Do you ever find yourself stuck in a loop of arguing with your partner or partners? As if no matter what you say, what they say, or what either of you do, it just keeps going and escalating. You want to end the argument, you want to say the right thing, but what they just said makes you so upset that you say the exact wrong thing back, and then they do too. It just keeps going. Your heart may be pounding, you may feel hot, you may ball up your fists, you may feel tears building up, you may feel unable to control what you say. It is an exhausting battle, and you wonder, do either or any of you even remember the original issue? Maybe, maybe not.
We have all been there and it can be really difficult to know what to do. While this one DBT skill may not solve the problem, it can be really useful to de-escalate the conflict. This way when you do come back to the issue later you can both or all handle it more effectively and listen and be heard. Because if we are honest, it’s really difficult to truly hear someone fully when your emotions are that activated.
So, what do you do? You STOP.
Just for a moment, stop everything you are doing. Pause and freeze. Name your emotion, acknowledge it, and don’t let it carry you away. You are in control. Let your partner/s know you need to stop. It can be helpful to discuss this skill with your partner/s before a difficult situation. Decide together how you will STOP. WIll you say the word stop? Is there a signal? Will you ask for a break? Make sure you both or all agree to stop when any of you use this skill. Respect your partner/s STOP as much as your own. This step can help you prevent any actions that you may regret later. This is hard, but you can do it.
Take a Step Back
Physically step away. Think about what kind of space you need. Do you need to change the topic? Do you need to leave the room? Do you need to go on a walk or a drive? Do you need to reopen this conversation with your relationship counselor? Decide with your partner/s how long you need to step back and what stepping back looks like. After you decide this, be sure to respect the time and space limits set. You can also mutually decide to extend this, but come back together to do so, even if from afar by text or call.
During this time stepping back and once you have had time to emotionally regulate, think and observe. Observe your body and your mind. Observe your triggers, what made it get so heated. Observe where you went from discussion to argument. Observe your level of willingness to go back. Use these observations to proceed to the next step. It may also be useful to do something to soothe or distract yourself before coming back to the situation.
Then, when it’s time, come back together. Coming back after this may help you both or all come together more peacefully, more willing to accept each other’s vulnerabilities and experiences. Reopen the conversation using what you learned about your experience in the observe stage. Be mindful of your goals and of your limitations, as well as your partner’s. Be mindful of your love and respect for one another.
This may take practice. It may be difficult to come back or to step away, but it can work. Working may look like still being upset, frustrated, or disappointed with each other. However working also looks like being able to hear and express the emotions you both or all are having more effectively. It looks like feeling more grounded in the situation rather than becoming flooded within the conflict. This skill can also be used on your own or in conjunction with other tools already in your toolkit. Practicing while calm may be a good start so that you can both or all experience what this feels like and you can access the skill easier when you do need it. You can get through this moment, together.