Did you have another intense fight with your partner? Do you notice that time after time your emotions are flying in all different directions during your fights? If this is something you recognize and that you’d like to change, try taking a break during your fights.
During fights, one partner often feels more tension than the other. Anger and adrenaline run high, which can lead to intense feelings at first. If these feelings continue to increase, you may experience what is called an ‘overload’. Emotional impulses will dominate the situation, think of raising your voice, swearing, threatening, (tendency to) physical violence, and a feeling of powerlessness. As a response, you may feel the urge to escape from the situation and to be left alone, in order for these intense feelings to stop. Some people tend to do this more often, while others can feel extra on edge during these situations and want to use this feeling by not letting the other person walk away.
Preventing the fight from getting out of hand
When fights get out of hand, they weaken the relationship a little bit each time. So, if this happens to you often it’s definitely time for action! Go through these steps together with your partner:
1. Find the starting point
Fights can easily go from bad to worse. One partner’s anger only reinforces the anger of the other and so the fight continues to go downhill. It is therefore very important when the so-called ‘overload’ comes into play, to stop it as quickly as possible. Like true detectives, try to spot the moment when a conversation turns into an argument together. With whom do you notice a change, what do you see, what is happening, and at what point do you think it should stop? Sometimes you’re able to notice this by yourself and sometimes it is your partner who might realize this first.
2. Take a time-out
Make the agreement that when you’ve noticed the starting point, the first one who notices yells out a code word you’ll both recognize, such as ‘time out’. The other person will then be allowed to have the last word for another 20 seconds. Afterward, you immediately distance yourself from each other and that means 20 minutes each in a different room so that you no longer hear or see each other. After those 20 minutes, the intense feelings will have subsided and you will be able to respond neutrally to one another again. If it’s really important, you can establish an agreement to come back to the topic at a later point in time.
Unfortunately, fights can easily reoccur. When that happens, reapply the time-out and respond neutrally to each other again. That means no negative talk or provoking the other.
3. Make it up!
Make an effort to reconnect with your partner after the time-out. For example, try to change the subject of the conversation, do an activity together such as a walk around the block, make your partner laugh or show affection by putting an arm around the other. It may be that your partner is not ready to connect yet. If that happens, give each other time to process what just happened. It is a misconception that a fight can only be reconciled by apologies or by resolving the point of conflict. For now, the most important thing is to stop arguing, because intense fights do a lot of damage to your relationship.
Fighting is a problem you share with one another. Make your partner your ally with whom you will fight united against this problem. It will certainly take some practice, but the reward is greater than ever.