The last lesson was about a Gentle Start up to conflicts. Since conversations and conflicts usually end on the same note that they began, how we bring up a problem is very, very important.
Many of us don’t think about how we are going to discuss a problem in our relationship. We would all improve our communication if we would think first. If you didn’t read the last lesson, why not take a few minutes to read, The Gentle Start-up.
When we don’t take the time to plan how to discuss and use a gentle start-up, we often get into a heated argument. Sometimes something just happens and we blow up before we even think. So what can we do when we realize we’ve stepped into a whirlwind of emotions?
Remember we talked about how to help a baby who is overstimulated? First you stop what you were doing with your child and you give them time to self-soothe. Taking a break uses the same principle. Stop the discussion right where it is and each one takes the time to self-soothe.
Taking a break is not the same thing as stonewalling. In stonewalling, we retreat from the conversation by leaving, either physically or emotionally. We quit talking and refuse to connect again in the discussion.
When an argument begins to spin out of control, we feel the physical symptoms of arousal; faster pulse and higher blood pressure. We begin having trouble processing new information and have difficulty listening. This certainly isn’t the atmosphere for solving our dilemma.
One or both of you may begin this process we call ‘flooding.’ You should have a previously agreed on signal that you can use when you need to take a break. It may be the sports signal making a T with your hands for ‘Time Out’, or something else you agree on.
At that point, you both agree to take a break. You set a time when you will begin again. A good length of time is about 20-30 minutes. It takes your body that long to de-escalate from the fight or flight flooding.
What you do with this time is vital to the process.
- Don’t take the time to rehearse your arguments and try to plan an attack that cannot be refuted. Don’t just nurse your frustration and wallow in your emotions. Take a break!
- Do whatever it is that is relaxing for you. Take a walk, take a bath, meditate, listen to lovely calming music, take a power nap. Whatever you do, make the goal calming yourself.
Resume the discussion when you are both calmed down.
- Make it your goal to address the issue, not attack each other.
- Keep your voices down and avoid harsh words or tone.
- Try to understand what your spouse is saying.
In the next few lessons we’ll talk more about ways to come to an agreement that benefits your relationship.
Talk with your spouse about what signal you will use when you need to take a time out from a conflict.
Think about what activities are the most calming to you. Take 20 minutes calming yourself now. Then have a nice chat about something you like about your spouse. See how nice it feels? We can accomplish so much more when we are not flooded and stressed.