When my emotions escalate during conflict between my husband and I (GASP!)… Yes, I admit it. There is an occasional disagreement in my household. There is only one thing I need to do in that moment.
I need a time-out!
Yes. I do. I mean the kind I put my 8 year old in. You know the one I’m talking about? When my daughter makes a bad choice, she is told to go to time-out. She gets to sit and think until I come to her for some rational conversation. I tell her to think about what she did and what she could have done differently. Seven minutes later, I go to her and ask her about her thoughts.
She is quite honest and usually tells me pretty quickly, but sometimes she may need a few extra minutes. I ask her how she thought her action could have impacted others. I ask her if there is anyone she wants to apologize to. I appeal to her logic, but I also appeal to her heart because she loves others and doesn’t want them to hurt either.
I’m kind of like Zoe. I don’t always say or do the right thing. There are times that I can feel the anger getting elevated. I recognize when this happens, that nothing good is fixing to come out of my mouth. I’m fixing to do some damage and the other person’s response will likely be damaging to me too. There is fixing to be bloodshed. Not physical blood, but internal, deep-rooted, “I’m never going to forget you just said that…” kind-of bloodshed. Whoever said “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” lied to us all. I need a time-out. We need a time-out.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.Proverbs 12:18
I’m very visual and this is an easy verse to visualize. There is a multitude of scripture that reiterates the power of words, good and bad. It is my responsibility to catch myself and do everything I can to prevent such bloodshed. It’s time for a time-out.
Couples frequently practice taking a time-out.
The problem is they haven’t communicated about it. Have you ever experienced this scenario? There is a small argument that touches some nerves and triggers some feelings, and it grows. One of us, or maybe both of us start feeling hurt, misunderstood, not heard, helpless, angry, and the list goes on and on. We may come to a place where somebody needs to escape the war due to impending damage, or pure exhaustion.
Someone exclaims, “I’m done!” and storms out the door, slamming it behind them and leaving the other person fuming in the breeze, believing “there will never be a resolution,” and wondering “Done with what? The argument or me?” Therefore, they are left feeling hopeless, rejected, and unloved. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever been the one to leave?
I’m fixing to tell you something you probably already know. Communication is important and many of us have to be intentional and work at it. Yes, I said work. It takes frequent, consistent practice doing it right, especially when we have done it wrong most of our lives. Okay, so when you are in a good spot, on a good day, you can communicate your love and concern for the other and your desire to speak in love not hurt and damage. You can explain that you want to try something different the next time you have an argument and it gets to be too much for either of you.
Take personal responsibility for your own damaging words. Use “I” statements not “you” statements, which are blaming. Keep it short and sweet.
You can agree to try a code-word like Periwinkle or Taco Bell to de-escalate the situation. You can try saying, “I love you, and this is important to me, but I need some time to calm myself.” The kicker is that the other person has to be okay with the time-out. When either of you says those words, it means, someone is waving a white flag and saying “We have to stop. We are doing damage here. Let’s take a time-out, calm down, get our heads back on straight, and resume in 2 or 3 hours (or whatever time frame you agree on).”
You have to be intentional about this part. Once you agree on a time to come back, someone needs to go somewhere else, another room, or for a walk.
You may be thinking, “That’s great and all, but how is that going to change anything? What do I do during this time-out?”
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Well, let me tell you!!
1. Find an activity that works off the angry energy. For example, go for a walk, ride a bike, clean the house, write a journal entry, color, bake something, yoga, taking deep breaths, pray, put on some music and dance (yes, even if you don’t FEEL like it). Come up with your own list by thinking of things that calm you.
2. Think. Think about what you were arguing about.
Is it important or did you just have a bad day and were in a bad mood?
Is there something you need to take personal responsibility for?
How was your tone?
What did you contribute to the situation? (Psst. Your answer to this question may require some deep self-reflection.) Even if it’s “all their fault” there is usually something I could have done different that I should probably take responsibility for.
What am I feeling?
If I feel not heard or misunderstood, can I say whatever I’m trying to say differently, using different words?
What is their perception, their side, and their message?
Am I fighting just to be right or am I working to lovingly resolve since we are on the same team here?
Am I able to hear their heart based on what I believe that is good about the other person or am I making assumptions?
3. Come back together at the previously agreed upon time. Take turns conveying your thoughts and realizations from the time-out, listening to understand the other (rather than listening to respond), and reflect back what you heard the other say. Give each other adequate time to communicate thoughts and for understanding to truly take place before rushing into the other perspective. Yes, communication also takes time.
4. If it starts getting heated again, do another time-out. It’s okay. Communication is challenging because we all speak and understand from different perspectives and sometimes in different languages.
5. Remember, if you are married, you chose to be on the same team. You are ultimately fighting on the same side. Validating the other person’s feelings does not mean you agree with whatever they feel or the choices they have made. Sometimes you’re simply not going to agree and that’s okay. It just means you acknowledge, empathize and value them over the need to be right. By the way, people get to feel however they feel. No one has the right to tell someone else they don’t feel or can’t feel a certain way.
Something to think about …
This is just one skill that can change the way your conflicts turn out. I encourage you to talk about it with your person before the next conflict. Make the choice to fight better next time. Once we know better, we can make a choice to try to do better. Intentional practice is required though. Be love!
Oh yeah… and just a side note. This strategy can be used in all kinds of situations and relationships, not just a couple relationships.
If this is a challenge for you, I would love to work with you. I can help you come up with a plan to get to your goals. Be sure to check out opportunities for coaching!