Perhaps you haven't gone so far as to cut off your ear as a defense against marital criticisms, but it may seem appealing at times. Turning a deaf ear sure beats retaliating with verbal assaults. Nevertheless, we too often let our tempers rage against those we love. Losing our temper is a common reaction to a child or spouse who upset us.

"Because we live in a world full of pressure," family advocate Ulisses Soares remarked, "controlling our temper may become one of the challenges in our lives. Think for a few seconds how you react when someone does not comply with your desires the moment you want them to. What about when people disagree with your ideas, even though you are absolutely sure that they represent the proper solution to a problem? What is your response when someone offends you, critiques your efforts, or is simply unkind because he or she is in a bad mood? At these moments and in other difficult situations, we must learn to control our temper and convey our feelings with patience and gentle persuasion. This is most important within our homes and within our relationships with our eternal companions. During the 31 years I've been married to my sweetheart, she has often given me gentle reminders of this as we have faced life's unsettling challenges."

Soares' list of potential every day, temper-losing situations includes differences in opinions or ideas, offenses, criticisms and bad moods. These may cause us to do irrational things like scream at our kids, "Stop yelling at each other!" Losing our tempers frequently in marriages undermines trust and corrodes love. Can we put a stop to this destructive behavior? Yes. One mother found herself yelling at her four boys so often, she set a goal of not yelling for 365 days and reported the amazing results.

It may seem unrealistic to some parents or spouses to not yell for a whole year, but making it a goal each day along with consistent, conscientious effort is something we can all do. When a slip up happens, we humbly acknowledge our mistake and work on patience again the next day. Instead of allowing others' offenses make us lose our temper, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Will this matter in five years?

Asking ourselves this question encourages us to mentally walk down the road a few years, look back, and see what really matters. Will it matter that your toddler wears a tutu to church or that your husband forgets to fill up the car with gas? What will your family members remember you for: losing your temper or having a sense of humor? Stepping back from the heated, emotional situation has many benefits. Children need a time-out to calm down as do we. Just like a car's temperature gauge, it's easier to keep control of our tempers when we aren't overheated. Take a big breath to see the big picture and what will matter in the long run.

2. Is this a hill I want to die on?

Using a war metaphor seems appropriate when considering the parent-teen relationship. There is nothing more appealing to a teenager than their freedom and they often fight tooth and nail for it. Some issues become a battlefield and spiral out of control. As a result, we find ourselves not fighting over the issue anymore but who is "right." Consider that some issues aren't worth fighting over and are best let go, especially if you too often become the enemy. For example, it was important to me that my children take piano lessons, but after years of "torturing" my son, and after I saw him lay his head down on the piano keys and cry at a lesson, I realized this wasn't a hill I wanted to die on.

3. Do my actions encourage or discourage my child or spouse?

Ultimately, this is the most crucial question to ask in all relationships. In the middle of losing our tempers, imagine what you must look like to your spouse or child. Imagine how yelling at them makes them feel about themselves and you. Write down the words you said in anger and read them aloud to yourself. Are you encouraged or discouraged? Does the tone and meaning build those you love or tear them down?

If anger and a bad temper is a problem for you, these three questions will help you keep your head on (and ears). Reviewing them daily can help bring back perspective and strengthen you to treat your family members with patience and love.

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