When you are in conflict with your spouse, you will find that you both have been caught in a powerful cycle. Most marital conflict involves a fighter and a flighter.
First, you have to notice with you or your spouse is in an ‘F‘ state – fight, flight or freeze. None of us thinks clearly in any of these states.
Second, your body needs 20-30 minutes to calm down. Any attempt to reason at this time is like throwing fire on fire. We need a mental break. We need time for the brain’s brake (prefrontal cortex) to stop accelerating our physiology.
Third, make an agreement with your spouse that either of you can ask for a pause. You can say something like: “I need to pause”, “Can we slow down for a moment?”, “Our reactive pattern is happening”, “I’m getting triggered”, or “Let’s take a break”.
The point of pausing is to insert a new choice into what is otherwise an automatic accelerating sequence of reactive behaviors.
Experienced couples (Dr. Gottman calls these ‘master couples’) catch the reactive pattern as soon as it starts and say something like, ‘I am triggered, and reactivity is taking over our communication. My brain is being hijacked, and I can’t really hear you. Let’s take a little bit of time to both calm down.’
Make Pausing a Daily Practice
The best way to ensure success using the pause tool is to practice it often. Practice asking for a pause if your spouse is talking too fast for you to understand, or if you lose track due to interruptions by your spouse.
By putting this tool into practice you will begin strengthening this new supportive habit. It will be easier to use it when the conflict or reactive cycle begins to start up.