My husband Bernard and I have disputes that quickly escalate. You may be wondering how someone who is in the conflict management profession can have conflicts with her husband at all? Let alone, conflicts that escalate?
It is important that I point out that most people in the conflict management profession struggle with managing their conflicts successfully because just like everyone else we are human. We all have emotional triggers that can be switched or pushed by another person’s action or behavior. When this occurs, it can be challenging to remain level-headed and non-emotional and see the other person’s side. The Texas Conflict Coach program, “Being in Conflict: Lessons Learned from a Conflict Management Coach” with Pattie Porter and Zena Zumeta just discussed this very topic. Zena Zumeta said a quote that stuck with me, “We all teach best what we most need to learn.” The quote resonated with me because managing conflict within my relationships is something with which I am consistently working.
Over the weekend, Bernard and I had a fight that escalated. When I say escalate I mean we start saying hurtful things and pushing the buttons we know will set the other one off or hurt the other. While this has been something, we have said we will work on our sense of urgency in finding a plan that will work has increased due to our plans of starting a family by the end of the year. Neither of us wants to pass these bad habits onto our kids, and therefore we enacted a new rule – No Nuclear Weapons.
A nuclear weapon can be anything that is said with malicious intent to hurt the other person which further perpetuates the drama.
How can we use the “No Nuclear Weapons” rule to de-escalate conflict?
1. Recognize our Triggers. To know how to de-escalate, we must first be able to recognize when a situation is escalating. Your body will have a physical response which many of us will just ignore. When my triggers are hit, I can feel my body heat up, my heart rate increases, and many times I will start to cry.
2. Call it out. Bernard and I have never had an issue communicating and calling one another out for things. But in the midst of a conflict when things are escalating, we are so focused on our rebuttals in the argument we stop pointing out the below the belt comments. In the future, we must point out when one or both of us is saying hurtful comments.
3. Codeword Nuclear and Break. You may remember at the beginning of the movie Meet the Fockers anytime Jack (Robert DeNiro) is getting a little carried away his wife will say, “Muskrat” and it is a codeword for him to chill out. Bern and I decided that when we are in the midst of a conflict that is escalating, we will say the word, “Nuclear” to let the other one know things are getting too heated. When this occurs, we will then break for fifteen to twenty minutes and allow ourselves to cool down.
We hope that our “No Nuclear Weapons” rule will help us to de-escalate our conflicts in the future, so they don’t damage or cause resentments within our relationship. Also, so that when we do finally have children, we can demonstrate constructive ways to manage conflict so not to pass on our bad habits.