Gandi’s 2nd Rule for Change

We’ve all been there; our partner says or does something and we feel our blood beginning to boil, our heart beating faster, our blood pressure rising, our muscles tensing, and suddenly we are acting out our feelings instead of expressing them.  This could mean yelling, using bad language, name calling, slamming or throwing things, or maybe just squealing the tires out of the driveway as extra punctuation to our mood.

Many couples might find it hard to believe Gandhi’s 2 rule for changing the world and that is “You Are in Control”.  The truth is that couples have a way of triggering each other like almost no one else.  The reason for this is complicated and will be the subject of another blog post at a later date.  But at any rate, whatever the reasons,  the body reaction is real; when we feel threatened, all kinds of stress hormones including adrenaline, nor adrenaline, and cortisol dump into our system and we are activated.

It might feel like at this point, things are out of control, and for many couples this is the signal that it is “game on” and things begin to quickly spiral out of control. At this point, couples may say or do things that damage the relationship and are difficult to take back or repair.

So is Gandhi right? Is it true that we are really in control when it may feel like World War 3 has just broken out in our living room and we are on the front lines fighting for our very lives?  So how do we regain this “control” that Gandhi refers to? When I work with couples, I start with step 1 which is awareness of when we are triggered and how that feels in our bodies. We talk about your favorite “f” word which is, in this case, fight, flight, or freeze. So when we recognize that we are in this mode what are our choices to get back into control?

In reality, we can get back into control but it does take time, a cooling off period;  those stress hormones take awhile to metabolize back into our systems, anywhere from 8-30 hours!  So what is a couple to do?

Here is where the first very valuable tool for improving your marriage comes into play.  This is the “Time Out”.  When used properly it can be a very valuable strategy for allowing people to separate and regroup when things are getting out of control.

Terry Real, a renowned relationship therapist defines a “Time Out” as a rip stop; it is the cord you pull to stop a runaway train, a brake, the thing you use to HALT an interaction that either has crossed over into, or is quickly crossing over into, haywire. Time outs have one job and one job only – to stop abruptly a psychologically violent or nonconstructive interaction between you and your partner.

Sometimes when people are activated, the last thing they want to do is take a time out. They want to fight it out to the bitter end.  But there are two important things to realize here – 1) when you and/or your partner are emotionally activated, the rational brain is not functioning well and nothing really productive gets accomplished and 2) the end can really be a bitter end with both partners leaving feeling emotionally bruised and damage done to the relationship that will need to be repaired.

There are more rules to taking effective time outs that really work that will be discussed in future  posts.

In the meantime, remember, your best tools for change happen when you are in control of your own feelings, emotions, and reactions.  Learning to do this better is a habit that you can grow stronger and stronger over time. Doing this makes life and relationships a whole lot easier and more pleasurable.

And remember, time outs are great tools for preserving the status quo, but if you need help moving forward and enriching your relationship, couples counseling is a great way to start building or rebuilding a solid relationship that manages conflict constructively, rather than destructively.  Don’t hesitate to call us for an appointment to start making your relationship the one you really want to have.

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