Archive of ‘Conflict’ category

5 Steps to Successfully Taking a Break from Conflict

Step 1: Mutually understand the benefits of a break and the cost of not taking one when it is necessary.

Despite our very best efforts, sometimes conflict is going to get heated. Being able to shift gears in the heat of an argument and take a break is one of the most crucial relationship skills. We compound the problem by staying engaged in a conflict that is devolving to criticism, stonewalling, contempt, or defensiveness. After a certain point in conflict, we are likely to do more harm than good. This is the moment when we need to take a break. Breaks give you time to calm down, deepen your perspective, and have a successful “do-over” with your partner.

Step 2: Identify the signs you need a break.

Recognizing when a break is necessary will take some practice. Establish with your partner now what the signs are that a break is necessary. Then, look for those signs when you and your partner are in conflict.

Signs to include:

  • When I recognize I am flooded or my partner is flooded.
  • When I notice my mind is racing and jumping from topic to topic.
  • When my partner and I are interrupting each other.
  • When I feel myself shutting down (getting quiet, ignoring).
  • When my partner or I begin to make personal attacks on each other.
  • When my partner or I become sarcastic or mock one another.
  • Non-verbal cues such as eye-rolling, storming out of the room, or slamming doors.

Step 3: Initiate the break and agree on a time to reconnect.

When you notice the predetermined signs that a conflict is bubbling out of control, initiate the strategy of taking a break.

  • State your intention so your partner does not feel rejected or abandoned. Communicate to your partner that a break will help you re-focus on the relationship. For example, “This conversation is important to me. I recognize that I’m/we’re too upset right now to talk about this constructively. I worry that if we continue this conversation right now, we will only make it worse. Let’s take a break so I/we can calm down and come back together.”
  • Set parameters for the break. Agree together on how long of a break you need. A break should be at least 20 minutes (that’s how long it will take your body to physiologically calm down). A break should be no longer than a day, or you risk building resentment. It is critical after the break to come back together. Agree on a time to reconnect now.

Step 4: Calm down.

The purpose of a break is foremost to calm down. The greater insight and perspective you garner will result from first calming down. What you do with the break will determine whether the time apart will be beneficial or detrimental. Channel your distress into something unrelated that takes your mind off of the conflict. Go for a run, walk the dog, go take a shower, water your plants.

Tips for calming down:

  • Cease negative thoughts about your partner.
  • Consider that there may be more to the picture than what you see and feel in this moment.
  • Refrain from venting to others or to yourself. (This is probably a bad time to call your sister.)
  • Do not go prepare for battle or strengthen your case.

Step 5: Come back together.

After the agreed upon amount of time, come back together. Coming back together is a critical component of taking a break. It is necessary to achieve resolution and reconnection. It also behaviorally shows your partner that you care about them and the conversation you were having.  

You have a new opportunity to get back on track. You will likely experience greater clarity and closeness because the “big emotions” have subsided. You will also be able to focus more clearly on your shared relationship goals and see the situation through a broader perspective. You will be better positioned to communicate successfully with one another.

Here are some ideas for starting your reconnection conversation on the right foot:

  • “My reaction was too extreme earlier. Can we try that again?”
  • “My feelings were hurt and I did not mean the things I said. I’m sorry.”
  • “I can see my part in all of this.”
  • “Let’s try this over again.”
  • “We were both saying…”
  • “Let’s find our common ground.”

Written by:
Katy Manganella, LPC-Intern supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S


I’m Not A Parent, But I Love Positive Discipline

In the past few months I’ve participated in a few Positive Discipline Workshops at Austin Family Counseling. I loved every minute of it even though I am not a parent. How, you ask? Isn’t Positive Discipline primarily a parenting workshop? Yes, but one of Positive Discipline’s tenants is that it challenges the individuals to examine their own thoughts, feelings and beliefs in order to better understand the relationship dynamics they have with others including, but not limited to, their children. Almost everything I’ve learned during my time with Positive Discipline I’ve been able to relate to every important relationship in my life. Positive Discipline is about relating to others, it just happens to be a really good parenting guide!

By: Jill Baumgarner, Pre-Graduate Intern Supervised by Kirby Sandlin, LPC, LMFT

By: Jill Baumgarner, Pre-Graduate Intern
Supervised by Kirby Sandlin, LPC, LMFT

I would like to share with you my favorite Positive Discipline exercise that has helped foster my own individual growth. The Positive Discipline book calls it “Life Style Priorities” but it’s also known as your “Top Card”. Your “top card” describes a mode you resort to in times of stress and a blueprint for how you navigate your life.

Okay, so let’s find your top card!

