Couples counselors around the world are hyper-aware of the difficult challenges that come with being in a relationship, after all that’s their job. Just as real-estate agents live by the three L’s (location, location, location) to ensure success, couples counselors live by three C’s that form the foundation of a successful relationship: communication communication, communication.
If the value of communication in a relationship is not obvious then I don’t know what is! However, all the experienced “relationshipers” out there can testify that communicating is easier said than done, but most of these “relationshipers” have no clue why that is.
When a discussion turns into an argument, something happens in-between those phases that people not aware of. Naturally, we experience stress when complicated topics are brought up. However, stress causes the release of a hormone that should be named “destroyer of all that is good” but is called cortisol instead.
This little hormone makes it hard for people to communicate on all levels. Cortisol impairs the ability to think logically and remember words we wanted to say as well as words that were said during an argument.
That’s why you sounded like an incoherent jerk even though you rehearsed a list of logical and pleasant pointers; yet were only able to remember them hours later when you were in a calmer state, (probably in the shower). Interestingly enough, cortisol is also the reason why you hear yourself and your partner saying, “that’s not what I said,” or “you’re putting words in my mouth.” Yea, the truth is, you both are putting words in each other’s mouths since your ability to remember words is busted.
The “destroyer of all things good” is what made you think: “I was the one who came to have a healthy conversation and my partner is just here to fight.”. Sorry to have to kick you off your high horse, but your ability to understand your partner’s intentions and emotional state is also compromised when the cortisol kicks in. So, you’re probably wrong about that.
Disclaimer: this information is not an excuse to play the victim card. Yes, human biology has a major influence on behavior, but there’s a simple solution that doesn’t involve a $200, hour-long counseling session. Here’s the trick: when you or your partner feel the conversation is getting heated take a 20-minute break.
Couples who practice the 20-minute break rule are claiming it saved their relationship. Savanna Mitchells, (whose real name remains confidential), tells Popular Everything that, as a young couple who cannot afford therapy, it’s hard to find the right solution to get through the rough patches of her relationship. “My closest friend, who is getting her masters in psychology, explained the science behind that ‘Hulk-like’ feeling I experience when I argue with my boyfriend of four years. I thought I was going to lose him. She recommended taking 20-minute breaks the moment discussions begin to turn ugly. I took her advice without any hesitation. I love my boyfriend and could not believe the way I was acting towards him during arguments; I was pushing him away when I wanted to get closer.”
“It was hard work at first, but since then I see a positive difference in the way that I communicate and the way my boyfriend communicates as well. Turns out, this was helpful for the both of us. We get to the bottom of things and find solutions to our issues. These breaks are what kept us together during a time I almost lost hope.”
A 20-minute break lowers the level of the cortisol that is boiling your blood and has been scientifically proven to do so. The moment you or your partner feel that things are getting heated, take a 20-minute breather. Walk away, sit in another room, think of all those angry things you want to say. Slowly you’ll feel yourself revert from your “Hulk-self” to your “rational-self.” It’s the reason why old folks advise you to “write an angry letter and throw it away.”
You probably thought their advice was way out of date. I mean, who writes letters anymore? But think about the amount of time it takes to write that letter, especially by hand! Probably a minimum of twenty minutes. Cortisol, once released, takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes to get out of your system. It’s a wave of anger that’s getting between you and your loved ones when doesn’t have to. Once you take a moment to ride it out, your relationships with the people you love can only grow stronger.