For a long time, I could not understand how seemingly small arguments I had with female partners would spiral out of control.
I am not sure if it was David Deida's "Way of the Superior Man" that tipped me off to the "secret" I had somehow failed to pick up on, or if I had picked up on it before that, and read Deida in response.
Deida was a tough read for me - his worldview is "incompatible" with mine in many ways. I'm extremely logical and a skeptic. In some ways that is probably why I remember this lesson in the context of his book, as his book is the anti-thesis of my personality.
Men argue from logic, women from feelings
This is a coarse generalization, but it is true more often than you might think. It frustrated me to no end to get into arguments that started with "you're not doing enough housework", and ended with "I hate you! I've never loved you!", followed by a reconciliation where she insisted that of course she loved me.
To me these were not compatible, and totally out of proportion to each other.
For starters, if the issue was house work, we should be able to put down a schedule, and logically work through our differences over how to ensure the schedule gets followed. I pointed out that rationally, constant nagging is provably inefficient: It makes people resent carrying out tasks. The logical, "correct" solution is praise when someone puts in effort. She on the other hand would get upset if I didn't do things "perfectly".
I got extremely distraught when she during fights told me she did not love me. The very thought of saying something like that without meaning it was alien to me. Saying "I hate you", I could have understood. Hyperbole is one thing. But saying "I don't love you" one moment and "I do love you" the next, meant she was lying one of the times, and I started questioning her commitment. Ultimately this might have contributed to give me sufficient distance to make stupid mistakes that finally killed that relationship.
But the real failing was that I failed to recognize that there were no contradictions: I was interpreting her statements as logical and absolute. She was making statements about her emotional state then and there:
She was upset because she was tired and resented that I had not done anything then and there. Of course it was made worse by a perception that I didn't do housework often enough, but when I gave examples of when I did housework in response to her angry insistence I "never" did any, it just made it worse because I showed her I did not understand her feelings.
When it escalated, she did probably genuinely not feel any love for me then and there: She was consumed by anger at how insensitive to her emotions I was. She spoke the truth, but one bounded by a narrow context and a short period of time.
When she got the anger at a distance, she genuinely felt love, and truthfully expressed it, yet I doubted it because she contradicted herself when taking a longer view.
Resolving conflicts by meeting emotions
Recognizing this fundamentally altered how I deal with conflicts. Mostly with women, but while men tend to argue more out of logic (not always sound logic, by far - the ability to reason coherently often goes out the window with anger too), that is certainly not always the case.
Deida recommends pretty much smothering a woman with your love to dissolve conflict, but in reality the most important aspect is to make it clear you understand her emotions, to stay unreactive to the logical content of the words, and to respond emotionally to the extent appropriate.
I say this because you don't always want to respond with love. E.g. take the ex I have to deal with regularly, whom I still care about, but who I most certainly do not want to embrace and excude an air of love to. Not because I wouldn't be ok with that myself, but because I know it would "fan the flames" as a large part of the source of conflict with her is lingering resenment of how I triggered the end of our relationship.
In these situations, acknowledging the validity of her feelings ("you have all right to be angry", "I understand that you resent that"), don't react to the words by trying to argue the facts ("I didn't say that!", "I meant X, not Y!", "but you did Z"), and respond by embracing emotions rather than logic (hug her if she's sad instead of try to convince her logically everything will get better, be suitably quiet and "repentant" if she is angry about something she has genuine reason to be angry about, and so on).
It is perfectly fine to try to "drag her" out of her emotional state if it is done with some tact. E.g. "I understand you're sad about that job, but I know what will cheer you up, come dance with me" with high energy might be perfectly fine, but don't try the same if her grandma just died. But genuine anger directed at you is not likely to be one of the situations where this will be very effective. Your mileage may vary, but I find the best way of defusing such anger if I can't "fix" her emotions about it by actually correcting the problem is to let her vent and listen, and make suitable head movements and sounds to make her feel that I am taking what she says to heart, and extract myself from the situation as soon as possible, as I know that it will often just slowly build until she goes into a rage because her feelings fuel themselves when she can focus them on me.
Calling her out and countering anger with anger
Sometimes you may feel that her anger is misdirected or unfair, and want to call her out on it.
Sometimes this is a valid feeling. In those cases you should call her out on it, or she will walk all over you. E.g. if she gets upset that you've been out with friends, you need to decide: Is she being fair, or do you genuinely believe that you're giving her enough attention? If you believe you are paying her the attention you feel you should, and you don't want to be pushed into sacrificing your friendships, then you need to call her out on it.
You need to show her it makes you angry. You can and should retain your calm, but make it very clear that you will not tolerate that shit: If she can't handle it, then she is not good for you, and should leave. Make sure not to give ultimatums. Don't threaten her with a breakup, but make it clear that you will not spend time on her if she is not a positive influence on your life.
Again: You can and should remain calm. You don't need to explode in rage to demonstrate your anger. Calmly stating your position and your feelings is sufficient. Just remember you are arguing with emotions, feelings, not logic. Pick your words accordingly.
But be sure you know what you want.
Handling justified anger
But if her anger is justified, then responding with anger is a weak move. It is refusal to take responsibility. Yes, it sucks to let her take her anger out on you. Yes, you could perhaps shoot her down, dominate her ( and end up being a bully ) and get her to accept the situation and suppress her anger. But it is a dick move if you for example have cheated, to try to suppress perfectly valid anger because you're not man enough to take the consequences of your actions.
That is not to say that you should let her walk all over you. Her anger may feel and/or be disproportionate to what you did or feel you did. You must determine for yourself what influence on your life you feel she is entitled to, and the potential consequences. Perhaps you like me have a child with an ex, in which case you may very well find yourself accepting far more than otherwise to avoid consequences for your child, or for your ability to see your child.
But the best way of handling it when she moves over the limit depends greatly on your relationship.
If it is an ongoing relationship, meet her anger with love - then you can listen to Deida. Let her hit your chest if she wants, let her scream, but embrace her if she will let you, tell her you love her, put the brakes on her anger that way. Unconditionally love her for who she is, without judgement. Chances are good she will sense it and be unable to remain angry.
If that fails, take away your attention. Make it clear you accept she is angry, but it is enough, and tell her you can talk later (don't her add the fateful words "when you've calmed down" or similar - it's like throwing a grenade). Later shower her with love again.
Understand that if you don't draw a line in cases where her anger goes to excesses, though, even if the original anger is justified, she will grow to take advantage, quite possibly unintentionally, and your failure to take a stand will poison your relationship that way. In other words: You can not yield and let her continue to shower abuse on you beyond what you believe is fair. It will breed resentment between you.
But also realize that some anger is too severe to overcome, and your relationship can and should be over. You do yourself and her a disservice if you yield to save a relationship that is in effect already dead.
If it is an ex, or someone else you can't just start showering with love, withdraw. Again make it clear you understand she is feeling angry, and you understand that her initial anger was justified, but nothing good is coming out of it, and leave. Demonstrate with actions more than words that you will not reward her for taking it too far with attention or concessions: You will take what you deserve, but not be a whipping boy on an ongoing basis.
Way of the Superior Man (affiliate link; go to Amazon and search for the title if you don't want me to get a commission)
Note that while I believe this book has some valuable lessons, speaking as a skeptic and rational person, this book was hard to swallow for me. It is full of new age-y nonsense that I would not stand behind. I do believe that what it says about rationality and emotions with respect to relationships is worthwhile, and so I recommend reading it with an open mind. Just don't get too caught up in it...