Some degree of conflict is unavoidable in lasting relationships. Whether it is your partner, sister, roommate, classmate, coworker, family member, or friend, you are bound to disagree with those with whom you associate closely. The good news is there are ways to both hear and be heard in these tense moments! Read on to learn more.
The majority of my couples tell me all they really want is to be heard and understood by their partner. When we are in a conversation, with someone we care about, and do not feel heard or understood, we often escalate by raising our voices, repeating ourselves, blaming or even name-calling. These behaviors can inevitably leave both people feeling disconnected and alone, instead of connected and loved. A simple disagreement can easily get out of control if a couple does not have a strategy to de-escalate and reconnect. I am going to present a strategy to you that will partners to stay connected when there is conflict, ultimately saving your relationship.
UTILIZING TIME OUT
The idea of Time Out is not anything new, but I find it to be incredibly effective in my practice with my clients, as well as useful in my own personal life. The premise of Time Out is this: “I love you. Because I love you, I do not want to say or do anything that could hurt you. When I recognize that I am getting close to that point, I am going to call a Time Out.” Time Out is essentially a way to regroup when you recognize that you are growing increasingly hot and bothered and could potentially do some damage to your relationship. Here is how it works:
- Time Out is called by you, for you. This is not intended to be a way to punish your partner!
- Call Time Out before it is too late. Tell your partner you need a time-out (for yourself) before you say or do anything that may hurt the relationship. Know your own warning signs so that you can call a time-out early in the process; you may feel flushed, begin crying, notice your voice rising, or begin crying. The longer you wait to call a time-out, the longer it will take to soothe and be ready to come back.
- Your Time Out should be a pause… but not too long! Your partner may feel like you are walking out on him/her, so agree to reconnect in 30 minutes after a Time Out is called. If you find yourself needing more time after a half hour, communicate that need to your partner, and set a specific time when you will reconnect.
- Use Time Out to soothe. Calm yourself down and try to clear your mind so you can come back and communicate clearly and effectively. Ways to soothe include: focusing on deep breaths, going on a run, listening to peaceful music, taking a drive, cuddling a pet, or a participating in a creative outlet.
- Write during Time Out. Some of us are able to work through our feelings by writing them down, which also enables us to convey said feelings to our significant others. Try using “I” statement to take ownership of your feelings to help you understand why you felt those feelings and needed a Time Out. “I” statements look like this: “I feel ______ because of _______”; or, “When you did ______, I felt _____.”
- Come back! Come back to your partner once you have soothed, written down your feelings and have a plan on how to stay grounded when reconnecting with your partner. You each should then take turns reading your written-out feelings with your partner, while the other simply listens and then repeats back what they have heard. This is not a time for a rebuttal or to defend yourself!
When you use time-outs effectively, you will be amazed at how recurring arguments you and your partner seem to have suddenly disappear. You will find that you not only have deeper understanding of your partner, but you are also practicing healthy communication tools that will apply to and improve all aspects of any relationship. Remember that this kind of success is possible but will take time; if you do not succeed at first…keep trying! I have helped innumerable couples with couple resolution, and am confident in my ability to help you and your partner communicate more effectively and peacefully. Should you find you need more immediate attention, please contact me today or schedule your first session for help tailored specifically to your situation.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.
- Beauty and Tips: “10 Easy Ways to Calm Down After an Argument With Your Partner”
- Beliefnet: “How to Calm Down After an Argument”
- Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
- Healing and Recovery handout by Dr. Mark Bird: “Effective Time Outs”
- Forbes: “Five Ways To Keep Your Cool When Under Fire”