S.T.O.P.--A 4-Step Strategy for Handling Conflict Without Hurting Your Relationship
Examples of Overt Muscling:
· Demanding sex and/or obedience
· Controlling resources: $, freedom, time
· Using violence or threats to control partner
· Showing anger and contempt for partner in public (includes: attacks on character or appearance as well as acting as if 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 partner by bringing in kids, in-laws, other allies.
· Excusing your bad behavior by blaming your partner for it: I wouldn’t drink if you weren’t so X .”
· Doing any of the above in front of your children
Examples of Covert Defiance:
· Withdrawing or Avoiding (includes: the garage, the kids, work, school, alcohol, etc.)
· Stonewalling (includes: the silent treatment, refusing to talk)
· Withholding affection, attention, tenderness, appreciation, sex· Making excuses for why you didn’t follow-through . . . again
· Making and breaking promises and agreements
· Procrastinating· Chronic “forgetting”: “Oops. . . You know how my memory is.”
· Chronic lateness· Chronic apologies without subsequent changes in behavior
· Flaunting your affection for others in front of your partner
· Lying or hiding the truth
· Bad-mouthing your partner to your children, friends, family
· Developing a social network that excludes your spouse
OWNING YOUR PART means that during your time out you take responsibility for calming yourself down and redirecting your energy away from attacking or defending toward understanding and caring for your relationship.
· Techniques for calming yourself down: going for a walk, taking a hot bath, listening to quiet music, writing in a journal.
· Questions to help you redirect your energy:
1. What negative behaviors from the lists above did I use?
2. How might those behaviors have contributed to the bad feelings my partner and I experienced?
3. What could I have done that would have been more helpful, more considerate, more kind?
4. Assuming that most people don’t attack or defend unless they’re feeling threatened, what vulnerable feelings were behind my anger and (or) defensiveness? (Examples: fear, guilt, embarrassment, sadness, hurt)
5. What vulnerable feelings might have been behind my partner’s behavior? (Examples: fear, guilt, embarrassment, sadness, hurt)After you’ve answered these questions and have a better understanding of what went wrong and what part you played, you’re ready for the last step:
3. PEACE OFFERING! Assuming you’ve done all 3 previous steps, you should be ready to come back together and talk. Each of you should take a turn sharing what you learned about yourself from your time away.
This means owning your part, apologizing to your partner for the hurt you may have caused, and making a peace offering. A peace offering can be as simple as a hug or a kiss, or it can be a promise or an agreement to do something different. When both of you have completed this step, chances are you’ll be feeling lots better. Here’s an example of how this step might sound:
“At first, all I could see was what you did to make me mad, but when I went through the lists and saw: blaming, forgetting, and excusing--I realized that I played a part in what went wrong. I think I was attacking you because I was feeling guilty myself for forgetting to do X. Sorry. I know I let you down. Next time I can try to be more honest sooner, or I can at least stop blaming you before you’ve even had a chance to talk. I promise to do X by Friday.”
Sounds good, huh? You can do it, too. Practice the STOP strategy over and over until the steps are automatic. It takes lots of repetition, so hang in there! When you’ve got it down, try teaching it to your kids. If they’re too young to understand it, use the strategy in front of them. They’ll learn by example how to communicate lovingly and respectfully.
Betsy Sansby, MS, LMFT is a licensed marriage & family therapist with over 20 years experience counseling individuals, couples, and families. She is also the coauthor—with her husband—of seven instructional books on hand-drumming and percussion, including their latest book for kids, Slap Happy. She is the creator of an ingenious communication tool for couples called: The Ouchkit: A First-Aid Kit for Your Relationship. Clients who have used the kit describe it as: “Marriage Counseling in a Box.” You can read her advice column “Ask Betsy” at: www.theouchkit.com.