S.T.O.P. ! A four-step strategy for handling conflicts and healing your relationship

Written by Betsy Sansby, MS, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

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 fuelrepparttar fight or flight response--floodrepparttar 122050 body, causingrepparttar 122051 rational part ofrepparttar 122052 brain to shut down, andrepparttar 122053 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 allrepparttar 122054 couples and families I work with in my family therapy practice. It's a simple method for stoppingrepparttar 122055 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 understandrepparttar 122056 four steps, practice usingrepparttar 122057 strategy whenever little things come up between you and your partner. That way, you'll knowrepparttar 122058 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—withrepparttar 122059 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 whererepparttar 122060 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 torepparttar 122061 relationship.

Here arerepparttar 122062 four steps:

1. STOP! As soon as you notice yourself getting uncomfortable withrepparttar 122063 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 stoprepparttar 122064 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 oncerepparttar 122065 heart is beating 95 bpm or above,repparttar 122066 thinking brain shuts down andrepparttar 122067 emotional brain takes over. This means it does no good to keep arguing when you’re both upset, becauserepparttar 122068 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 creatingrepparttar 122069 problem instead of attacking your partner or defending your position. To do this, answerrepparttar 122070 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 ofrepparttar 122071 above in front of our children.

The Art of Conversation:
A Communication Exercise for Couples ©

Written by Betsy Sansby, MS, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

Introduction for Couples: The Art of Conversation is a homework tool I developed for couples in my therapy practice. It's a structured exercise in which one person (Person A) gets to talk for 20 minutes about any issue she wishes while her partner (Person B) asks specific questions designed to help her see parts of herself she could not have seen without Person B's help. When 20 minutes are up andrepparttar couple has had a chance to talk about their experience, they switch roles and start over again.

The Art of Conversation works as long you’re both calm enough to think straight. It will not work when either of you is too hurt, too angry, or too agitated. That’s when you’ll need to rely on other tools, like The S.T.O.P. Strategy (which you can download for free), or The OuchKit. Both of these will help you disengage in a crisis and reconnect from a better place. The Art of Conversation isrepparttar 122049 perfect tool to use after you’ve both calmed down and are ready to talk face-to-face.

Homework: Your homework assignment is to practice The Art of Conversation for one hour, at least once between sessions. Be sure to switch so both of you get a chance to be Partner A and Partner B. Use The S.T.O.P. Strategy or The OuchKit, to disengage if things start to heat up, and try again when you’re both feeling calmer. What this exercise is about: •Learning how to talk to each other so you both feel cared about and understood at a deeper level. •Learning how to ask questions that lead someplace new. •Experiencingrepparttar 122050 benefits of listening without an agenda, and speaking without fear or anger. •Learning how to bring outrepparttar 122051 best in each other.

How this exercise works: 1. Choose roles. Person A will bring up an issue that’s important to her (or him), and Person B will ask Person A questions about it.

2. Pick an issue. The first time you do this exercise, choose an issue that’s important to you personally--something you’re struggling with or something you care about that’s got you stumped--but not an issue that's particularly touchy betweenrepparttar 122052 two of you.

Example: I’d like to talk about my problem with overeating. Every day I say I’m going to do something but I can’t seem to follow through.

Save more difficult topics for your second or third round of this exercise, after you’ve both gotten a feel for how and why this exercise works.

3. Have a conversation. Have a different kind of conversation, followingrepparttar 122053 rules onrepparttar 122054 next two pages. Sample Questions and Tips for Person B can be found atrepparttar 122055 end of this article. 4. Debrief. When Person A feels finished, or 20 minutes are up,repparttar 122056 first round ends, andrepparttar 122057 two of you get to talk about howrepparttar 122058 process went: A) How did each role feel and what was hard or easy about it? B) What did your partner do or say that you liked, and what didn’t you like? C) What did you learn about a) yourself, and b) your partner?

5. Remember: Both of you are doing something new, so you both need to talk about what happened duringrepparttar 122059 exercise.

6. Switch roles. Switch roles and dorepparttar 122060 whole exercise all over again.

7. Write down what you learned. Each time you do this exercise write down what you learned.

Onrepparttar 122061 surface, this exercise is going to look like two people having an ordinary conversation. What makes this exercise different from ordinary conversation arerepparttar 122062 rules.

The Rules: For Partner A: Answer questions honesty, with as much openness as possible.

Be gentle, even if some of your partner's questions seem contrived, provocative or off base. One way to do this is to think of each question as if it’s an intriguing clue that may lead to hidden treasure. When you approach questions this way---instead of in a “Why do you want to know?” frame of mind---defensiveness goes down and your search for answers will usually lead someplace new.

Set limits. If your partner slips out of character and starts giving advice, offering suggestions, or making judgments, it’s your job to bring them back by saying something like, “Thanks for trying, but that sounded like a judgment. Could you ask me again in a different way?” or “Can we go back to that question about . . .? I think I was getting somewhere.” The same is true for questions you’re not ready to answer or are just plain uncomfortable with.

Give positive feedback. It’s important to get inrepparttar 122063 habit of noticing and telling each other what you like so you can both do more of it.

Ask for a break if you need one. If you start to get tired or notice your mood slipping, don’t be shy about telling your partner. John Gottman’s research on couples has shown that couples that know how to disengage when their conversation starts to go sour, and reconnect when both people are in a calmer state, stay together and report greater satisfaction in their relationships. Usually, half an hour to an hour is enough. During your break, it’s okay to go off on your own, but if you’ve taken a break because you’re upset, it’s your responsibility to calm yourself down by taking a walk, doing some journaling, or listening to calming music. It’s also your responsibility to restartrepparttar 122064 exercise with a check-in that lets your partner know what’s happening. If you have feedback that might help your partner help you, now isrepparttar 122065 time to suggest it.

For Partner B: Ask questions without an agenda. In legal terms, this means avoiding leading questions---questions that already contain or imply an answer. Leading questions are conversation stoppers, because your own agenda is always felt even if it isn’t always stated. Questions that come fromrepparttar 122066 desire to understand--rather thanrepparttar 122067 desire to influence---are door openers that allow your partner to look atrepparttar 122068 world with fresh eyes.

Listen deeply to your partner’s answers. This will help makerepparttar 122069 questions you ask more subtle, more interesting, more informed--the kinds of questions that reveal your unique knowledge of your partner and your shared history. Questions that demonstrate this kind of listening often include bits of information that only you---or you and your partner may have.

Example: I’m confused. You say you want more time to paint, but it seems like whenever I suggest it, you come up with reasons why you can’t. I’m wondering if you’re really okay withrepparttar 122070 idea of being an artist, or if maybe you don’t think I’m really okay with it?

The goal here isn’t to be right, it’s to raise issues that show you’re paying attention. It’s as if you’re both detectives trying to figure out which clues are important.

Be a mirror for your partner. Make statements about things you’ve noticed (as inrepparttar 122071 example above), offer hunches, or paraphrase what you think your partner has just said. The main thing is that even while your questions startrepparttar 122072 ball rolling,repparttar 122073 direction it rolls should be driven by your partner’s needs, not your own.

Take correction gracefully. If your partner corrects or re-directs you, say “Thanks forrepparttar 122074 feedback.” Period. Correction can be hard to take, but learning to accept feedback cheerfully is critical to learning how to be a better partner, friend, parent, and lover.

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