swift asks in her lyrics, why do people have to be so mean?

“I think there are a number of reasons,” Oliver says. “People seem to be more accepting of mean behavior instead of stopping it. And we have a lot of hurting people out there. When a wounded person feels threatened, they lash out in an effort to protect themselves. These people are almost always unhappy, insecure and frustrated. Their effort to make themselves feel better and safer comes at a great cost to those who become the target of their anger.”

Oliver also believes mean behavior has increased because of humans’ natural instinct to fight, run away or freeze when they feel threatened. People who don’t how to handle a mean situation often resort to fighting back or attacking someone out of anger.

“Most people do not realize that when they feel threatened, the emotion portion of their brain gets hijacked. If they have never learned emotional self-awareness, they resort to instinctive responses,” Oliver says. “Parents can teach their children how to handle their emotions in a way that is assertive yet not mean and disrespectful.”

Dr. Oliver shares these tips to teach children emotional intelligence:

  • Love your children.
  • Keep expectations realistic. No child can be number one at everything.
  • Help your child to recognize his/her strengths.
  • Teach them healthy boundaries.
  • Model how to treat others with kindness and compassion even when treated disrespectfully.
  • When someone makes a mean statement to your child, teach them to ask themselves if it is true. If not, they can dismiss it. If it is, they can do something about it.

“Nobody likes being treated mean – not even the bully,” Oliver says. “Teaching your children that they don’t have to react to every stimulus and that they can remain calm will serve them well on into adulthood. How far your child goes in life depends more on emotional intelligence than having a degree from an Ivy League school.”

Who would you prefer your child to hang around, someone who is mean, disrespectful and rude or someone who is compassionate, kind and respectful?

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If you live with a teenager, one thing is certain: their emotions change as often as the weather or their clothes. They ascend to the heights of joy one day, the depths of teenage despair, the next. It can seem like there are a lot of warning signs in your teen, but how can you be sure?

The teen years are a time to explore new ideas, new attitudes and new feelings. Since a certain amount of unpredictability is normal, how can you tell if your teenager’s emotional swings are beyond the normal ups and downs of adolescence?

Although it’s not always possible to know what goes too far, there are some things you can look for in the process.

Here’s a warning-sign checklist from the Minirth-Meier psychiatric organization that can help you:

  • Deterioration of grades;
  • Chronic truancy;
  • Chronic school failure;
  • Mood swings;
  • General Apathy;
  • Drug/alcohol use;
  • Blatant sexual behavior;
  • Verbal or physical displays;
  • Withdrawal or feeling of hopelessness;
  • Sleeplessness, fatigue;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Sadness, crying;
  • Secretive;
  • Suicidal thoughts, unexplained accidents;
  • Death of significant person;
  • Interest in the occult;
  • Poor impulse control;
  • Family history of substance abuse or mental illness;
  • Extreme change in appearance or friends; and/or
  • Inability to cope with routine matters/relationships.

Jay Strack suggests that a parent’s first response to these signs of trouble is crucial. He’s the author of Good Kids Who Do Bad Things.

“Overreacting parents often drive kids into an emotional shell from which they are reluctant to venture. Underreacting parents send a message to their kids that says, ‘I just don’t care.’ Either response can be devastating when the individual loses his emotional balance,” he writes.

Strack says it is important to differentiate between the normal pressure of life and crisis situations.

If your teen is demonstrating a number of the warning signs, here are several action steps you can use:

  • First, don’t panic. “This is no time to lose control of yourself,” Strack says. “A calm demeanor and a listening ear are crucial.”
  • Next, act quickly. Strack writes that parents should not sit around “hoping the problem will solve itself or just go away. Timing is crucial in a crisis.”
  • Then, seek advice. Seek the advice of those who can really help, like counselors, pastors and teachers. You may need lawyers, police and other officials, depending on the situation.
  • Always stick to the main issues. “While your teenager may have several areas in which he needs improvement (e.g., self-acceptance, personal discipline, study habits, etc.), it’s important to stick with the major issues of the crisis until they are resolved,” Strack says. “Only then will the teenager be clear-headed enough to focus on the other issues in his life.”
  • Finally, strike a balance. Strack’s fifth guideline is important. Teens need to know that you love and cherish them, despite their behavior.

