Three Quick and Simple Tools to Stop Fighting Now
Let’s be honest, we all hate conflict. It’s not fun, it doesn’t feel good and it leaves us isolated from the ones we care about most.
No one wants to fight, but the reality is we all do.
Fighting left unchecked is damaging. So how do you stop it before it gets out of hand?
Create a Timeout Phrase
Most couples can tell when they are escalating and heading towards the point of no return. Those conversations feel and sound the same. But it’s really hard to stop a car that is flying off a cliff.
But it’s not impossible.
The next time you two are in a good place in your relationship, where things aren’t escalated and you generally feel secure to ether, talk together about creating a timeout phrase. This is a word or phrase that either one of you can use to stop the conversation from escalating past the point of no return when you feel it is going in that direction.
It’s important that you both agree on this phrase and recognize why it is important and helpful for your relationship. As you well know, in the moment it is tough to think rationally sometimes and give up your position in order to stop a fight from escalating, especially when you are working so hard to get your point across. The reality as we all know is that if you keep letting it go, not only will your point not be heard, you’ll each end up worse off for it than if you stopped it early on.
How do you know when you should pull out this phrase?
You’ll feel it, first in your body. Tension will creep in, your heart rate will increase and your breathing will shallow out. You might feel it in your stomach or your chest, or your face might get flushed. This is all followed by a sense of panic, fear, anger or frustration. That’s the flight or fight response kicking in. You’ll want to stand up for yourself or back away.
Emotions will start to come up; stronger ones that get stronger as the conversation continues.
Things will start to feel out of control or overwhelming.
You’ll start to see the other person in a negative light, or see them as your enemy instead of your ally.
I’m sure you have other indicators that are letting you know the car is headed off the cliff, these are just a common few to consider.
Begin by using your word or phrase, explaining that you feel yourself moving that direction and you want to keep things from escalating and hurting each other and the relationship.
Take your time out. Calm down, physically and emotionally. And work on getting yourself into a better space to be able to talk through what was happening.
Which leads right into the next tip.
Don’t Bottle Things Up – Keep an Empty Tank
It’s easy to push things down that bother us, or sweep them under the rug. Often times it feels safer to do that than bring them up and address them.
What ends up happening?
Usually those feelings and issues come out later, unresolved, unprocessed and with greater intensity. We bring them up in other arguments, or simply blow up at the drop of a hat.
It’s akin to having a full septic tank. Those tanks can only hold so much, and when they fill up and aren’t emptied on a regular basis it all comes out and creates one big mess.
The secret is to let things out on a regular basis, and ideally not stuff at all.
This means we actually need to face and identify our feelings and issues, then learn how to talk about what we feel and what those issues are.
Schedule Regular Time Together
One way to do this is schedule regular time with your partner or spouse to talk about how you are both doing, what you are feeling and if there are any issues you need to resolve together. This is best done in a space where you both feel safe and comfortable and at a time of day where you are both alert and able to process. For some people that’s best done in the morning or afternoon, or after the kids have gone to bed. Other couples find it helpful to do this with a third party, such as a trusted friend or in couples counseling with a professional.
The key is to have this conversation in person and not over text message or other electronic means. We pick up a lot from body language and tone that is so often missed electronically.
The second solution is to address issues right as they come up, or as soon as you are able to. Sometimes things happen and we simply can’t address them in the moment. Forced to wait for an opportune time, it’s easy to have that conversation in your head with your partner and start building your case.
This is damaging for two reasons.
The first is that when we have those internal conversations we assume our partner’s response and project our own feelings onto them without giving them a chance to really share how they feel or see things. It’s easy to make your spouse the bad guy this way and you have already skewed your view of them for when you actually talk in person.
The second concern is doing this actually ignores addressing our own feelings. When we focus on building our case or putting words in our spouse’s mouth we actually ignore how we feel and what we need.
Having space and time before conversation can be really beneficial, if we use it to better understand and solidify what our issues, feelings and concerns are. That way when we do approach our partner we can share our message clearly and concisely, and without the same intense emotions had we not already through through things.
You might be asking yourself, “I get that, but how do I actually do it? How do I bring those things up in a conversation?”
The third and final point will tell you how to best start that conversation.
Begin Conversations Differently
Fights can often break out because of how a conversation begins.
A simple question or statement, even one that is benign, can escalate a discussion quickly. This is even truer when the subject matter is one of importance, emotion filled or personal. It’s unrealistic to expect every conversation to go well or account for every possible trigger. We can’t predict the outcome of a conversation, but we can be intentional about how we start the important ones.
Consider the following example. In a recent conversation your spouse rolled his eyes at you and then walked away. Your feelings were hurt and you want to bring that up and address it so that he knows how you feel, but you know when you have tried to do that in the past it usually lead to defensiveness and escalation. Understandably you are nervous about bringing it up at all. You are faced with two options. You can try what you’ve tried in the past, fearing the same result as before, or you can stuff it knowing that it will simply come up later in and lead to things escalating.
So what do you do?
Complaint vs. Attack
The secret is to start out the conversation with a complaint instead of a criticism or attack.
It’s no surprise that someone responds defensively when they feel criticized or attacked, even if we aren’t trying to do that.
Beginning a conversation with a complaint diffuses the situation before it can escalate.
So what’s the difference? What does a complaint look like?
A complaint connects your specific emotion to someone else’s specific behavior or action.
Looking at the previous example, one way to begin that conversation would be say something like this, “I want to talk about our discussion earlier and what that was like for me. When we were talking and you rolled your eyes then walked away, I felt abandoned and unimportant.”
The specific action, rolling eyes and walking away, is connected to your specific emotions, feeling abandoned and unimportant. The statement is devoid of criticism, which is an attack on a person’s character, and invites the other person into your experience and emotions to better understand you.
It’s important to understand that feelings are what they are, and most often need to be acknowledged and validated. We all have a deep need to be understood by those we love the most, and by talking about our own emotions we create the opportunity for that to happen.
When we offer a complaint we are taking responsibility for what we feel as those feelings pertain to what happens around us. It’s owning your own response and reaction and helping the other person understand your experience of a situation. Blame isn’t being placed anywhere, you are simply letting your partner know how you feel.
Sometimes couples try these tools and they totally click. Nothing happens perfectly 100% of the time, but with some practice these things can catch on and start changing the cycle of conflict. If you feel like you have a handle on this and want to take your relationship deeper, check out the five core needs for a successful relationship.
Other times couples try these tools and they totally backfire. One person doesn’t respond well or someone gets triggered and the conversation moves too quickly.
If you find yourself in this camp, wondering what you can do to change it, it would be helpful to consider outside support and guidance. An experienced marriage and couples counselor can help you two navigate your relationship dynamic and create positive and connecting experiences by talking about and doing conflict differently and effectively.
If you feel that you are stuck in a damaging pattern and can’t figure out how to change it, consider reaching out for guidance by scheduling an appointment. I would love to see you two learn how to connect in ways that bring you closer and are healing and stop the cycle that keeps you from experiencing safety and security together.
Ready to figure out what you need? I invite you to call me today (720-588-2005) and learn how to ask for what you need and get those needs met. Or you can schedule an appointment online today.