March 09, 2011
Breaking the Ice After an Argument: Understanding the Psychology of Post Argument Silences
Breaking the IceAfter an Argument: Understanding the Psychology of Post Argument Silences and How to Shorten Them
We've talked before about the difficulties of making up after a fight, incomplete apologies and the keys to lasting reconciliation. But one area we haven't looked at is the thorny issue of how to break the ice of the uncomfortable silence that follows an argument.While the silence provides an important psychological function, to allow us to hit our emotional reset button, if it goes on too long, it can become a problem all on its own. Instead of melting the ice can get thinker and more difficult to break.
Today we're going to look discuss the psychology of post argument silences at why its' so hard to break it. We'll also offer some tips on how to shorten avoid long term communication black outs.
Why Breaking the Ice is so Hard
While obvious, we don't think of arguments as stressful or, more importantly, that the silence that ensues is part of a stress reaction. Under stress a different part of our brain takes over and controls our behavior. The amygdale hi-jacks the reasonable brain the neo cortex and hippocampus. The negative emotions generated in the heat of battle create distortions in thought and judgment. When this happens, small things are grossly exaggerated and we feel under attack or at risk.
Specifically , anger and fear, trigger rigid defensive patterns, like yelling or withdrawing. These reflexive reactions interfere with normal reasoning and make it impossible to have a productive discussion. No making up can occur until emotions are calmed and reason is restored.
The silent period following the blow up is the space for calming down but unfortunately it doesn't always work. Depending on the history of the combatants, old issues can be dragged into the fray and feelings can get even worse. Fortunately there is a lot that can be done to prevent this from occurring.
Tips for Breaking the Ice Although the silence after a conflict is complex, here are some tips that will help to shorten the silence and restore the peace.
1. Be Pro-Active
Ironically, the biggest obstacle to resolving conflicts and initiating the peace after a fight is ignorance and a commonly held belief that there is nothing you can do to facilitate reconciliation, i.e. "Making-up just takes as long as it does." In fact, rather than a mystery Post-Argument Silences are predictable crises in relationships and that Breaking the Ice is a skill to be learned and mastered. Agreements can be struck in advance which will greatly shorten post argument difficulties.
2.Get a Plan of how to deal with breaking the silence
Make agreements which establish the ground-rules of reconciliation. It is much easier to break the ice if you agree to a plan before you have a fight. Talk about and negotiate do's and don'ts that make it easier to talk after a fight. The plan should include:
Things not to do: Don't Make it Worse.
Itemize behaviors and words which are painful or not constructive and agree not to do them. For Example, no abusive language, threats, pouting, guilt-tripping or other emotional manipulation. Don't pursue someone who needs some time out. Don't bring up the past.
Things To Do: Decide What Helps.
Itemize behaviors and words which are helpful and agree to use them. For example saying what you feel in a descriptive, non blaming way, use I-statements. Also, for the person who needs some time alone, promise to come back and discuss the conflict when you're ready.
Respect your Partner's Feelings and preserve his/her individual choice and prerogative. It Takes two people to be ready to make up. Even if one person is ready and willing to make up, the process can't be forced and it must wait until both partners are ready. In return, the one who needs more time will promise to signal when s/he is ready to talk.
3. Chose a Non-Threatening Signal : The Invitation
In situations where neither partner is obviously initiating and there appears to be a stand- off, whoever is ready first needs to indicate his/her readiness with a Non-Threatening Signal.
--The signal is not a demand or threat and
--it is not a surrender.
--It is simply an invitation and a sign of willingness to talk.
Gestures not words are often easier to do and are received more easily than spoken words which have facial expressions, body language, voice tone and word choices which may have an unpleasant history. Examples: Waving a white handkerchief ; mouthing the words "I'm sorry" ; an agreed to code word e.g. pineapple ; Self deprecating humor; Have a sign on the frig that says "I'm Sorry". The non threatening gesture could be simply pointing to the sign.
Breaking the ice doe not fix everything or solve the problem which caused the fight. However, for many, the discouragement surrounding the breaking the silence is a very difficult step. Following these tips won't eliminate snits but will help to shorten them and prevent them from going on too long. Breaking the ice is a good first step to resolving conflicts and restoring peaceful/loving relations again.
These remarks were prepared by the Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC for Bridge Street 3 9 2011.