For the past 26+ years I have had the honor and privilege to work with many married couples and families. One of the huge issues in these situations is the ability to communicate during a disagreement or argument. Let’s be honest, fights are going to happen in marriages and families. Sometimes they escalate so fast that many people don’t even remember what started the argument. What causes and starts arguments is a deeper conversation for another day, but I want to talk to you today about a technique and a tool to use in the “heat” of an argument. That moment in the argument when both people have moved from listening to winning. That moment in an argument that is the beginning of a spiral or snowball. That moment in the argument when feelings and words begin to be hateful and hurtful. That moment in the argument when things have escalated so much that hurtful words and/or actions will harm, hurt and injure the person you love the most.
Gottman Method Couples Therapy, developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, teaches that the stress of arguments create a “fight or flight” response that is both physical and emotional: the heart rate increases, muscles become tense, blood flow decreases to the hands and feet. These physiologic signs are signals that one is overwhelmed or “flooded.”
Studies have shown that this level of heightened arousal affects the ability to accurately recall events, stay focused, and listen to another. Feeling flooded can also lead to the defense mechanism of stonewalling, or shutting down.
However I believe that before couples get to the fight or flight and flooded level in a conflict they can use an important tool to change the outcome. I was thinking about this a few years ago as I was trying to talk to one of my teenagers about something and they had some loud music playing in the background. I thought about it again when my wife was trying to tell me something, but I was in the middle of watching a program on TV. Then I was caught up on my computer working and writing when my 9 year old came in and said “Daddy can you take a timeout for a second I need to talk to you?”.
We all watch our favorite teams take a “timeout” when the game is getting out of hand, or the team is losing focus or to communicate without distraction to each other.
It was an “aha” moment for me. Here it is… So simple… at the most heated moment of an argument or fight couples need to call “Timeout” or literally “Pause” the argument. Couples need to take a literal break from the conversation. They need to walk away, take a walk, take a break, clear their mind, calm down. take a deep breath, and then when ready come back to the conversation. The most important part of the “Pause” is to come back and follow up. Follow up with clear, direct and defined conversation. Be an active listener. Really listen to your spouse’s words and the heart felt feelings behind what they are trying to convey. It is vital that you come back in a calm environment and take turns sharing “I” Statements about the conversation.
Make it fun! Come up with a “Pause Word” together. Something that may make you laugh together and re-wire your body and mind during those heated moments of battle. Some examples: Mickey Mouse, Snickers Bar, Santa Claus, and my favorite so far… Scott Baio!
Let’s face it. Couples argue and fight. It’s going to happen. However sometimes we just need to Pause and take a timeout in the heat of the moment.
By the way… it can work with in a Parent/Child relationship
What do you think? Would you be willing to use this tool in your own relationships?
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
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