A wise person once said, "I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to." In any relationship, you are issued many invitations to arguments. Often, those invitations arrive in the form of comments or behaviors that push your buttons. Although this kind of behavior can be frustrating, you can learn to manage your responses to it.
Step back from the situation when your button has been pushed. Attempt to view the scene as though you are watching a play, advises Sybil Evans and Sherry Suib Cohen, authors of "Hot Buttons: How to Resolve Conflict and Cool Everyone Down." By doing so, you can distance yourself and clearly see that reacting emotionally will merely worsen the conflict.
Ask for more information about the situation, say Evans and Cohen. Rather than yelling at your boyfriend for being late, calmly ask him what happened. He might have a legitimate reason for being late or may express feelings of contrition -- something that won't happen if you go on the attack.
Let your boyfriend know how his actions made you feel -- after you've listened to him. Say, "Bill, I'm so sorry you had to deal with your car battery acting up again. That must be really frustrating. If it happens again, will you call me? That way I won't have to worry that you've forgotten our plans."
Take a timeout if your boyfriend doesn't respond in a manner you are able to cope with. Once you get angry, it can be very difficult to resolve problems. It's best not to talk at all once that happens, advises marital and family therapist Nathan Cobb. Wait until you are calm to address the issue.
Try a technique psychologists call "covert rehearsal" to respond to button pushing in the future, advises psychologist Leon Seltzer in "Psychology Today." Think about a time when you lost your temper after your boyfriend pushed a button and how it might have turned out differently if you hadn't. Imagine what you could have said or done differently in response to his actions. The next time the issue arises, you will have "practiced" more effective responses and will be less likely to get angry.
Remember that, ultimately, you are the only person whose behavior you can control. Although you might never be able to make your boyfriend be on time, stop checking out other people or put the cap back on the toothpaste, you can control your response to these behaviors.
- Hot Buttons -- How to Resolve Conflict and Cool Everyone Down; Sybil Evans and Sherry Suib Cohen; 2001
- Cobb Counselling, Inc.: Rules for Fair Fighting
- Psychology Today: Disarming Your Buttons -- How Not to Get Provoked
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