ICYMI: Not all fights are created equal. And not all couples know how to fight, right. But this may be the #1 most important relationship skill you need to stay happy and together for the long haul.
Last month we talked about the “Relationship Ratio,” the ratio of positive to negative comments made during conflict. Couples whose ratio is 5:1 or higher are scientifically predicted to stay married according to the Gottman Institute’s longitudinal study of married couples.
But what exactly does that mean? How do you stay “positive” when you’re boiling mad or your partner has hurt you that same way again for the 10th time? Or when you grew up in a family where screaming and cursing are the norm for conflict?
The answer is simple: Use a timeout. The fact is, when one or both of you have been triggered into full-on fight-or-flight mode, your animal instincts kick in and the only thing you’re focused on is getting out of the threat. Both of you need to come back to calm so your logic and compassion can re-enter the equation. Practice this enough, and you no longer perceive conflict as a threat, making it less likely you’ll get triggered into anger during conflict.
When you take a time out, ask for 15 minutes or more to cool off. Take a walk or run, separately, to work those stress hormones out of your body. (Any physical activity can help you complete the “stress cycle” and return your body to a state of calm.)
If you can’t return to the conversation after the time out, schedule a future time.
Once you’ve come back together, give each other a chance to state feelings and needs in an honest and authentic way, without accusing or attacking the other person. For example, “When you get home from work I’m happy to see you and want to connect. I feel hurt when you don’t give me your attention.”
Finally, try to sprinkle in those positives. A compliment, and “I love you” or an acknowledgement of something they did that meant a lot to you. “Thank you for making the bed this morning.” The more positives you say out loud (and the fewer negative comments) the higher your ratio.
Note: If you’re in a relationship where you and/or your partner is incapable of taking that time out, stopping your anger, or saying anything positive during conflict, seek relationship and individual therapy, now. You’ll need to build these skills early in your relationship to set yourself up for long term success.
Next week, we’ll talk about how you spend your time as a couple, prioritizing the love and connection time.