“At the same time,” Strack says, “you will need to balance love with discipline when necessary so that your teenager doesn’t just run over you.”

Over the past 30 years, Gary and Carrie Oliver have worked with literally thousands of couples. Some were preparing for marriage while others were trying to figure out how to make their marriage work. “Every couple we have worked with began their marriage with a proclamation of their love and commitment to stay together ‘until death do us part,’” says Gary Oliver, psychologist and co-author of Mad About Us: Moving from Anger to Intimacy with Your Spouse.

“In many cases, the couples we worked with talked about being madly in love with each other. But over time the madly in love feeling turned to feelings of being mad at each other. The vast majority of failed relationships have at their core the inability to understand differences, deal with the emotion of anger in healthy ways and engage in healthy and constructive conflict.”

Close to 90 percent of people say they want to marry. Clearly, people want to be in relationships. Most married couples will tell you, however, that differences that were so fun and attractive while dating tend to cause marital conflict.

“More than 96 percent of the people we have worked with view conflict as negative and something to be avoided at all costs,” Oliver says.

He has spent thousands of hours playing referee for couples who do not understand that there is both unhealthy and healthy conflict. As a result, responding instead of reacting can make all the difference in the world. He says that conflict pushes buttons of fear, hurt and/or frustration, and things tend to get very personal. “When people feel misunderstood, the relationship doesn’t feel trustworthy or safe. Needless to say, this does nothing to build intimacy in a relationship.”

Misunderstanding anger is one big issue the Olivers deal with as they counsel couples.

“Anger is a complex emotion,” Oliver says. “One of the major reasons why the emotion of anger has gained a primarily negative reputation is that there is so much misinformation about what anger is and can be. We only tend to hear and read about unhealthy expressions of anger. It’s tragic that the mostly incorrect and inaccurate misinformation far outweighs the true and accurate facts regarding this powerful and potentially positive emotion.”

Consider these common myths (and facts) about anger.

Myth: If you don’t look or sound angry, you don’t have an anger problem.

Fact: Just because you don’t look or feel angry, or because your friend wouldn’t describe you as an angry person, does not mean you don’t have an anger problem. Anyone who does not understand and appreciate the potential value of anger may have a problem with it.

Myth: Anger always leads to some form of violence, so it is never good to be angry.

Fact: Anger does not always lead to violence, nor is it always a bad thing to be angry. The key is to understand and control this emotion rather than letting it control you.

Myth: Expressing anger to someone you love will destroy your relationship. Anger and love just don’t mix.

Fact: Being aware of your experience of anger and choosing to express it in healthy ways can actually increase mutual understanding, It can also help, strengthen and enrich your relationship.

Myth: Spiritual people don’t get angry.

Fact: Anger is a fact of life. Everyone experiences it. If you want to be smart and healthy, choose to understand your experience of anger, then express it constructively.

Myth: The best way to deal with anger is to stuff it. Expressing anger breeds even more anger and leads to loss of control.

Fact: When in doubt about what to do with your experience of anger, don’t stuff it. Healthy expressions of anger allow you to deal with the root issues and decrease anger. They are constructive and lead to greater control.

Myth: The best way to deal with anger is to dump it. Just get all of that anger out of your system. You and everyone else will be better for it.

Fact: When you are angry, take the time to understand your experience of anger. It can help you express it in a healthy and constructive way.

“Most couples we worked with were surprised at the degree to which they have believed many of these myths and the degree to which these myths have negatively impacted their marriage relationship,” Oliver says.

“In fact, my wife and I both realized that neither of us grew up with models of what healthy expressions of anger looked like. Learning how to express anger in healthy ways tore down walls of fear, hurt and pain. It also helped us build bridges of understanding and trust that became the pathway to deep levels of intimacy in our marriage.”

Read Mad About Us, Part 2.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Read Mad About Us, Part 1 here.

