Inevitably, something is going to get somebody fired up at some time. Your spouse will say something that gets under your skin. You may not respond in a positive way. Before you know it, you are having a yelling match or something similar. While these moments are to be expected, it is important for you to to recognize the escalation and diffuse it.

During high-anxiety moments in relationships, the fight-or-flight response has been triggered. God created us to protect ourselves when in danger. The adrenaline flow provides the added strength and alertness to handle crises. Unfortunately, 99 percent of the time when this response is triggered it is a false alarm. There is no imminent danger. However, you’re on alert as if there is. This alert signal unfortunately gets triggered during disagreements, misunderstandings, and disappointments. Instead of talking through the situation, couples become defensive and offensive. Instead of solving the problem, they basically inflame the problem, making it even worse. And worst of all, the problem that arose goes unresolved. Over the course of time, this pattern of unresolving problems leads to a very unhappy marriage and even divorce.


Couple Having Coffee

Here are some things you can do to keep those trigger moments from getting out of hand:

  1. Take a deep breath. Release the tension and tell your mind there is no danger.
  2. Lower your voice. Speak in a whisper if you must. If they feel safe and you feel safe place your hand on their shoulder in a caring manner to let them know you don’t see them as your enemy, and you care about them.
  3. Recognize when the fight-or-flight syndrome has been triggered. You know that the fight-or-flight response has been triggered when one of you becomes silent (withdraws, ignores, changes the subject, etc.) or violent (interrupting, yelling, denigrating, hitting, etc.). Being aware will help you keep the communication environment safe. Make the adjustment sooner rather than later.
  4. Show respect for the other’s opinion by 1) not quickly disregarding it, 2) not taking the floor and sharing your opinion, and 3) repeating back in your own words and clarifying what you heard your spouse say.
  5. Take a time-out for 10 minutes or less. Agree to give one another space for a short period of time when a time-out is requested. This will allow both of you time to calm down and think through the emotions you are feeling.
  6. Ask your spouse if they are feeling safe right now. Ask what you can do to help them feel more comfortable in order continue the conversation and find a resolution.
  7. Take a gratitude break. Take a moment to share something you genuinely appreciate about your spouse. Maybe this will help you feel safe again.
  8. If your spouse if really belligerent, you may need to gently call their name repeatedly until you get their attention. Then say, “I’m not feeling very safe right now, can we take a five minute time-out so we can calmly continue this conversation and create a ‘we-win’ outcome?”

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Joe Follette

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