by Maisha Florance, M.A. Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern with Turning Point Counseling
Suzie and Sam are constantly fighting. They have what I call “rightitis” and this condition makes you deaf and blind to the validity of the feelings of others. It is very harmful to relationships it literally cuts off the bloodline which is open and honest communication, eventually causing the relationship to die.
In my professional life I meet couples like Suzie and Sam all the time, and most often by the time they are in my office the relationship is in critical condition.
I usually open with this: “You know I have no problem with you fighting, as a matter of fact a fair fight every now and then is a good thing - it keeps us passionate”.
Yes they look at me the same way you’re looking at the screen right now. A therapist who would tell her clients to fight? Okay so let’s be clear I’m not telling anyone to fight. My point is this; couples don’t usually need permission to fight. They are going to do that whether I mention it or not. The fact that I mention it “normalizes” it. The concept of “fair fighting” however is not as apparent to some couples - at least not the ones that end up in therapy.
One of the most effective, empowering, communication skills I teach clients suffering from “rightitis” is the Time-Out. You might call this a blood transfusion!
Typically when couples are discussing a sensitive issue like money, sex, parenting or any other topic that deals with roles, rules, and values it can get pretty heated before they know it. But instead of taking time to cool off, the “rightitis” flares up (like an irritable , burning rash, ugh) and no one wants to concede leading to an all-out inferno where one or both of them ends up saying or even doing seriously hurtful things as if they are seeking relief in the pain of the other.
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.” Colossians 4:6 NAS
How : When taking a time-out as an adult one person (typically the one that is the least angry) will call a time out by stating something like “I see this discussion is getting us nowhere maybe we should talk about this later when we are more calm, maybe after dinner tonight”.
There is no exact script as to what you should say as it can vary according to time of day and especially if there are children in the home, the point is to keep the situation from escalating out of control.
Note: the person that “calls” the time-out is also responsible for calling the time in. Meaning if you set a time for the discussion to continue then you must approach the other person at that time and say something like ”Is now a good time to continue our discussion?” usually this leads to a healthy discussion where both parties feel heard and respected because you have made a calm conscious decision to engage.
When : Usually a person knows when they are not in the right frame of mind to discuss certain sensitive topics, and in that case it is better not to. Simply ask your partner if it would be okay to discuss it at a later time, setting an appointment like in the example above; after dinner, in the morning, etc. and the same rules apply you need to approach at the appointed time…. In cases where the discussion has already begun and it is headed for a bad place (like you feel your “rightitis” flaring up or you notice symptoms in your partner) then is a good time for a time-out.
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger 20 For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” James 1:19-20 NAS
Why: I can personally say that when I have taken a time out to give myself the chance to really evaluate the situation, I find that there’s really nothing to fight about. There are certain things that my partner and I are not going to see exactly the same simply because we are two different people. Period!
I have found the main reason discussions escalate into fights is because one person holds the perspective that the other person is asking them to surrender their opinion to the others.
For example: Suzie and Sam agree on their goal to be financially “set” for retirement however they disagree on exactly how to accomplish that goal. Sam believes it should be done one way based on how he was raised and his relationship with money. Suzie believes it can be accomplished another way based on the same factors. They go around and around until eventually they are both shouting in anger and they are no longer talking about money they are making attacks on each other’s character.
“A [self-confident] fool has no delight in understanding but only in revealing his personal opinions and himself” Proverbs 18:2 Amplified
You see it’s not enough for Suzie to say “Yes, Sam I certainly see your point however I believe that this way would work just as well.” In Sam’s mind “you haven’t really heard me unless you agree with me”. Not only is he unable to see Suzie’s point as valid but he keeps restating his, badgering her until she reacts in anger. A time-out would allow them the opportunity to see that the important thing is that they agree on what they want for their future, the “how” can be negotiated in a calm manner.
Time-Outs aren’t just for kids, in fact they are one of the most grown up ways to practice healthy communication !
Maisha sees clients in Long Beach, Los Angeles and Torrance. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Maisha or one of our therapists in your area, call us at 800-99-TODAY or 800-998-6329!
Turning Point Counseling
1370 N. Brea Blvd., Ste. 245 - Fullerton - CA - 92835
800-998-6329 - www.TurningPointCounseling.org
Turning Point Counseling
Help for our family finances