Self-soothing or Taking a Break.
Don’t you just hate it when you are trying really hard to do the right thing and you still get blasted? It is really upsetting to be misunderstood and seen as the bad guy when you are using all your discipline not to make things worse.
That was the complaint of one of my clients who was doing his absolute best to follow the advice he had always been given as a kid, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”! He couldn’t understand why this made his partner raise her voice and get even more forceful in her complaints and criticism.
In Gottman Method Couples Counselling, that well-intentioned behaviour of saying nothing is known as Stonewalling and is the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse. In effect, you withdraw from the conversation but remain physically present. By not giving any of the normal nods, comments or eye contact, there is no way your partner knows you are following the conversation. It sends the message, “I am not listening to you and I don’t care about you.”
We all know how hurtful and infuriating that message can be to others.
Stonewalling does not come out of the blue. It is usually in response to some criticism from your partner. The Gottman research also shows there is generally a gender difference. Women who are caretaking the relationship or organizing the household tend to criticise, men tend to stonewall. Unfortunately stonewalling makes things worse and releases more stress hormones which make it almost impossible to listen or solve the problem creatively.
The antidote to stonewalling is called self-soothing. It takes courage to say you need to take a break and will be back to discuss it later. The recommended time-frame is half an hour. This is not the time to storm around repeating all your partner’s faults or to dwell on negative thoughts about how life is unfair and this always happens to you!
Instead use this time out to do some self-soothing like relaxing, walk, listen to your favourite music, read a fishing magazine, do a puzzle, maybe even listen to some guided meditation or hypnosis.
Once you are feeling calmer, then you can return to listen to your partner’s concerns. Ideally, your partner will have also done some self-soothing and be able to use a softened start-up to bring up the topic gently.
It is such a relief to be able to have a constructive discussion instead of a nasty fight!
But what if my partner follows me and won’t let me take a break? What if he/she escalates and even blocks the exit route? This was common for many of my clients before they agreed to this approach. You must allow each other to take the break! Both of you need to understand that taking a break to self soothe is the most loving thing you can do to support the relationship. It does not mean you are ignoring them or the problem. It is the best way to put you in the right mindset to discuss the issue constructively.
I recommend you talk about these benefits with your partner when you are both feeling relaxed. Share my blogs on “How to do conflict like a pro” so you both know what to do with your inevitable disagreements. One goal of Gottman Method Couples Therapy is to move from doing conflict like a Disaster to doing it like a Master! When you both work on using communication skills and take a break instead of stonewalling or “losing it”, the relationship benefits. It can become a win-win solution.
If you would like more information about how to support your relationship during conflict call me.
Call 0423 617 735 to schedule your free 15-minute telephone consultation about how I could help you and your relationship.