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Moss Jackson, PhD
Psychologist and Success Coach

In my post a couple weeks ago, I wrote about a dreadful affliction affecting a couple where they slipped from a loving connection to one of anger, disdain and verbal abuse. Once launched, the couple fell into a deepening gorge of loss of affection, blame and alienation. Shame and guilt often followed once the fury of the argument abated.

Here are some of the strategies I have found helpful in coaching such a couple:

Provide an understanding and appreciation of the insecure and ambivalent attachments in their childhoods that have primed them to quickly take a mild upset and intensify it into a non-negotiable and nasty battle. This can best occur in a neutral setting with a therapist or marital counselor.

“Prime The Pump”

This couple could begin a practice of expressing gratitudes and appreciations each day when they are in their Dr. Jekyll, or calm and stabilized state. This is where they hold hands or gently embrace each other and say 3-5 things each once appreciates about the other while looking into their partner’s eyes. This practice helps them to invest in their “emotional bank account” of good will. It also primes the release of oxytocin, the love neurotransmitter.

Pause and check your anger thermometer

Stop before you express yourself and rate your anger level between 1-10. Anything at seven and above is your “Red Zone,” an anger level that will probably throw you into a conversational disaster.

“Call a Time Out”

If your anger level reaches a level of seven, call a time out and walk away. Get away from each other as quickly as possible before you slip into your Mr. Hyde character. Sometimes a physical disengagement will allow you to think before you act.

State Your Intention

Let your partner know the purpose of what you are about to say. On the one hand it could be something like “My intention is to verbally lacerate you and make you feel like a piece of shit!” After all, isn’t it the decent thing to do to warn your partner what is to come to allow him to either protect himself or to leave the situation until you calm down? On the other hand, if you can maintain your emotional stability, you can say “My intention is to let you know you said something that has hurt my feelings. I want to feel safe but right now I don’t and I want to tell you why.”

“Shoot One Rabbit At a Time!”

Don’t dump the kitchen sink on your partner. Stay focused on the issue at hand and resist the temptation to obliterate your partner’s self-esteem by reminding him of all the terrible things he has done to you since your relationship started.

Take Responsibility For What Comes Out Of Your Mouth

After things cool down, apologize for your atrocious behavior. Make no excuses about what you said. If you acted like an animal admit it and tell your partner you lost your temper and he/she did not deserve such abuse that you heaped on themd.

Pay a $20 ticket for running your partner over

No matter the perceived reason, accept the fact you blew it! Pay a fine of $20. If both of you got verbally abusive, then each of you contributes $20 to the pot. When the pot reaches $100, use the money and take each other out for dinner.

Gradually Build Up Your Window of Tolerance 

Pick a reasonable minor upset to talk about and practice staying calm and respectful. If you sense your temper rising, call a time out and try again later. Your partner’s job is to just listen and acknowledge what you are saying, both your hurt and anger.

Appreciate the reality that relationships are like gardens that need tending. Nurture your positive exchanges of love and appreciation, while pulling the weeds of your nasty and biting attacks. Treat your attack like poison ivy. Kill them off slowly and with mindfulness, lest they grow and take over your entire garden with a poisonous weed.

If you would like to learn more about how to navigate your relationships and life, order your copy of “Navigating for Success” here or email me at