Effective Conflict Resolution – Non-Violence and Time Outs

Fighting Fair and Functionally: More on creating a functional conflict resolution pattern – Agreeing to Non-violence and Time Outs

I hope you have been thinking about how to reduce pain in your relationships by improving your conflict resolution strategies. Here is a little more about this. In my first Blog on this topic, I talked about the 5 steps at the core of an effective pattern:

  1. Make An Appointment– schedule a time to have the conversation
  2. Mutual Respectful Listening – each person takes turns speaking and listening. Take any necessary time outs – do what you need to do to stay calm and respectful!
  3. Brainstorm solutions – be creative and bring your sense of humor
  4. Negotiate – agree on a solution
  5. Re-assess – fine tune your solution at an agreed upon future time

These steps work best within a shared commitment to non-violence. In some ways this goes without saying, almost everyone would like to have relationships that are non-violent. However, many people have old habits that allow some forms of violence and most people get violent when upset.

One of the first steps in setting up a conflict resolution pattern that you and your partner can agree upon is deciding on the level of violence you are willing to have in the relationship. Here are some examples of physically violent behavior:

  • Hitting, slapping or pushing each other.
  • Throwing things, slamming doors, stomping about.
  • Hitting walls and other ways of damaging yourself.
  • Breaking objects, messing with the other person’s stuff.

Most functional couples have decided that these are against the rules. If you personally are not yet able to control your anger enough to follow these rules, this is a serious problem of yours and you should get help with it.

Here are some examples of verbally violent behavior:

  • Yelling
  • Using an offensive tone of voice
  • Name calling
  • Shaming
  • Blaming
  • Stonewalling
  • Lying

I recommend that you and your partner decide to make these against the rules. For many couples this is a big change and developing strong habits around this takes time.  Be patient with the process of change, but hold yourself accountable!  Get help if you need it with this step.

Most people become verbally and physically violent when they get angry enough. If you think of your anger on a thermometer from 0 to 10, you probably do not yell at someone when you are at a one, but you might at a seven. Admitting this – that we each have our limits – allows us to see that we need an agreed upon strategy for how to stop an argument that is escalating into territory that we’ve decided is counter-productive.

This requires a structure for taking a time out. I suggest the following rules as a starting point for you and your partner to personalize.

When one or the other partner recognizes that he or she is getting so upset that s/he is about to break the rules, s/he has the duty to take a time out. This is done with a pre-established nonverbal and verbal signal (like holding up both hands in a capital T sign and saying, “I need a time out.”) At this point the conversation stops and the person asking for the time out negotiates the structure of the time out. A good starting point is, “I’m sorry this is just getting too upsetting for me”, or “I’m sorry but I really do not have the time or energy to devote to this right now” or something similar. This is then followed by “ I know this is important for us to resolve and I could talk about this more at such and such a time.” The person requesting the time out is also responsible for re-initiating the conversation. The other person allows the time-out to take place knowing that having a productive conversation is the most important thing. Allowing your partner to take a time out can be challenging but is essential; learning to be able to do this is up to you.

Allowing your partner to take a time out can be challenging but is essential; learning to be able to do this is up to you.

For most couples, instituting these simple structures will significantly reduce painful time spent in conflict. If you and your partner do not yet have these kinds of agreements in place I strongly encourage you to set them up.

The goal here is to eliminate the pain of violence in the relationship first and consequently make it less scary to bring up topics of importance. As you build your skills and commitments around non-violence it is helpful to stay open to feedback from your partner. Personally, my goal is not that I think I am not being violent, but that my partner feels safe with me. To achieve this I must be open to hearing about it, for example, when I think I am being respectful and my partner feels shamed. I continue to believe that I could become even more skilled at treating my partner with respect.

Once you have these agreements established with your partner, then practice keeping them until you are both really good at it. (Ideally, we would start this practice as children so that by the time we are in a romantic relationship we are already good at it.) The time out structure is something that you can beneficially practice before you need it. So, for example, if you need it when you are angry at a 6, practice doing it when you are angry at a 4.

Thank you for taking the time to read and think about this. Now please discuss it with your romantic partners and in your other relationships. To create the world we want to live in we have to work together to manage our disagreements in a respectful and non-violent fashion. This begins with you, in your home.

Read more about this in my other posts on this topic.  If you want help in developing these skills, contact me or call 541-821-6623!

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