How to Take a Break from an Argument
Disagreement and conflict are normal parts of close relationships. When we are able to work through a conflict with someone, the relationship becomes closer. On the other hand, when conflicts get heated and go unresolved, this can drive a wedge between ourselves and the people we care about. When an argument goes bad, we can leave it feeling hurt, angry, and misunderstood. If you find yourself having too many of the second kind of conflict, the first step towards more productive disagreements in the future is to learn how to disengage from the unproductive ones.
Conflicts become unproductive when one or both individuals becomes either too overwhelmed or shut-down to think clearly. If the overwhelmed/shut-down individual(s) can realize what is happening to them and calm themselves quickly, they may be able to return to productively engaging in the conflict. To productively engage in a conflict, one must be able to listen to, understand, and articulate the other person’s perspective as well as reflect on and articulate one’s own perspective in a non-defensive way. This doesn’t mean having no feelings about the conflict, rather it means feeling your feelings without being hijacked by them.
Sometimes, our buttons get pushed in a conflict and we just can’t help but take things personally. If we can’t calm down enough to engage productively, and continuing just seems to do more harm, then it’s time to take a break. Before we take that break, we need to tell the other person what we intend to do. To do this, you can say something like “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. I’m going to take a break to calm down, but we can return to this conversation again, when I'm calm.”
It’s so important to communicate that you intend to take a break, and not to simply walk away. When people walk away without a word in the middle of an argument, the other person may react by following, feeling abandoned, disrespected, or in some other way hurt, making the problem worse. If you’ve been having repeated unproductive conflicts with somebody, it may be beneficial to discuss taking breaks when conflicts get too heated with the other person during a time of calm.
After informing the other person of this, go and do something separate from the other, and if you can, do something to help yourself feel calm. Wait for the heavy feelings to ease up, before re-engaging. You may find it useful to specify a time to come back together after the break to keep talking, such as in an hour or at a specific time later in the day when it will be convenient for both of you. It’s important that you follow-through with your promise to continue the discussion, as you said you would, to maintain trust and because conflicts don’t go away just because they are ignored.
You can initiate a break in an unproductive argument, even if you feel that it’s only the other person who isn’t able to be reasonable. In this case, still take ownership by stating that you are taking a break to calm down. Putting the blame for the difficulty in the interaction on the other will only make them defensive and lengthen the conflict. The point is to reduce hurt feelings and wasted time in unproductive conflict, so you can get on with resolving things and get closer to the person you care about.
Close relationships always come with conflict, and they can be made closer by it. When conflict gets too charged, it goes unresolved and leaves us with a bad taste in our mouth. Knowing when this is happenings, and how to pull yourself away from it to cool off can save a lot of heartache and open up the door eventually moving through what has you at odds with the person you care about.