Brain researchers have found that when people are angry, scared, or hurt, they're incapable of thinking straight. That's because stress hormones--designed to fuel fight or flight response--flood body, causing rational part of brain to shut down, and irrational part to take over. That's why angry people don't talk to each other, they rant and rave. They pout and drink. They work on their trucks, buy expensive shoes, kick in walls, or slap their kids.
The STOP Strategy is a process I teach all couples and families I work with in my family therapy practice. It's a simple method for stopping hurt, disconnecting so you don't cause harm, cooling down until you're both thinking straight again, and reconnecting from a better place.
The best way to learn how The STOP Strategy works is to read through this article (when you're calm) so you'll understand how it works when you really need it. Once you understand four steps, practice using strategy whenever little things come up between you and your partner. That way, you'll know steps by heart when something big happens.
This strategy not only works with couples, it also works great with kids. What's different here is that The Stop Strategy isn’t designed for just one person. It’s designed for two (and could be used by more). And unlike a typical Time Out--where one person banishes or abandons another—with STOP Strategy, a Time Out begins with two people agreeing to separate in order to come back together after both have done some work on themselves.
This is where healing begins. During a Time Out, both people are expected to reflect their own behavior and are asked to take responsibility for having done things that may have hurt someone else. They’re also asked to think of what they could have done to make things better. The last step requires both people to make a Peace Offering, a gesture that restores a spirit of goodwill to relationship.
Here are four steps:
1. STOP! As soon as you notice yourself getting uncomfortable with way your conversation is going, STOP! Then say: I need a time out. This gives you a chance to take a break without blaming your partner for your discomfort.
2. TIME OUT. This means physically separating from each other in order to stop hurt. It means going away for 30-60 minutes and coming back after both of you have calmed down and have completed Step 3.
• Brain researchers have found that once heart is beating 95 bpm or above, thinking brain shuts down and emotional brain takes over. This means it does no good to keep arguing when you’re both upset, because reasonable part of your brain is no longer listening.
• John Gottman’s research on marital satisfaction found that couples who disengage when things start heating up, and try again after both people are calmer, stay together and report greater satisfaction in their relationships.
Techniques for calming yourself down: Going for a walk, taking a hot bath, listening to quiet music, writing in a journal.
3. OWN YOUR PART. This means taking responsibility for your part in creating problem instead of attacking your partner or defending your position. To do this, answer following questions:
Q: Have I engaged in any acts of overt muscling?
• Demanding sex and/or obedience. • Controlling resources: $, freedom, time. • Using violence or threats to control my partner. • Showing anger and contempt for my partner in public (includes: attacks on character or appearance as well as acting as if my partner is invisible). • Shouting or intimidating with words or gestures (includes: sarcasm, mocking, finger-pointing, cornering, taunting). • Blaming, belittling, interrogating, name-calling. • Hammering a point to death. • Ganging up on my partner by bringing in kids, in-laws, other allies. • Excusing my bad behavior by blaming my partner for it: “I wouldn’t drink if you weren’t so controlling.” • Doing any of above in front of our children.