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Reasons Why Taking A Break During Conflict Doesn't Work For You

We've all heard the relationship advice to take a break during a fight to cool off. Far from the old-fashioned saying to never go to bed angry, it is actually healthy to pause during conflict, calm down, and come back more productive. However, many couples - especially those who identify as high conflict - find that pausing during arguments is easier said than done.


Commonly, one person wants to take a break and the other doesn't. If you are the partner who wants the pause, you probably feel like you need mental space to process. You are overstimulated and know that if you continue the interaction, the fight will only get more heated. And also, if you're honest with yourself, you may also just want the conflict to be over. You want to take a break - just make this argument stop.


In contrast, if you are the partner who wants to push through and resolve the conflict, you probably feel like the only way you can calm down is if you get closure and relief from the fight. Even though the interaction keeps spiraling and getting more intense, you hope that if you explain yourself just one more time your partner will finally understand, and you can both move on and feel better. Your partner keeps trying to "get away" from the fight, and you keep trying to keep them in the ring with you.


How To Take A Break During Conflict

Taking a break during conflict involves clearly stating that you need a break, setting parameters with your partner around how long the break will be, separating for a short period of time to calm down, and coming back when you said you would to try the conversation again. Taking a break does not mean disappearing, avoiding, or stonewalling. Breaks are not 5 hours or 2 days - they are short and focused.


Three Common Reasons Taking A Break Is So Hard

Many couples I work with find it very difficult to pause during conflict. Why?


1. Often one person feels like breaks are something that their partner forces on them or accuses them of needing ("You are out of control - go take a break"). They don't want to take a break, they didn't agree to this, so why should they go along with the plan? They then resist the break, refusing to separate and give space.


2. Another common reason couples struggle to take breaks is that they get too emotionally flooded to effectively ask for and take a break. When you are white hot with anger, you probably will not remember that you have been meaning to pause during conflict to cool off. Breaks have to happen early in conflict or they won't happen at all.


3. A third typical reason couples do not take effective breaks is that their definition of what counts as a break is way off. Disappearing for hours, refusing to return to the conflict later, or separating but rehearsing the fight in your head all prevent the break from working.


Fix Your Breaks

Because so many couples struggle to take an effective break, I developed a guide to help identify what might be going wrong when you try to pause conflict. The Take A Break Guide includes:

  • An explanation of why taking a break will work if you learn how to do it effectively

  • Specific steps to take a break

  • A guide to practicing taking a break with your partner

  • Help with special circumstances (like fights late at night, with kids present, and in the car)

  • 10 common Take A Break mistakes to avoid

  • Questions to ask yourself to troubleshoot why breaks aren't working for you

  • A plan to personalize your Take A Break plan so that it works effectively for you and your partner.

Conflict doesn't have to feel like a never ending roller coaster. Figuring out how to take an effective break is the first step to stepping off the ride. Change the way you fight today.

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