You know the feeling, you are in a “heated discussion” and you can feel the heat rising in you, you spew out venomous words that pierce the heart of person you are speaking to. You can hear yourself speaking and know that you need to stop but you just can’t seem to keep your mouth shut. Or perhaps you’re able to say nice words but your face is exposing the truth of what you are thinking. Or maybe you’re not the one causing the trouble (with your words and/or face) this time….perhaps you have been the one on the receiving end of this kind of treatment. Whether you are the giver or the receiver these are not fun conversations to be a part of, and honestly they are not typically productive. So what can you do in these situations?
One thing that can sometimes be helpful is taking a break from the conversation. Often when you notice that you are engaging in a form of negative communication you may need to step back and regroup before trying to re-engage in the conversation. (For more information on negative or dangerous communication check out this article https://confidenthope.blog/2019/04/03/dangerous-communication/) The following are some practical tips on when and how to take a break from the conversation.
KNOW WHEN YOU NEED A BREAK. Ask yourself about your own behavior: 1.) Am I just repeating myself over and over? 2.) Have I completely shut down? 3.) Am I consistently interrupting them to defend myself or make a point? 3.) Am I treating being disrespectful with my words (cussing at them, name calling) 4.) Am I thinking of what I am going to say next while they are talking instead of trying to listen to them? 5.) Am I yelling/screaming/being physically violent? If you answered “yes” to any of these a break may be a good idea. If you answered “yes” to number 5 you definitely need a break.
Consider their behavior. 1.) Are they completely ignoring you/shutting you out? 2.) Are they just saying what you want to hear so the conversation will end? 3.) Are they constantly interrupting you, talking over you, twisting your words? 4.) Are they making sweeping generalizations, making excuses, casting blame, or trying to shame or humiliate you? Are they yelling, screaming, verbally demeaning you, threatening you, intimidating you, or physically harming you?
If you answered “yes” to any one of these you need to take a break from the conversation.
Consider the conversation. 1.) Has the conversation stalled? You both just keep repeating the same things over and over with no new understanding or solutions. 2.) Are you all over the place with the conversation topic discussing EVERY issue instead of focusing on the issue at hand? 3.) Are the points that are being made mostly vague generalizations that consist of words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘everybody’, ‘nobody’?
If you answered “yes” to any one of these you may need to take a break from the conversation.
HOW TO TAKE A BREAK
Here is the common scenario: One person gets fed up. Screams “I’M DONE!!!” Leaves and slams the door. At some undefined point the person returns, possibly there is an apology or perhaps the silent treatment. Sometimes one of the people is still angry and becomes passive aggressive (think slamming pots and pans, murmuring under the breath or goes silent) while the other one is ready to move on and just ignore what happened. Obviously this does not work, yet we do it all the time. Both people are still angry, there is no structure, no closure, no guidelines, and worst of all the problems are still there. But there is hope, there is a better way…. Consider this what if one person took responsibility for saying they needed a break, offered a time when they could re-engage in the conversation and had a plan of what they would do with their time during the break. Here is what that might sound like: “I know this is important, but I really need a break from this conversation right now. I’m so frustrated I can’t think right. I’m going to go to the gym for an hour and will be back by 7:00. That will give me some time to cool down so I can really try to work through this with you.” I believe that would go a lot better then the previous scenario. So how can you make this happen?
Here are some guidelines:
1.) Discuss the concept of “taking a break” with your partner PRIOR to any heated discussions. Agree together that this is something you are both willing to try. Review the rules together and agree on them. Don’t wait until the middle of an argument to try to explain and initiate the concept.
2.) Use I statements when calling for a break. “I feel (emotion). I need a break. I am going to go do (state activity) and will come back at (time) to revisit this conversation.”
3.) You can only ask for a break for yourself. You do not get to say, “It seems like you are getting really angry. You should take a break and cool off.” You can say, “I am frustrated and need a break from the conversation.”
4.) You cannot refuse to grant the other person the break request. This may be difficult because there are often things that need to be discussed and timing is important. In those cases you may need to allow the person to take the break, but also continue forward with necessary action until the disagreement is resolved. When you are wanting to continue the discussion and the other person has called for a break, try to remember that nothing will get resolved by them staying in the conversation when they are stating that they need a break.
5.) If you are calling for a break you need to have a time limit for the break. Breaks can be anywhere from 5-10 minutes, to 24 hours depending on how much time you think you will need to collect your thoughts, cool your emotions, and try to understand the perspective of the other person. Breaks should not last longer then 24 hours. At the end of the break you need to re-initiate the conversation.
6.) You need to have a plan for during your break. Find something that helps you to relieve physical and emotional stress. Some ideas are: exercise, journaling, music prayer, meditation, etc. Your break should NOT include alcohol or drugs since these substances may interfere with your ability to maintain emotional regulation.
7.) Both partners need to take reflect during the break. Try to think through what the other person was saying. Is it possible that you were you misunderstanding them? Try to really understand their perspective even if you do not agree with them. Also consider your own behaviors. Which dangerous communication patterns did you engage in? Is there anything you owe them an apology for? Try to re-think of ways you can state what you were trying say so that it is able to be ‘heard’ by the other person. Is there any common ground in the discussion you can both share?
8.) Re-engage in the conversation at the time you promised. By adhering to your commitment to revisit the the conversation at the agreed on time you are building trust in your relationship. If you are still too frustrated to engage in the conversation, at least go to your partner and let them know you need a little more time. Set another time and come back and try again then.
BUT WHY GO THROUGH ALL THIS?
You may be asking why is this even necessary? Maybe you’re saying, “Isn’t better if I just let it all out, vent my feelings, rather than keeping it all bottled up?” Or perhaps you thoughts are more along the line of “if I just keep quiet this will all pass and we can move on”. But the truth is that in most cases we need to have tools to appropriately handle conflict in ways that address the issues at hand while maintaining the dignity of the other person and our self respect. Taking a break accomplishes these things. It allows for you to set boundaries on behaviors you will not tolerate. It gives you the structure to ask for and get your needs met. It helps prevent you from engaging in behaviors that may cause harm to the other person. Lastly, it helps to build the character traits of self discipline, perseverance, as well as building confidence, trust and hope in the relationship.
I confess that it is really, REALLY hard to give up an argument and take a break when I believe I am right, or that what I have to say is important. I ask that you help me to follow your example of love, discipline, and sacrifice. Help me to use words that are kind, true and necessary. Help me to not be so determined to prove my point that I forget to lift you up and allow room for your Holy Spirit to work.
Sometimes, it is difficult for me to even recognize that I need a break during a conversation. Please through your spirit keep my eyes open to times when I need to step away from others and draw near to you. Place your hand over my mouth so that no unwholesome words pass through. Teach me to trust in you and your ability to bring clarity, unity , peace, and true victory.
Thank you for loving me even when I act less then lovely. Protect those who have to patiently tolerate my outbursts. Surround me with people who will faithfully speak truth to me and encourage me to love others as you do.
In Jesus Name-Amen
We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. James 3:2
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, James 1:19
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1