Riding the Waves of Anger

riding the waves of angerHave you ever been crushed beneath a wave and for a moment wondered if you’d ever make it up for another breath?

That happened to me the other day.

One moment I was surfing (or trying to surf), enjoying a beautiful day in Uluwatu. The next moment, I was being crushed by a huge wave. It slammed me down and flipped me over, knocking the air from my lungs. My limbs flailed. I struggled toward the surface, thrashing my arms and kicking my feet.

When I approached the surface, another wave hit with a thunderous boom. It pounded me back down.My heart was pounding. My lungs were crying out for breath. It seems every part of my body and mind was struggling for survival.

Then a clear message whispered within. “Relax.” I relaxed. I gave up the struggle.

Almost immediately, I found myself at the surface. I opened my mouth and breathed in deeply.

That was a few days ago. In this moment, I’m sitting high above the waves, on top of a cliff in Uluwatu, Bali. As I write these words I’m looking out over a cliff to magnificent waves that continue to roll in.

All morning, I’ve been seated in the garden watching the waves come rolling in. From my perch high above the ocean, I can see them in the distance. They’re lined up, awaiting their turn to grow, curl, crash, and turn to foam.

From up here, it all looks so peaceful. The waves look orderly and neat. I can see that they will roll in and roll out. But when you’re beneath the wave, feeling its fury, it can feel as though the wave will always be there.

It’s the same with anger.

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”

Dealing with Anger in Your Relationship

When you’re in the turbulent throes of an argument with your partner, it can feel as though you’ll always be in that argument. It feels like the anger and the justification for the anger will always be there.

The anger can tend to feel like a permanent fixture, rather than a passing phenomena. The wave of anger brings with it a need to be heard, to be right, and to make your point.

Anger turns off your ears and increases the speed of your words. You talk louder. You say things you don’t mean. You say things just to be mean.

Eventually, you get some space. Perhaps your partner storms out of the room. Perhaps you go for a walk. After a few minutes, the wave of anger retreats. It has rolled in, crashed, and turned to foam.

You’re left shaking your head, feeling foolish for the things you said and the way you behaved. You don’t want to have to apologize, but you know that you need to.

It’s now time to try to repair the damage that has been done. How could you have stopped this argument before it got out of control?

How to Stop an Argument with Your Partner

Here are four simple things you can do to stop arguments with your partner before they become a disaster that ruins the evening, the weekend, or your relationship.

1. Recognize Your Anger

One of the huge benefits of mindfulness meditation is that you develop a deeper understanding of how emotions like anger feel in your body.

Anger brings with it physical sensations (heat or tingling in your chest, tightness in your throat or jaw, etc) that indicate that anger is present. Everyone feels anger differently. It’s important for you to get to know your own body and how your body responds to anger.

If you train yourself to recognize these sensations, you’ll be better equipped to recognize that anger is present for you.

2. Own Your Anger

Acknowledge and own your anger. Your anger is yours. It’s an emotional experience that belongs to you.

There’s a big difference between these phrases:

“You make me so angry!” -or- “I’m feeling anger right now.”

The first statement places blame, while the second statement simply brings awareness to the fact that you’re feeling anger in that moment.

The first statement invite defensiveness, while the second one invites conversation and perhaps helps to slow down the conversation.

3. Soften Your Belly and Breathe

Notice how your belly feels when you get angry. You likely tighten your abs, using these strong muscles as shield to protect your vulnerability.

After all, this is what anger sometimes is — a defense against vulnerability.

Try softening your belly and breathe all the way down into it. This helps to circulate the angry emotional energy and it can be soothing.

4. Take Space to Breathe and Allow Anger to Pass

There isn’t a certain level of loudness that will finally get your partner to hear your point of view.

There isn’t an insult or an amount of yelling that will help you partner to see that you’re right.

While conflict is normal and an opportunity to increase intimacy, a loud argument will never resolve your issues.

Make an agreement with your partner before hand that you’re allowed to leave an argument for the sake of calming down. Agree with your partner that you can both serve your realtionship by stepping out of an argument to breathe.

Agree that after breathing, the conversation can be resumed.

Find a quiet place where you can sit and breathe. Don’t talk. Just breathe. Watch the sensations of anger in your body. Notice what you feel. Keep breathing.

When the sensations of anger have left, you may realize that there are many different directions that the conversation can go. You may realize that the issue is not important.

You may even realize that the answer is to show more love.

These steps are simple. Perhaps they sound too simple. I can promise you they work. They’ll help you and your partner recognize that anger is just a wave that passes over.

Anger comes and anger goes. The key is to manage it while it is present and to provide a doorway for it to leave.

These practices are simple, but they take practice.

Having a mindfulness meditation practice will be a huge help in doing this. Here are tips that will help you cultivate a mindfulness meditation practice.