Anger Management for Couples: Taming the Reptilian Brain
When you and your partner are angry, your brains just aren’t themselves.
When voices are raised, pulses are racing, and your tongues slip in ways that may mortify you later, you’ve triggered a departure from presence and awareness. You’ve switched over to something much more related to “perceived” threats of survival.
At that point, your “reptilian brain” is in charge.
That’s right, reptilian. We’ve all got a reptile in us-that way of reacting and attacking lest it be attacked, eats for fear of being eaten. No reflection. No forethought.
It is important to understand what happens when we allow anger to go unmanaged. Essentially, we regress. The aggressive survivalist thinking (kept in check most of the time by our mammalian brain), and the reptilian or limbic brain, is unleashed on our partner — or whoever gets in the way.
Is there a way to tame the reptilian response before anger does damage to your relationship? How can we remain tapped into the mammalian brain, or the parts of us who knows better, or better yet our self-awareness and temper the situation to restore calm?
The key is to employ our humanity and awareness even in anger. It’s often tough to reflect, instead of react, without an anger management plan.
Consider the following ways of taming the reptilian brain:
Give yourself space to breathe so you can slow down your nervous system in order to make choices to respond rather than react. Challenge your initial knee-jerk reaction, and bite your tongue to give yourself enough mental space to consider whether you’d rather be right, or happy and loving.
Notice your own thoughts and feelings.
What is happening in your body? How are you physically reacting to your partner’s tone? What thoughts are interfering with your ability to listen? Are they productive or ramping up the rage? Self-awareness is crucial to breaking down the reptilian reaction.
Identify your unmet needs.
Anger is important because it highlights unmet needs. A reactive response does little to help meet these needs. In fact, reactivity just gets in the way and pulls focus away from those needs.
Try to step back and commit to internal investigation. Step back from reaction so you can look at your personal triggers. What is stimulating your response? Why are you in survival mode? What unresolved hurts have ignited inside you and caught fire? Is this really about your partner? Is this really about being fully seen, understood, accepted, and loved?
Taking time to identify needs will increase your ability to articulate what it is you want and lessen your agitation.
Take action to understand and meet your own needs.
It is vital that you tame the reptilian brain because it allows you more choices for taking care of yourself than lashing out. Reflection and response are crucial for accurate perspective and productive forward movement. Talk to a therapist, journal, communicate. Choose another way to deal with anger.
Consider each other’s point of view and what each of you might be wanting or needing that’s at the root of what you might be saying. Compassionately communicate “I see and hear you” rather than “I‘m going to win.” Slowing down your reaction, to really listen effectively, quiets the reptilian response and promotes connection.
Choose to forgive.
Reptiles don’t forgive or surrender. They strive to be the last one standing when faced with a fight. That’s not your goal. When you’re thinking straight, you remember you love your partner. You want to stand together.
Forgiveness is a beautiful reflection of your humanity. By releasing yourself and your partner emotionally, you choose to deal with anger on higher ground with healthy, loving, relationship-preserving perspective.
All of this may be difficult to accomplish without the help of an emotional “translator” or couples counselor. Don’t be afraid to seek help and embrace a kinder, calmer connection with your spouse or partner.