Help! Our Explosive Fights Are Tearing Us Apart

Help! Our Explosive Fights Are Tearing Us Apart

yelling-coupleDo you or your partner lose control when you and your partner have a serious discussion? Do these discussions seem to always lead to arguments that end with screaming, name calling, or intense anger? These kind of explosive fights can feel extremely difficult or even impossible to stop when it gets to that point. A lot of times each partner doesn’t even realize that it is escalating, until the explosion has occurred and the damage has been done. It can feel very confusing and frustrating that you are unable to mentally push through or “get over” this anger so that you can continue the discussion in an effective manner; however, there is a big reason why this is so difficult.

John Gottman has done a significant amount of research on couples and their arguments. One main theme that he writes about is how a person’s physical state influences how they behave with their partner. He found that when couples experience these explosive arguments, their physiology is much different than usual. Their heart rate is much higher, their body is tense, and they are unable to think in the same way. This is because one or both partners are in a state of “fight or flight”; these arguments are so triggering that their body’s alarm systems are warning them that there is an emergency. Unfortunately in this state it’s nearly impossible to communicate effectively. Continuing the conversation at that moment rarely will lead to any satisfying resolution. This is why one tool can be so effective: Time-outs.

The thought of using a time-out with your partner might seem quite cliche or cheesy because we usually associate time-outs with children. Regardless, they can make communicating much less frustrating because it limits the explosiveness. It stops the argument when one or both partners are in the “fight or flight” state.

There are certain steps for the timeout that are very important. Those at have put together a method of using time-outs that is both simple and includes these vital steps:

Steps to Cool Down Explosive Arguments

breakup-fighting1. Recognize your own need for a time-out

There are certain signs that your body gives you that it is in that fight or flight state, whether it is a high heart rate, feeling the need to scream, or feeling overwhelmed by your partner. Try to recognize these so that you will realize you need a time-out.

2. Request the time-out

Stop the argument and call the time-out, by saying something along the lines of “I feel myself getting very angry, I would like to take a time-out for an hour to calm down.”

There are two very important keys to this step: Call a timeout for yourself – it is rare that your partner will respond positively to you telling them they need a time-out. State when you will want to come back together to talk – this communicates that you are not abandoning the conversation, and the time-out is for the purpose to calm down to continue talking.

3. Relax

Use this time to calm down and get yourself out of that fight or flight state. Do something that is relaxing to you; this will vary for every person whether it’s exercising, meditating, writing in a journal, or watch TV.

breaking-up-making-amends4. Remember what’s important

Simply taking the time-out doesn’t guarantee that you will be in a better place to talk when you come back together. Take this time to also think about what result you want from the argument. Do you want to use this time to fume about how your partner is wrong and you are right, and ways to prove that to them? Or do you want to think about your partner’s point of view in a genuine way, and try to work together to come to a solution that fits for what both want?

5. Resume the conversation

Come back together after the time-out, and continue the conversation on a better foundation than when you left it.
This might seem uncomfortable and awkward at first, but that’s because you have never tried it out before. It will continue to feel less uncomfortable the more times that you use it, and hopefully will lead to much more effective communication.

ben-kingBen King is a Marriage and Family Therapist Candidate at The Marriage and Family Clinic who focuses on working with couples experiencing sexual difficulties. He is an avid Philadelphia sports fan.

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