Things can get intense when you argue with your spouse. When things really hit the fan, emotions run hot, and in the throes of anger and frustration, it’s all too possible to say hurtful things, insult your spouse, or worse… Say something so awful that it haunts you from that moment on.
Even when such things are said out of anger, they were still said – and no matter how much you’d like to take them back, you can’t.
At its worst, this kind of problem can drive a wedge right down the middle of your marriage. If you’ve said something hurtful enough, it can do near-irreparable damage to the relationship. It doesn’t matter how angry you were, or what your spouse said first, or if you were drunk, or any other excuse… You’ve said what you said – and now it’s out in the open.
While you can never go back and “unsay” the hurtful things, and you certainly can’t change the way it made your spouse feel in that moment (and every moment after), you CAN adjust your behavior for the future and do everything in your power to avoid it happening again.
You may not be able to change the past, but you can take control of your future. Here’s how:
1. Be Mindful
“Mindfulness” gets a lot of talk these days, but many people overlook it as an actual moment-to-moment practice. We’re not asking you become a guru here, or expecting you to be universally aware of every detail of every moment…
We are asking, however, that you make an effort to take a look at yourself from an outside perspective as often as possible. Analyze your own behavior. If you’re feeling a certain way, ask yourself why!
In the same vein, if you’re about to say something, especially in the heat of an argument – pause and reflect. Is what you’re about to say going to help or hurt the situation? Do you really feel this way, or are you just caught up in the emotions of the moment?
Simply putting a conscious filter between your thoughts and actions can save so much heartache. Act and speak with intent, not just off the cuff. Think about how your words are going to impact not just this moment, but all of the moments to come.
2. Anger Management
Related to the item above, sometimes keeping your speech in check means keeping your emotions in check.
It will be a little bit different for everyone, but finding methods to manage anger and frustration will be a tremendous help to the way you communicate with your spouse. For some, it may mean enrolling in an anger management program or seeing a counselor (and if boiling rage is a common occurrence for you, this is probably a good idea).
For others, it may be as simple as learning breathing techniques, practicing some daily meditation, or just coming to terms with their own emotional triggers.
The vast majority of the times spouses say hurtful things to one another, it’s out of temporary emotional overload. So, if you can learn to balance your emotions and keep that anger in check, you’re that much less likely to say things you wish you could take back.
3. Walk Away
The saying goes, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
This isn’t to suggest that you just shut down and refuse to communicate with your spouse, but rather that if you can’t keep your cool – it’s ok to walk away for a minute!
If things are getting intense and you feel yourself getting overly angry, feel yourself wanting say hurtful things or lash out at your partner, call a timeout instead. Tell your spouse something like, “I want to continue this discussion, but I don’t want to say something hurtful or something I’ll regret. Let’s take a break to let our heads cool, and come back to this in 10 minutes” (or however much time you need).
Pausing will also give you a moment to reflect on what the fight is about, how it could’ve been avoided, and how you may be at fault. Go to separate rooms for a moment, take some deep breaths, and remember that this fight is about something specific – not about your spouse as a person.
Employ some anger management techniques and some mindfulness, and go back to have a discussion, not an argument. It should be about resolving problems and voicing concerns, not simply attacking one another or hurting each other’s feelings.
If you can’t have a discussion (only an argument), it’s wise to walk away for a few minutes.
The past is in the past, and even if things still hurt, there’s no sense in dwelling on who said what. If it indicates larger problems, by all means work together to resolve them, but don’t hang on every word spoken – especially those said in anger. You can forgive the past without “forgetting” what happened and what led to the conflict.
In fact, the critical pieces of the 7 Steps to Forgiveness parallel this topic very closely. You can make an effort to understand why you said the things you did in the past, make amends for the hurt you caused, and the most important part to today’s discussion: make every effort not to do it again.
Keep your eyes toward the future, and use the tips here to take control over what you say to your spouse.