Imagine you received four packages from the UPS man today. They are “Meaningless and Unimportance”, “Criticism and Humiliation”, “Rejection and Hassels” and “Stress and Pain”. You are standing there with these four packages, not wanting any of them, but the UPS man says that you can only return one. Which would you choose? Which package would be the most unbearable to live with?
For Example, If you picked the first, your top card would be “Superiority”, you may believe the way to overcome your worst fears (i.e. meaningless and unimportance) you must do more, be better than others, be right and be more useful. Does that sound about right? Just to clarify though, your ‘top card’ is not always a bad thing; it can describe some of your best attributes as well. It is essentially the theme of priorities you deem most important in your life.

To continue, if you picked the second package your ‘top card’ would be Control. The third? Pleasing. The fourth, Comfort.

I also want to include a helpful and informative chart that describes more thoroughly what your Top Card means about you.

How do you think this top card has shown up in your life?

How do you think this lifestyle priority affects the way you relate to others?

What are your children’s top cards?

What is your partner’s?

You may find that in times of stress, characteristics of your top card become more alive. I encourage you to read more about Lifestyle Priorities and all of Positive Discipline’s teachings! They have truly changed my life!


Myths About Domestic Violence: Part 3

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Welcome back to our discussion on the myths about domestic violence. We continue our focus on the myths about abusive men, specifically myths about what causes abusive men to be abusive. As before, information for the blog is taken from the book “Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. Please visit http://www.lundybancroft.com for more information.

Myth #7: He holds in his feelings too much.

This is often referred to as “The Boiler Theory of Men” – that men keep their emotions pent up inside and that in time they are bound to blow up. The truth is that most abusive men are actually quite the opposite in respect to their feelings, and they have an exaggerated idea of how important their feelings are. They talk about their feelings and act them out all the time, until those who are on the receiving end, their partners and children, are exhausted from it. It is not their feelings that are the problem, but their thinking and their attitudes about the feelings of others. They are too distant from their partner’s and children’s feelings rather than their own. This “boiler theory” appears to make sense because abusive men often follow a pattern of withdrawing, saying less and less, and then they appear to boil over and erupt in yelling, put-downs and other abusive behaviors. However the mounting tension is actually driven by his lack of empathy for the feelings of his partner and children, and then he gives himself permission to explode.

Myth #8: He has an aggressive personality.

It is understandable why this would be an attractive myth to believe – if it were true it would make it much easier to women to decrease the chances of ending up in an abusive relationship. However, the majority of abusers are often quite responsible calm when dealing with affairs and people unrelated to their partners. For most abusers, but not all, they do not get aggressive with individuals other than their partners. This actually is a contributing factor to why many women stay feel trapped in abusive relationships – their partners are calm and gentle people outside of the home, it’s so hard to believe they could be so different behind closed doors. This is one of the manipulative, twisted aspects of abusive partners and it serves to ensure their partners will not reach out for support.

This myth is perpetuated by the societal stereotype that abusers are relatively uneducated and blue-collar men. This is not only an unfair stereotype of working-class men, it overlooks the fact that a college-educated or professional man has roughly the same likelihood of abusing his partner as anyone else. The truth is, the more educated the abuser is, the more knots he can tie in his partner’s mind, the better he is at getting her to put the blame on herself for his behavior, and the slicker he is at being able to persuade others that she is crazy. Also, and this is a very important point, the more socially powerful an abuser, the more powerful his abuse can be – he has more influence and has more pull in the public eye, and this makes it much more difficult for his partner to escape.

Myth #9: He has low self-esteem.

Many would like to believe that abusive behavior is the result of the abusive man feeling bad about himself, having low self-esteem. This misconception leads the victim to do what she can to boost his confidence. However, this only makes the problem worse. Abusive men expect being catered to, and the more positive attention they receive, the more they demand. Thus, the self-esteem myth is ultimately rewarding to the abuser – it gets his partner, his therapist and others involved to cater to him emotionally.

Myth #10: He is too angry.

Perhaps the most common myth about abusive men is that they have anger management problems, that they are abusive because they are unable to appropriately cope with and manage their anger. The cause and effect belief usually looks like this: He is abusive because he is angry. However, this is the reverse of the truth – he is angry because he is abusive. Everybody gets angry and most have, on occasion, gotten too angry, where their anger is out of proportion to an event or beyond what is healthy for them. Some get ulcers, hypertension and heart attacks as a result. However, these individuals do not necessarily abuse their partners. An abusive partner’s anger can be misleading, in that it diverts the attention away from all the disrespect, irresponsibility, lying, talking over you, and other abusive and controlling behaviors he displays, even when he isn’t particularly upset.

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