Conflict happens in life. The aim is not to have a life without any arguments but being able to manage conflict situations well and have ways in which to calm down when we get overwhelmed.
Being able to calm down after an argument is important because we can move to constructive problem solving only after we feel calm and collected.
The art of taking a break
When a discussion is going downhill, end it as soon as we realize it. However, walking away without expressing our need to take a break is not the way to do it.
When you recognize that either you or your partner is too stressed to continue the discussion in a constructive manner, let them know that you need a break. If you tell your partner that they need to take a break because they are overreacting, that is criticism and it will not help your relationship! Breaks are mutual.
Unless you have agreed on a hand signal that signals to both of you that a 20 minute break is needed, simply ask your partner if you can take a break and return to the conversation afterwards.
You should both be in separate rooms. If you do not have two separate rooms, one of you may need to take the break in the bathroom or go for a walk while the other stays in the room.
Find a break activity that works for you
When you take a break your most important task is to bring down your stress levels. Playing the conflict situation over in your mind will do that. Neither will you wallowing in righteous indignation or self-pity.
Your task is to distract yourself as best you can and focus on anything but the argument. Below are a few suggestions on what you can do in 20-30 minutes to calm down. You can mix and match if you want. Engage in one activity for 5 minutes and switch to another activity for the rest of the time.
Do remember that what works for one person does not work for the other. Your responsibility is to find out what stress reducing techniques work for you. You can get as creative as you wish.
- Call a good friend but do not talk about the argument.
- Move your body by going for a walk or by doing lunges.
- Play a musical instrument.
- Cuddle your dog or cat.
- Watch your favourite TV show.
- Work on a crossword puzzle.
- Tidy a messy drawer.
- Continue your arts and crafts project or finish up that pending DIY project..
- Create a menu for the week.
- Submit your insurance claims.
Word of caution
Do be mindful that the relaxation technique you use should not make it difficult for your partner to calm down. If your preferred distressing technique is to go racing down the highway on your bike, it may be impossible for your partner to relax as they do not know if you will return home safe or get a call from the police.
Don’t forget about the children!
If you have a baby or a child, make sure it is clear who will be looking after then during the break. Children cannot be left unattended during this time.
It is usually best of the partner who is calmer to stay with the children. Playing with the baby or taking the baby for a walk is a great way to destress.
If the children have witnessed the argument, acknowledge that there was an argument between the two of you, explain that you are making a wise choice by calming down in order to have a better conversation later. Then help you children de-stress. Do something fun together. Build a fort, dress up as monsters or play hide and seek.
Wondering how to have a good conversation? This is a good place to start.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.