Have you ever found yourself embroiled in an argument with your co-parent about an emotionally-charged issue and wondered how you got there? Have you had this same argument before and it did not end well? You’re not alone. It’s common for partners to have the same unproductive argument about a challenging issue over and over again. Why is that?
Communication goes south when we get triggered by our co-parent and are reacting in the moment to lash out, protect or defend ourselves. In that aroused state we can say things we don’t mean or do things that escalate what’s being said. In that aroused state we are more likely to hold fast to our beliefs about the other person (however mistaken or incomplete) and less likely to give him or her the benefit of the doubt. In that aroused state, we can only see our side of the argument and are rarely able to listen. It’s a dance of give and take that is automatic (i.e. without conscious awareness) and can seem inevitable. What can be done to improve the outcome?
The critical step is to realize that you are in an aroused state and decide to take a pause. Pausing is a way to slow down that leads to calming down that allows for more conscious choice about what to do next. It can stop the negative exchange, break the unconscious trance you are in, offer you time to ground yourself and gather your thoughts and maybe even enable you to rejoin the conversation more able to listen.
Pauses can be as short or as long as you need them to be. They can be brief and internal (e.g. taking a few deep breaths) or they can be longer and obvious (e.g. saying out loud “I need a 20-minute break to clear my head”).