Fighting is not compulsory – first aid for couples conflicts
Do you have painful repeating habitual fights in your relationship? Do you have eruptions you can’t control, walk-outs that scare you to death, or repeating fights about the same things over and over and over … and over and over? In an earlier post I wrote about the importance of If It Doesn’t Work, Do Something DIFFERENT. This present post is a few all-purpose first-aid measures you can do to interrupt those stale, dead, painful repeating cycles. Then you can make room for listening, understanding, intimate closeness. Many of the couples tell me they find these rather enlightening: Oh! We don’t have to fight!
You can do any one of these on its own, or two, or three, or all four, whatever works.
(1) Agree a red-light STOP signal
Agree that if one of you says for example “Stop-stop-stop” or “Red flag” or “Time out” of “It’s too much for me” then you will both STOP the discussion and that you WILL both come back to it at a specified later time.
The person who says stop-stop-stop gets to decide when you reconvene. (But talk this over in advance). Between 30 minutes and 24 hours is good. You want it to be enough that you have time to think differently, short enough that the issue doesn’t go stale.
- When one person gives the signal then stop, stop at once, stop dead, no questioning.
- Don’t react or pull faces when the signal comes – follow it gracefully.
- And come back for sure, reliably, guaranteed. Just storming out with “I’ll be back later when I’ve calmed down!!” is NOT a time-out. On the contrary, many people find it devastating when their partner leaves like that. It must be clear that this is a device to create communication, not to break it off.
During the pause don’t continue the fight in your head! Do whatever works for you to calm down and come back to yourself.
This is useful, and, it is unusual. So, it is suggested that when you first set it up, you agree that you will have two dummy runs during neutral everyday conversation. That is, you are talking about the news or which film to go and see, and one of you gives the stop-stop-stop procedure just to experience it. Do that once where you give the signal, once where your partner does.
(2) Communicate in writing
The golden rule is, if it doesn’t work, don’t do it; try anything else. So if talking doesn’t work, don’t do it. Communicate in writing.
Details are up to you. One way would be to agree a time of say one hour or half an hour. Sit down with pens and paper, and write short messages to each other. I’d say to better avoid multi-bullet point memos, keep to one point on each message. You can combine this with an element from the next device, and have a short time-out, say 3 or 5 minutes, between replies.
(3) Talk in timed turns, with or without pauses
Agree in advance to a structure for talking, that you will take turns. Three or five minutes each is good – I’ll use five as the example. One person talks for three minutes and the other JUST LISTENS. The listener does not respond, does not add anything, does not comment, does not interrupt, does not pull faces, JUST LISTENS. Then change over. the second person responds and the first person JUST LISTENS.
When the times goes at the end of the period, stop at once, do not carry on – just stop. Equally if you run out of things to say before the end of your time, SIT THERE IN SILENCE WITHOUT SPEAKING. Something valuable might float up from a deeper place after one or two or three minutes of silence. So take your whole turn.
Do this for an agreed period of say 30 minutes or one hour. You can do it by appointment, or on the spur of the moment when things flare up.
A variation is to build in a period of silence: say, one talks for three minutes, then both are silent for two minutes, then the other responds for three minutes, then both are silent for two minutes.
Again you might like to try both (2) and (3) with neutral topics – where to go on holiday, what colour to paint the flat – to feel what it is like and experiment with the timings. Details are up to you.
(4) Hold hands – both hands – while you talk
While you talk, hold both hands and stay in the feeling of the hands as you speak. In other words, don’t be absent-minded and forget about the hands the way your forget about your shoes. Stay present and let the physical contact makes things different. If you like, sit in silence for a while, holding hands.
No need to get caught on details, but ideally have one hand palm up and one hand palm down, so there is a balanced feeing of giving and taking – palm up often feels like receiving, palm down like giving.
Finally, notice what works and do it more and sooner
These exercises will cut through the old habits. Something will get better. Conflicts will end a bit sooner (or a lot sooner) and there will be more resolution. Don’t let those large or small improvements go to waste. Look at, and talk about, what works. What could you do more of, or do it sooner? What can you give yourself a pat on the back for, and make into a new, good habit? What can you say “Thank you” to your partner for? – and do say it, and say it often. Nourish the small seeds of brilliance and they will grow brilliantly into big flowers of brilliance.