When it comes to family matters, stop and think before acting

How often do you find yourself stuck in a loop of unproductive conflict with your spouse, your child, a co-worker or your ex? Wish you could just stop this ‘dance of anger,’ which serves only to create more bitterness between you?

More from Jennifer DuBose

Jennifer_DuBoseJennifer DuBose, M.S.,
C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private
practice in Batavia and writes a monthly column for Chicago
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This strategy works just as well with adolescents as it does
with adults. It is even effective with younger children. In fact,
you’re probably already using it.

Remember the last time your child begged to be allowed
impulsively to spend her entire savings on something you thought
she might regret? You suggested postponing the decision for a few
days to see if that “must have” item would remain a “must
have.”

Later, once the emotional intensity passed, good choices
were able to be made. Nicely done.

My good friend, Sus Kongsbak Larsen, founder and director of On Hudson Mediation Center in Glens Falls, N.Y., offers a suggestion that may help you to break this vicious cycle.

A divorce and family mediator and life coach, Kongsbak Larsen often encourages her clients to come up with timelines for when to respond when hot issues are raised. She recommends replying with, “Let me think about that and get back to you,” instead of impulsively reacting with sarcastic or other inflammatory comments that can make difficult matters even worse.

Kongsbak Larsen illustrates a scenario where co-parenting exes successfully used this approach. “He accused her of something, which triggered a reaction, but instead of replying, she said, ‘Can you give me 24 hours to respond to that?’ He did, and he eventually started doing that himself.” This cooling-off period allowed time for negative emotions to subside and created space for problem-solving to happen.

I love the simplicity of this tool. We often disregard simple solutions because, I think, we fear they’re no match for the extreme feelings our frustrations inspire. But this is no lightweight kernel of wisdom. The message you send when you ask for time to think about another person’s perspective- whether it’s your child’s or another adult’s-is that you’re willing to carefully consider it. Even if you later return to the discussion with no plan to acquiesce, the fact that you expressed an intention to consider it at all can result in his feeling heard, coming “down” from an emotionally amped-up place, and being more receptive to your position.

I suspect that another reason some might ignore this simple solution is because it can feel quite satisfying-in the short term-to take the bait and exchange a few barbs. But when we decide to consciously choose peace instead, we accept the limits of the relationship and ignore the bait.

“‘Later’ always works for me,” Kongsbak Larsen says. “I am aware of how much conflict has resolved itself in my life because of ‘later.'”

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