Have Only Fair Fights

“I’m angrier than you.” “No you’re not. I’m angrier than you!”

It often seems like when couples are fighting, they can get caught up in the heat of the moment, and it can seem like one partner is seeking to out-anger the other. This is when the argument has escalated and both people seem out of control.

When one or both partners have ADHD, it can result in a lot of volatility. ADHD often causes emotional dysregulation, (abnormality or impairment in the regulation of a metabolic, physiological, or psychological process), and therefore, more emotional flooding, and more over-reactivity. And when the non-ADHD partner is feeling overwhelmed and overburdened, anger and resentment often result. This sets up a pattern of blaming, exerting control, arguing and giving up. But before the last phase, a lot of damage can be done on both sides.

Fair Fighting

So what can be done to short-circuit this cycle? it seems like there has to be a better way. The cure is to only have fair fights. This is more easily said then done. For this type of fighting to be successful, both partners need to become aware of when they begin to escalate so that they can nip the argument in the bud.  And they needed to agree in advance, that they will use what is known as a “verbal cue” before things get out of control.

The verbal cue can be anything like a silly word or phrase. For example, if one partner says “Green Elephant,” they will take a pause in the “discussion” and either take a time out, or move into fair fighting mode. What are the things to remember in a fair fight?

First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that 70% of conflicts don’t get resolved. So it may be foolish to think that there is a winner or a loser in any argument. 

Other things to remember:

  •  Use techniques that connect, rather than disconnect, ie. gentle eye contact, never staring, calm voices kept to a reasonable level.
  • Use “I” language rather then “you” language which will often end up sounding accusatory.
  • Be aware of body language. When you get too close to someone, or stand over them, it can be a sign of the desire to dominate, rather then resolve.
  • Ask open ended questions ie. “How are you doing on that project?” Rather than “Did you finish that project yet?”
  • Reflect back to your partner what you are hearing. This is a very important communication skill that enables you to clear up any misunderstandings of your partner’s meaning.
  • Seek to understand rather than to be understood. This one can sometimes be really tricky when there is a point you are trying to make. But in relationship, it’s more important to connect than to just keep trying to win points.
  • And, if all of this fails, take a Time Out.

These concepts are not always easy to remember in the midst of relationship break-downs, but they can go a long way toward healing your differences. And it’s important to also remember that you don’t have to always agree, but when you show each other respect, you’re more then half way home.


Getting “Under” the Anger

I’m sure we’ve all been in the circumstance where the level of someone’s anger seems out of proportion to what is going on. In those moments, it is very difficult to hold our own in the face of the other person’s outburst. They think their anger is justified, and that you’ve done something to provoke it..

It’s never easy to be on the receiving end of this kind of emotional discharge, especially when it is vented at us. There are often good explanations for why the angry one is behaving this way.

Three ways to understand seemingly overblown anger:

  1. This person was already frustrated and irritated with something you said or did, but chose to hold onto their emotions. In this case, the anger has had the opportunity to build up within them. Even though just mildly triggered, it takes very little for them to blow.

Anger, pushed down for a while, often does not get resolved. It just gets stuffed. It can take a very minor provocation to set it off. In this case, the anger was simmering until you did or said something that sparked the flame. You probably missed tell-tale signs, like muscle tension, a changed facial expression, or a clenched fist. Indicators of what they were feeling inside.

  1. What can be taken from this? That what seems like an overblown reaction had lingered inside for a while, waiting for a release. It would.be valuable to know what was going on for them before their outburst. It’s important to validate their anger to help calm the situation. You don’t need to agree with them. If you can see where their upset is coming from, you can recognize that they are entitled to their feelings. If you remain calm and show that you care, that can go a long way to quell their anger.
  2.  You knowyou didn’t do anything to provoke them, but someone else did, and they are now taking it out on you. They could just be having a bad day. One in which it seems everything is working against them. Then someone else said something insensitive. In that moment they kept their cool. As soon as you looked at them “funny,” they let you have it. Feelings of powerlessness can bring on these kinds of reactions.

“It can be exceedingly difficult in these instances not to react negatively. For, after all, you may yourself be struggling with uncomfortable emotions, such as feeling belittled, threatened or (gratuitously) attacked.” (Psychology Today, Leon F. Seltzer, PhD)

If possible, the most helpful reaction is to try to get them to share what they believe was the thing that set them off. Try to find out what occurred beforehand that might have been the tipping point for them.

  1. In the third scenario, some words or action on your part, no matter how innocent, may have brought up something from their more distant past that never got completed or resolved.

You seem to be the object of their upset, but in this case, it has little or nothing to do with you. If you sense this is going on, do your best not to personalize their distress.

The physical side of anger

Psychoneuroimmunologists such as Candace Pert (Molecules of Emotion1999) have shown that emotions actually have a physical existence—as neuropeptides residing chemically inside us. They’re just awaiting opportunities to be revived (Psychology Today).

Our physical response to these old “ghosts” are expressed in anger and rage. They, themselves, may have no idea where these outbursts came from. If you can, without analyzing them, get them to go a little deeper into their feelings,. There is often pain and sadness beneath the surface. Sharing these feelings can go a long way towards healing some old material. Validating and showing concern can be very healing.

