Growth | Written by: Valerie Sizelove

How to Stop Overreacting in a Relationship

In a relationship, what’s the one thing that makes your hair stand up and turns you into a rabid dog? We all have something that makes us blow up. 

Think about times in the past when you’ve been overly sad or upset, times when you really didn’t feel good about the way you reacted to your partner in your relationship.

For me, it’s when hubby doesn’t do his household jobs and chores. I may overreact sometimes. Well, I’m more of the type to bottle it up for too long and then just explode with frustration. Which doesn’t accomplish anything besides making me look crazy.

But for real, I pretty much always feel sorry after I overreact. I realize that part of the problem is the way I’ve handled things. My explosion sure didn’t help make things better. If anything, it showed my husband that I’m hard to work with as a teammate.

By pausing, reassessing the situation, and entering into a productive conversation, I could have avoided the blow-up altogether. I’ll remember that for next time.

When We Overreact

The problem is, when you explode in reaction to certain “triggers,” this isn’t the best or most pleasant way to deal with the stress of the situation.

It puts stress on your relationship because it can cause painful arguments that you could’ve avoided in the first place. Overreacting to not-so-critical situations can be harmful to your well-being and your relationship.

So, how do you get a hold of your reactions?

It’s sometimes hard to see why your own reaction might have been a little extreme, especially when you’re blinded with anger. Talk to someone who has seen you explode, and ask them to describe it from their point of view. You might even ask your partner.

Chances are, you'll get a new look at yourself and begin to identify how your behavior is affected by anger. When you're presented with a frustrating situation, picture yourself being watched by that person. You can try to imagine the way they would view you if you handled the issue in a mature way, by not overreacting this time.

Identify Your Triggers

By learning which things are likely to set you off, you’re gaining a little control of the situation already. When you know that you’re being challenged by a trigger in your relationship (like when my husband forgets to take the trash down to the street on trash night), or a certain conversation that keeps coming up makes you so angry you explode.

If you’re conscious of things like this, you will be able to recognize these situations as they happen and start changing your behavior from the very beginning, before you overreact.

What to Do When You Encounter a Trigger

These tips will help you stop the moment a trigger hits and take a second to regroup and react normally. 

  1. Take a break. Breathe deeply and slowly, notice any tension in your body, and focus on relieving that tension. Stretch your arms or legs to help melt away the tension.
  2. Rationalize. Reassess the situation with an outside view. Find a way to be compassionate. Tell yourself it will pass.
  3. Time to Act. Talk it out or take some more time. If you can talk, make sure to speak using “I” statements.  If your little break didn’t leave you feeling any less upset, it may be time to leave the situation.

You can come back to it after you’ve had more time to think and manage your anger.

Address Issues Right Away

Remember, earlier I said that I bottle up my anger and release it all at once, usually overreacting to some kind of trigger. This intensifies reactions, so it’s better to just address smaller annoyances and frustrations right when they come.

By tackling problems head-on, you might face some discomfort, but you’ll also feel like something has been lifted off your chest. When times arise that would usually trigger you, you may be feeling less stress and not overreact because you’ve reduced your collection of problems.

Avoid Making Presumptions

You are not a mind-reader. Do not base your self-worth on the unpredictable beliefs of others. In an argument, don’t assume you know everything about somebody. Your overreaction is then partially based on information that you’re in essence, making up. How silly is that?

Take a moment to go through your brain and eliminate any presumptions or bias that you may be clinging on to. Your partner could be coming from somewhere totally different than what you think he or she is admitting.

Talk About It

Let your partner know that you recognize your tendency to overreact and you’re trying to work on it. Even making a small apologetic gesture like that can heal a lot in a relationship.

Communication is always important in relationships, and this is not a time to shy up and keep everything inside. If you feel you’re right when you get mad, but can admit that you overreact at times, you’re already on the way there. 

The next step is having conversations instead of arguments. When something triggers you, catch yourself in your reaction, and force yourself to start talking about it instead.

Or, if you feel too angry, take some time alone and come back to it later. Counseling can help you come up with ways to work through your anger at times when you get triggered.

Go to Counseling

It may be in your best interest to go to couples counseling if one or both of you in the relationship have a habit of overreacting in some situations. Often, there is a pursuer-distancer pattern going on in relationships, where one person pushes closer to the other, while the other just wants some space.

Going to counseling could help you and your partner recognize a pattern like this or any other unhealthy relationship patterns to start getting your relationship away from a place of overreaction.

The therapists in these situations can also work directly with each person to help them with any personal issues they might want to resolve. 

Don’t Let Overreactions End Your Relationship

Like I said, we're all guilty of overreacting from time to time. We're human. But some of us tend to overreact more than others in relationships, and it can become a problem. It can even be a relationship pattern carried from one relationship to the next.

I’ve struggled for a long time with confrontation. I still do. So, I avoid it like the plague.

But that means the anger that builds inside of me is still there, just fuming to come out. And then I finally overreact so some menial thing, which causes relationship problems. I’m definitely not perfect, but I’m trying. I’m trying to recognize my flaws and improve on them.

It's not always easy to find faults in yourself. Don’t think of this as a fault. Think of it as a learning opportunity. It means you can identify the behavior and thinking that got you into trouble in the past. You can then decide to avoid that behavior at all costs by following some of the above tips.

That’s why we’ve given you a few ways to stop yourself from overreacting in relationships. If you have a feeling you’ve been overreacting lately to everyday problems, go talk to a therapist. Even if you don’t go to couples therapy, it could do wonders for your soul and your relationship.

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