How Distance Can Help
Recently, a client told me about a problem she was having with her boyfriend. The details of their argument aren’t important but their mutual frustration at each other’s stance came mostly from a difference in values and a feeling that neither were listening to each other.
So frustrated was my client, that she was seriously considering ending the relationship. After all, what this conflict revealed was a clash of values that for her, were so fundamental that she could not envisage a future with him. He just didn’t seem to get it and every time they saw each other, the subject would come up in fits of shouting, name calling, ultimatums and storming off. I’ve certainly been there, and you probably have too.
Finding a Way Out of Your Emotions
When arguments get heated, there seems no way out, no way to compromise and all we want to do is win our point. It almost becomes a power game and so finding middle ground could feel like losing a battle that has become important to us. That’s understandable when the conflict is about a primary need that you require to be addressed or a value that you hold dear.
In the midst of the emotional fog, the lighthouse of reason is difficult to see. Even the wisest navigators find it hard to find a port of refuge in stormy weather. That’s why it’s good to get some distance.
It’s not always easy to do, especially if you are arguing with somebody that you live with or share an office with but distance is important in allowing yourself to step back from the emotional charge that the argument has caused, to have a rest from it and regain a sense of balance. This is the purpose of a ceasefire as even well- equipped and well-trained armies run out of steam and resources.
Distance is also important when exchanging emails or texts with somebody who you are having an argument with. Emotional communication can leave the recipient with the feeling of being attacked, especially when particularly abusive or offensive messages are sent without thinking about how they will be perceived. This often exacerbates the conflict and makes it hard to restore relationships.
So how do I create distance?
- Recognise when your emotions are making it hard to communicate. What it is you want from the other person or what it it that you are not getting?
- Distance yourself physically, either by going for a walk, going out for a coffee or sitting in a different part of the office until you have calmed down.
- If you are engaged in difficult email communications or texting, draft what you want to say, save it, walk away, read it. Over and over again. Get somebody else to read it and tell you sensitively how they perceive it.
- Point (3) is important! I can’t tell you the amount of times I pressed the send button and instantly regretted it after having read a message hours later. If it’s not necessary to respond urgently, wait until the next day once you have had time to think about how you will move forward with the argument.
- Use the distance to acknowledge your emotions. Write them down if necessary and accept that they are a perfectly normal response when engaged in conflict.
All of this takes practice, self-awareness and a willingness to reach a solution. If you are not willing to reach a solution then perhaps you should ask yourself what is at stake if you don’t? How will this benefit me? If you can’t think of any benefit, it might be time to move on from the relationship.
Do you have any tips on creating distance ? Please leave your comments below or email me!
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