In all of these cases, the best path to take, if possible, is one of compassion, and a desire to understand. This is not always easy to do, but it can make for the best possible outcome, supporting them to release their anger, with your compassion and caring.

Are You Socially Astute?

50-60 % of children with ADHD have problems with peer relationships. Many of these children grow up to be adults who have poor social skills. Over 25% of Americans experience chronic loneliness. It is not difficult to imagine that there would be even greater challenges for the ADHD adult in this area.

50-60% of ADHD children also experience rejection by their peers, making it difficult for them to learn the skills they need to be more acceptable in social relationships. This is much less true for non-ADHD children. They experience peer rejection in about 13-16% of the cases. (Terry & Cole, 1991). “Many ADHD children are disliked within minutes of the initial social interaction (Pelham & Bender, 1982), and then denied further opportunities to practice social skills. This leads to further rejection. Social naivety exists in 20% of children and adolescents with ADHD.

Inattention, Impulsivity, Hyperactivity

Inattention in both ADHD children and adults comes from difficulty focusing on conversations, making it harder to really hear what others are saying. They are easily distracted from the interaction in front of them. Their minds frequently take their attention somewhere else. Impulsivity causes them to interrupt and blurt things out that may be inappropriate in social situations. Hyperactivity impedes them staying still long enough to have a meaningful interaction. “For some people the hyperactive/impulsive side of the condition shows them as being impatient, temperamental, and easily irritated.”(From Succeed Socially.com).

”Aggressive and oppositional behaviors, and their negative effects on social development” also have an impact. ADD kids are often considered bossy, inflexible, argumentative and controlling. These are unfortunate byproducts of the way their ADHD brains work. These attributes make it difficult for them to form many lasting friendships.

Social Skills: The Impact of other Factors and Treatment

ADHD children and adults have difficulty noticing facial expressions and body language. They may also not be paying attention to non-verbal cues because their minds are distracted and focused on other things. For example, another challenge is talking too much. “Adults with ADHD sometimes talk on and on and on. This can be because they feel an internal pressure to keep speaking. They may also be enthusiastically chatting about a topic, and miss the non-verbal signs that the other people aren’t that interested and would like them to move on to something else.”

The outcome of all of this is lower self-esteem.  Lower self-esteem leads to more isolation, and so it becomes a vicious cycle. In adulthood, these social skills challenges can lead to pain and suffering that can result in mood disorders and/or anxiety.

One form of treatment that can happen in childhood is to enroll the child in a social skills group. This gives the child an opportunity to roleplay with the new skills they are learning, and helps them to feel less isolated.

In adulthood, a similar experience can exist through a therapy group where individuals are able to test themselves out in a safe environment.  These are often conducted by a trained professional. Another vehicle for learning the appropriate skills is through some kind of Communication Skills training class. These are also usually conducted by knowledgeable therapists.

An excellent resource on this topic is The Social Skills Guidebook by Chris MacLeod which can be found at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AU8C766/?tag=succeedsocom-20).

7 Steps to Better Couples’ Communication

All relationships have issues. When two people who have different ways of looking at a situation get together, it is important to be able to talk things out to get a better understanding of one another. Good communication is essential to any healthy relationship and an important step in keeping conflict from overwhelming the relationship. Consider the following when having that meaningful conversation:

  • Make sure it is a good time to talk

    When you are feeling stressed or tired, you will not be at your best. find a time when you both can talk and listen without distractions.

  • Avoid judging, blaming and raising your voice.

It is important to deliver your message in as neutral a way as possible without getting accusatory or overly critical. You want to do your best to avoid putting your partner on the defensive so that real talking and listening can take place.

  • Use “I” language.

Again, using  “you” can sound like an accusation, and put your partner on the defensive. “I” is the language of ownership as in “I think…” or “I feel…” or “I would like…”An example might be “I would like it if we could have a date night this week,” instead of “You never take me anywhere anymore.”

  • Listen with Empathy

This means to open your heart and hear from a place of being compassionate instead of inner-directed. It means “walking a mile” in your partner’s shoes. It means being able to see the issue from your partner’s point of view instead of just wanting them to get through what they are saying so you can jump in. Listening to really hear what they are trying to communicate to you.

  • Be honest and kind

When you share, do so with the goal of being completely honest. Healthy relationships are built on honesty and integrity. Have the intention of sharing with honest thoughts and emotions as a way of respecting your partner and creating and maintaining trust.

Kindness is also very important. Honesty without kindness can lead to fear, intimidation and mistrust.

  • Reflect back what you have heard

A  very basic communication skill is Reflective Listening. This means listening carefully and then telling your partner what you have heard and asking “What I heard you say is this _____. Did I get that right?” Using this kind of skill will slow down the conversation and it will show your partner that you were truly hearing what they had to say.

  • When things get heated, take a Time Out

If the conversation starts going south, and things get tense, it is important to take a break and put some distance between the two of you. This can mean going into another room, or taking a walk, or finding another way to let of steam that doesn’t involve yelling at the kids or anyone else for that matter.

It is valuable to have an agreement to do this between the two of you  so that when one person asks for a time out, the other person doesn’t follow them around the house. A time out gives each partner an opportunity to cool off and helps avoid the escalation of anger.

If you follow these suggestions for more effective communication, you can keep things on an even keel and strengthen your relationship. Isn’t that what every couple wants?