Everyone can find themselves in conflict at times but what happens when we end up in a situation where voices are raised, aggression is present and no solution seems to be found? Follow these tips to try and keep communication calm.
1. Remember: when everyone is shouting, no one is really listening
When we shout, we give off numerous aggressive non-verbal communications (NVCs). Our voices may rise, we may become red in the face, we may grit our teeth or clench our fists. All these signs will be picked up by a partner and move them into threatened, primitive brain. This is where they move into threat position and respond in a fight or flight way. In heated conflicts, we are generally monitoring the emotion in our partner, rather than listening to the content of what they are saying. You may notice in many conflicts there is a lot being said, but no cooperative resolutions. This triggered situation means we are in primitive brain and not in our advanced frontal lobe state which is responsible for problem-solving. Staying calm, even if we do not feel calm, is important for communication and deescalating arguments allows the other to hear what we need them to hear so you can both problem-solve the situation.
2. I’m so angry, how do I keep calm? Time out strategies
If either of you recognise the arguments becoming unproductive one of you can call time out. Time out is where you both understand that spending time physically apart will allow you to deregulate and approach the situation with less destructive emotion. With physical distance, maybe to another room for a time, you can allow emotions to subside. It does not mean you have to give up on the things you want to talk to your partner about. In fact, it is important you do try to return to the subject, but in a calm state of mind.
Whoever called the time out, both should respect the decision (you may not like it, but you must respect it). The person who called time out should now be responsible for returning to the subject but checking first if their partner is ready to talk about it again. If they are not, this again should be respected and the baton passes to them to let their partner know when they have calmed sufficiently to try again. Do remember to return to the topic otherwise your partner may never trust you or think you are avoiding or pushing an important topic into the long grass, which will render time strategies in future ineffective.
3. Monitor your own emotions
Monitor how emotionally you are coping with the discussion. If you feel anything above a 6 or 7 out of 10 in agitation, you probably need to take a break. Any time physically away from your partner will allow you and your body to de-regulate down. When that happens, you’ll find your thinking brain, your advanced brain, your problem-solving brain, is much more likely to come online to help you reach a good solution.
4. What if a subject always seems to end in conflict?
If you find a subject very difficult to communicate to your partner use other forms of communication rather than conversation. Consider writing to them about the things concerning you. You may need to seek the help of a professional to help navigate the subject area if you struggle around certain topics such as sex, money and childrearing. Remember, you are not clones of each other. You will have different views and you may need help to navigate the subject safely and respectfully.
5. Are you wanting things your way?
Remember, in compromise we are looking to create a position somewhere in between the two of you with the benefit of creating harmony between you both. The difficulty is that with compromise, nobody gets what they want! This can be very hard and disappointing, or even frightening, but we have to remember that with the position of compromise – the giving up of ground – we gain the fruits of harmony and the benefits of being in a partnership.
6. Remember when conflict occurs communication usually speeds up
Contentious issues if discussed can often speed up and then escalate like a fast tennis match where the ball is passing backwards and forwards over the net. Try slowing communicating down. Set a timer for two minutes to allow one of you to talk through the things that are bothering them without interruption. After that two minutes talking allow your partner to repeat back what they have heard you say. Being listened to and hearing your partner repeat back your concerns can be validating and calming. Remember in structured communication like this, it is not a discussion. Rather, it is the sharing of information, being listened to and repeating back.
7. Watch your language
When you return to any difficult discussion, try not to use inflammatory language. “Always”, never should” and “you” language will create defensiveness in your partner. If you use absolute language like “always” and “never” your partner will always object. Likewise, if you tell them what they “should” do or judge them they are going to object. No adult like to be told what to do or to be judged. Even using words like “you|” positions your partner in opposition to you (you vs me). Instead, try and talk using “I” language. Talk about how you feel about a situation and what you hoped might happen next, what you think the solutions might be and make sure it is a request to your partner, not a command.
8. Try not to interrupt
When you interrupt, you in effect speed up the communication as your partner battles to be hear. It may also confuse them or make them lose their train of thought which can be frustrating. I get couples to sometimes hold something to physically show who is speaking.
9. Work out what is the real emotion being triggered in you
When you’re angry realise that anger is a secondary emotion and a defensive emotion. There is always a more painful emotion that comes first. Such emotions include hurt, shame, humiliation, guilt, injustice, sadness or confusion. Try communicating these primary emotions first. For example, rather than saying “I’m angry with you”, say “I felt really hurt”. When we see anger we become defensive, but when we see softer, more vulnerable emotion, we are much more like to experience empathy and concern.
10. Try to remember your partner loves you
Try to remember who your partner is. They are someone who loves and cares for you, even if it can be hard to see evidence of that when you are both having an argument. What if your partner really did love and care for you? What might they be trying to communicate with you? What if something was hurting them, or if they were missing you in some way, or have they misunderstood something?
11. Remember, you can’t have an argument with yourself!
Try to remember if you want a harmonious relationship you cannot have an argument by yourself, you must be contributing. Try and think about how you want to see yourself in talking with your partner and hold onto the concept of trying to lead by example. Slowing your responses or pausing rather than speaking, helps to slows the pace down and therefore can allow more time for things to proceed in a calm manner.
If you find you and your partner struggling in any of these areas and find yourself unable to find your way out, do contact our team of highly qualified and experienced therapists with great google reviews. Please do not suffer in silence, when there are solutions to be found. Contact us at www.drmccarthy.co.uk