The Dance of Relationship: The Angry Spiral

Last month I had a talk with my son, Xander. We were having a rough day – lots of conflict, lots of disagreement, lots of power struggles (ugh). And things escalated (as things often seem to when you’re stressed out and cranky and interacting with a 4 year old…or anyone, let’s be honest).

We’d hit a low point, a noisy, angry low point. And I knew something had to change. So I took a deep breath, went over to Xander, got down on his level, looked him in the eyes, and I said something like this:

“Sweetie, you know how sometimes one of us gets cranky and that makes the other one cranky and then the first one gets crankier and that makes the other one crankier and we keep going until someone yells and we feel like this?”

He nodded. I remember his arms crossed across his chest and a frown on his face.

“Well, that’s called an angry spiral. And it’s NO FUN, is it?”

He shook his head. I could feel the tension easing.

“Yeah, I don’t like how I feel either. OK. How about you and I make a deal: whenever we feel like we’re doing that, do you think we could agree to stop and say ‘angry spiral’ and then have a hug instead?”

He nodded, and we had a hug and everything was better.

Maybe a week later, we had another clash and lost our tempers. 10 seconds later he came over to me and said “Mummy, was that an angry spiral?”

Me: *blink…blink* Mind….BLOWN.

“You know what? It totally was. Can I have a hug?”

Instant reconnection. Heart-expanding, soul-healing, make-everything-better reconnection. And after the reconnection, we were able to talk about what was bothering us and what we needed in order to feel better. WIN.

Ever since then, it’s been our pattern. We many not identify what’s happening until afterward, but we always say the words and then reconnect. And then we figure out how to resolve our differences.

Even on days when I’m sleep deprived and snappish and we have to reconnect over and over and over again (like today), the words “angry spiral” take the bad mood’s power away. They remind me what’s important: connection with the people I love. They recentre me in my relationships.

The angry spiral practice doesn’t stop us from feeling our feelings, but it reminds us that anger is just a passing emotion. When you don’t have a lot of experience with anger (and that’s me as well as Xander), it can help to name it so you don’t confuse it for hatred. Xander and I are learning together that you can be angry at someone and still love them like crazy.

Today Xander drew this picture, and I wrote down what he said about it because even though I’ve been using this language of ours 10 times longer than he has, he has a way of putting things so clearly it makes my head spin. Click the photo to see the full-sized version.

Love takes away the angry spiral
Love takes away the angry spiral

Here’s to love, to connection, to hugs and kisses, to forgiveness…and to the power of communication.


3 thoughts on “The Dance of Relationship: The Angry Spiral”

    1. Yay! I hope it helps them as much as it’s helped us!

      Fun story: we’ve been talking to Xander about respect lately (as in, “if you’re climbing on me/hitting me/sitting on my head and I ask you to get off/stop, you need to respect that”). Now when he hurts one of us (intentionally or not) he yells “I RESPECT YOU!” afterwards and grins. Oh, 4, you’re hilarious. We clearly have more work to do 😛

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