Couples often struggle with when to take a break when fighting. A lot of the time, it can feel like things spiral out of our control very quickly. Taking a break will be more effective if done before you are both through the roof and angry. It can help you slow things down enough to keep from saying hurtful, mean things to each other. It can be tricky to pick up on when it is time for a break before the fight gets too intense. Here are a few of the early warning signs that taking a step back could help you slow things down before they are out of control.
And when that time comes, here is a previous article on how to take a break the right way.
You Can’t stick to the Topic at Hand
You might need to take a break if your argument keeps drifting away from what you were originally talking about. If the fight keeps drifting to old fights resentments, this is a good sign that the task will not quickly be resolved. This is because you are no longer just fighting about who is going to pick up the kids tomorrow. You have now shifted to fighting about the past, and that is why it feels impossible to resolve the problem at hand. If we keep poking at an old wound, we go into survival mode. And none of us are good problem solvers when we are in survival mode. Speaking of survival mode…
You Start Getting Petty
This one probably seems a bit obvious. If you are calling each other names or throwing/slamming objects around, it is time to pump the breaks. This is a sign that things are about to spiral if they have not already. This is because of mirror neurons. The short explanation, these are the parts of our brain that pickup on the actions of who we are interacting with. It then tells us how to react accordingly. This process happens in a split second. So if one person starts acting more aggressive or defensive, the other person will start to react in a defensive or aggressive way. Which will then escalate the other person even more and so on into a loop. That loop is the out of control feeling that so many couples experience.
You Start Stonewalling Each Other
Stonewalling is a term used by John Gottman. It describes the time when one or both partners is emotionally or physiologically flooded by what is going on. Even if you can manage to shift the conversation to what you are feeling, this is when one of you is just not able to go any further in the conversation. Neither of you will let the other in, and it will continue to get more and more frustrating. You want to make sure that however you decide to take a break at this point you do it respectfully. Both of you will be hurting at this point. So you want to make sure that both of you take a break to keep from hurting each other more. This might be a good time to use an agreed upon safe word.
If you are looking for help in learning how to take breaks or change your communication with your partner give The Marriage and Family Clinic a call.
About the Author
Ryan Hicks is a licensed therapist and marriage counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in working with couples in high conflict and working with couples in the LGBTQ community. When he’s not working with couples, you’ll find him rock climbing or taking in the great outdoors of Colorado.