If your partner has a short fuse, or quick temper, it usually manifests in two ways:
Passive-Aggression: “I’m not going to tell you how I feel, I’m just going to find a way to hurt you or break a promise to you.”
Verbal Aggression: “Instead of communicating with you about how I feel, I’m going to lash out with an insult, a criticism, or put all the blame on you.”
According to licensed therapist Dianne Grande Ph.D., compassion and assertiveness are the two best responses to your partner's display of anger or aggression. Although it is easy to protect yourself by launching a counter-attack, that will only escalate the situation.
How It Looks To Respond With Compassion: Compassion is the #1 tool in our conflict toolkit. Often, anger is only a veil for deeper feelings of insecurity, fear, or vulnerability. Compassion lifts the veil.
Step 1. Pause (When you pause in an argument, you cut off the momentum that typically accumulates in a back-and-forth)
Step 2. Show support (If you’re standing close enough, reach out and touch them. If you’re across the room, maintain eye contact and inhale, exhale. If you’re arguing over the phone, use a filler word like “Okay, okay”)
Step 3. Put your compassion into words
- "I know how difficult this is for you…"
- "I can totally understand why you feel attacked/frustrated/misunderstood…"
How It Looks To Respond With Assertion: Compassion is great, but it doesn’t come with an unlimited lifetime guarantee. That’s where assertion comes in.
Step 1. Pause (When you pause in an argument, you’re taking back control. Think of the pause as hitting the ‘reset’ button)
Step 2. Demonstrate boundaries (If you’re standing close enough, create more space between you by stepping backwards. If you’re across the room, make the ‘slow down’ hand gesture. If you’re on the phone, use fillers like “Hold on” or “Wait a second”)
Step 3. Put your assertiveness into words
- "I know how difficult this is for you, BUT it’s not fair of you to blame me..."
- "I don’t want to point fingers, I want to think of a solution…"
The best responses are typically a blend of both compassion and assertion. Only you know the best ratio for your relationship. Remember that although they may demonstrate verbal aggression, that does not make them an aggressive person. Often, their reactions are triggered by what they perceive to be signs of danger (especially if they lived through a traumatic childhood). They have learned to protect themself from this danger with narcissism (taking none of the responsibility) or defensiveness (lashing out at you).
But at their core, they are scared. Scared of losing you, being vulnerable in front of you, or letting you to think less of them. This insight by no means excuses their behavior, but it does give you understanding into why they have developed those tactics in the first place.