Almost daily, unhealthy anger causes some kind of devastation. It could be anything from child abuse or domestic violence to road rage, or to children methodically preparing to harm their teacher. The emotion of anger in and of itself isn’t the problem, though. When people allow themselves to be controlled by this powerful emotion, it can become unhealthy and cause harm to others.

“We have to continually remind ourselves that anger is energy and energy is neutral,” says Gary Oliver, clinical psychologist and co-author of Mad About Us: Moving From Anger to Intimacy with Your Spouse, with his wife, Carrie. “We have total control over how we choose to express our anger, so we can choose to express this emotion in unhealthy or in healthy and constructive ways. Plus, we can choose to spend the anger-energy by expressing it in ways that hurt ourselves and others. Or, we can choose to invest the anger-energy in building a healthier relationship.”

The Olivers believe that anger can be an alarm or warning sign that we need to look at some aspect of our lives or relationship. It can serve as a powerful source of motivation. Healthy anger provides the power to protect loved ones, and healthy anger can lead to more intimate relationships.

“Disagreements usually involve the emotions of fear and/or hurt and/or frustration. These are the primary emotions that lead to the secondary emotion of anger,” Oliver says. “Anger sets most people up for conflict – and most couples don’t know how to do conflict well. Couples can choose to spend their anger-energy by dumping, blaming, attacking or walking out. Or they can choose to acknowledge the fear, hurt or frustration and invest their anger-energy in seizing the opportunity to better understand their spouse.”

For example, Oliver spoke with a couple in the middle of a serious conflict. The husband made a comment at a party, and his wife responded with a joke about it. Her response embarrassed him in front of their friends. He was making a serious point and, she spoke without thinking about how it would impact the situation. Since this was not the first time she had done something like this, her husband was hurt, embarrassed, marginalized and frustrated.

When they headed home, the wife asked him what was wrong. Although he initially denied being upset, he releases his frustration after several questions.

In working through Oliver’s seven conflict management steps, they discovered that the wife had no idea he was being serious. The husband realized that his wife didn’t intend to make him look bad, but his friends started laughing and he felt naked, exposed and embarrassed in front of them. As they talked, the wife truly felt bad and apologized. This was a landmark conversation for them because they were actually able to talk through what had taken place and understand each other. Then they set a new direction for how to manage their conflict.

Couples who develop the healthy habit of working through differences often find that listening, asking questions, listening again and asking more questions leads to understanding. Additionally, it provides a window into each other’s hearts and a pathway to greater intimacy.

“When you know someone loves you enough to take the time to understand you rather than take a walk out the door, you know that person’s love is not a shallow, superficial, conditional love,” Oliver says. “That type of love makes a person feel safe and secure. This type of security leads to an increase in trust, which creates the perfect environment for deep levels of intimacy to grow.”

If you’re seeking to more effectively manage the conflicts in your marriage, try these seven steps:

  • Define the issue. Listen and seek understanding. Whose issue is it? Is there more than one issue involved? What is my spouse’s core concern? What is my core concern?
  • How important is it? On a scale from 1 to 10, with one being low-ticket and 10 being high-ticket, how important is this?
  • Ask yourself, “What is MY contribution to the problem?”
  • Do I need to apologize or ask for forgiveness?
  • Choose radical responsibility. Don’t wait for your partner to reach out and seek understanding—be willing to take the first step.
  • Choose what both of you can do differently.
  • Make changes and review them.

“Healthy conflict is good,” Oliver says. “When a couple has a disagreement and one person takes the time to listen even if they think the other person is wrong, that says to their spouse, ‘I value you and you are important to me.’”

It isn’t always about agreeing on something. When you know your spouse is trying to understand what is going on, it increases your sense of value and safety.

One of the best ways to go from being mad at each other to “mad about us” isn’t reading books on new sexual positions. Instead, it’s about creating a sense of trust and safety within your marriage. A spouse who feels understood will feel safe and be willing to trust. Consequently, that trust leads to the deeper levels of intimacy every person longs for. Guaranteed!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***