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(Brian Gable/Brian Gable/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

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Driven to destruction Add to ...

I can no longer stand being in the car with my partner because of his endless road rage. He shouts and screams at other drivers all the time and honks the horn. His anger has caused erratic driving and a few close calls. What can I do to stop him?

- Raging Bull

We've all been frustrated in traffic. Some of us get mad, and some of us try to get even with those we think have wronged us. Proponents of Eastern wisdom, on the other hand, exact vengeance by simply kicking back on the beach long enough to watch the bones of their enemies wash up on the sand.

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I assume your partner isn't in the Buddhist camp, but you might want to ask him to take a page from the book of the Dalai Lama. Invest in a highlighter or dog-ear the relevant sections. And buy him a yoga pass. Quiet, meditative time and exercise can go a long way toward gaining perspective and controlling negative emotions. Because really, it's not worth risking your life and the lives around you over a drive.

Yelling profanities and gesturing at another helpless citizen stuck in gridlock on a busy freeway is futile. In most cases, they can't even see or hear you. The same goes for aggression aimed at people who drive under the speed limit, or "steal" the parking spot you saw first. Cutting off other vehicles, tailgating, passing and then purposefully braking or blocking are all pointless, too. Save that kind of rage for the big stuff - like genocide and proroguing parliament.

Besides, what's the worst that could happen if you're delayed on the road? You'll be 10 minutes late for another 10-hour work day? A dental appointment? Church? Sure sounds a lot better than risking a fatal collision. And if you witness dangerous actions, call the police. It's their job to deal with law-breakers, not yours.

Why is your man so angry? What's at the root of his frustration? I'd guess that his behaviour is not restricted to the car. Aggression on the road can be the manifestation of a deeper dysfunction. Making hand gestures and using your voice or the horn to express frustration are one thing. Using the car to seek revenge through violent actions is another matter, well-documented by J. Peter Rothe in his book Driven to Kill, Vehicles as Weapons .

If he's lucky, your partner's anger will never cause an accident. But there are still consequences to aggression. High blood pressure and stress lead to every kind of illness, and will undoubtedly harm his mental health and yours. Friendships, family and marital relationships regularly break down due to the harbouring of anger and resentment. And speaking of health, is this behaviour new or long-standing? Sometimes medical problems can cause angry outbursts. If this is a new issue, call the family doctor.

Road-ragers think everyone is against them. They don't seem to realize that another driver forgetting to signal is probably just that. And the little old man going too slow? Again, just that. Raising and lowering your self-esteem based on the actions of others is a difficult game. The only thing you have control over are your own actions and responses, and your level of civility to fellow drivers.

If you have kids, road rage has even more consequences. You're setting the example for a new generation of ragers. One woman confessed that her daughter learned all the curse-words she knows in the car. That woman, in turn, blames her father for her aggressive driving behaviour. She claims road rage is hereditary.

Though difficult, it's well proven that habits can be broken, with or without professional counselling. Instead of screaming, suggest your partner listen to audio books while driving, or turn on some music. It's pretty hard to be angry while listening to the Jackson Five. If your partner still can't control his anger, maybe you should get him a transit pass. That way he can leave the driving to the professionals.

Until your man changes this behaviour, refuse to ride with him. Also insist that he seeks help. The last thing you want is him bringing that anger home. I shudder to imagine his reaction when you burn the roast.

 

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