"You don't understand what I'm saying!!" "You never get it..." "I understand, but you still don't see what I'm saying."
How often do you find yourself using any of these statements? I used to use them ALL. THE. TIME. My husband and I have been married for almost 7 years now, known each other for 10, and we used to have pretty ridiculous arguments that included these and other statements. A college friend of mine used to ask me if I could ever see myself dating him and I would always respond with "No, because we just fight all the time!" (Clearly, that wasn't true because we're married, ha). We were stuck in a classic, "see what I'm saying, then I'll try and understand what you're saying" cycle. I was always trying to PROVE my view of how what I was saying or doing as okay, versus trying to IMPROVE the relationship and seeing his perspective.
One afternoon, I finally realized it was time to change. We were hanging out in my apartment and decided to start having a discussion... sadly I don't even remember what it was about (but that's how that usually goes, right?) but I do remember it escalated quickly. I had to leave the room due to getting so frustrated because I didn't feel like he was really listening to me. I was a classic, storm out and shut down kind of arguer with him. This is definitely where my unglued moment of being a stuffer, collecting rocks for later use, came into play. It didn't take long for that "rock" to fly. He came out after me and made some comment that made me so mad, I chucked the TV remote at him. Thankfully, he ducked, but that remote hit the wall and shattered into itty bitty pieces. We both stopped, shocked at how it crumbled to pieces, and kind of chuckled at how badly we had let a dumb conversation get out of control.
I learned in grad school that time outs are not a bad thing. I always tried to keep talking the problem out in a way of, "lock yourself in a room and don't come out till it's solved" kind of way. This was not effective for me or our relationship. I stopped thinking straight once I escalated and got frustrated. Taking a time out helped slow my emotions down and clear my head. When you continue a discussion at this escalated state, things will take a turn for the worse. You will say things you don't mean and will probably regret later. The focus at this point will be on PROVING yourself, not IMPOVING the relationship. We should always be striving to impove our relationships because we get more satisfaction out of them that way and both parties walk away from the discussion satisfied because they feel valued, heard, and safe to share how they really feel the next time a discussion is had. My husband and I began implementing time-outs. I am happy to say that we don't need to use time outs much anymore because we got into the habit of striving to see the other persons point of view when having a discussion and are quick to realize our talks are getting out of control when we aren't feeling heard or valued.
Here is the key to effective time-outs:
1. Decide on a time-out length with your significant other (when you are NOT arguing) - anywhere from 5 - 30 minutes.
2. Someone call the time out during the argument.
3. Whoever called the time out, set the timer for the discussed length of time.
4. Come back together to continue the discussion after the time has expired.
5. If you escalate and are going nowhere again, take another time out.
6. Continue repeating these steps until the discussion has reached a conclusion.
Give it a whirl and let me know how it works out for you!
Rachael Kool, professional counselor and normal, everyday adult screw up