“How do I talk to my partner when I’m just so mad at her??”
When you get really upset, when you “see red”, when the only way you can express yourself is through yelling, that’s when you are triggered to a strong fight reaction. And anytime you are triggered to your fight, flight, or freeze reaction your ability to communicate is nearly impossible. So I always recommend to people that at the earliest sign that a conversation is about to “go south” to pause the conversation.
There is no shame in taking some time to calm down, collect your thoughts, and prepare to engage in a difficult but constructive conversation. And I’d like to share my three rules to effectively pause a conversation.
First, always say “I need some time to calm down” even when you don’t. Sometimes you can tell your partner is really worked up, and sooner or later will say something that you experience as hurtful. Don’t hope that they will be able to control themselves, or will pause the conversation. If you can tell that your partner is struggling, just step in and pause the conversation. But if you say “you need some time to calm down” or even worse “you need a time out” you can expect that your partner will get even more upset.
Second, set a time for when you and this other person can check-in and potentially continue the conversation. Setting a time to check-in will help your partner not feel like they are being abandoned. And never use a break as a means to sweep an issue under the rug. Whenever an issue doesn’t get resolved it just keeps popping up, sometimes dressed in some new disguise, but it’s still the same problem. Research says that we need at minimum 30 minutes to calm down from an extremely angry place. But depending on the issue and circumstances it could take much longer than that. So before you both split, set a time when you can check in and see if you’re both ready to resolve the issue. If at the check-in time one or both of you are still not ready to talk, then set a new check-in time and go back to taking a break.
Finally, use the time to actually calm down. Don’t spend the entire break ruminating on all the terrible things your partner has said in the past, or how hurtful or mean your partner is, or making a laundry list of all the times this other person has let you down. If that’s how you spend your break, then when you return you won’t be calmer, instead you’ll just have more ammo. So spend that time doing something that’s truly relaxing. Listen to music, go for a walk, receive some empathy from a friend, exercise, meditate, take a nap, watch some TV, read, journal, take a bubble bath, do whatever it is that helps you calm down. Ideally, you even want to spend some of this time remembering all the things you love about this other person.
By following these three rules you will be able to avoid saying those things which cannot be unsaid, you will be able to choose a time and place when both you and the other person can speak calmly and with compassion, and you’ll actually resolve issues instead of just “letting them go”.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.