Marriage Tool #4: The Break Room
If you’ve ever seen an episode of The Office (or worked in an office setting) you know the importance of a break room to the people who work there. These spaces are used to get coffee, eat lunch, and hold secret, non-work related meetings such as the Finer Things Club.
Break rooms aren’t just for television or real-world offices. Ted and I have one in our marriage, but it’s not the kind with a coffee maker or refrigerator. Remember that Valentine’s Day gone wrong I mentioned in the last Marriage Tool post? In the midst of Ted and my fight, he did something that went on to shape how we handled conflict in the future. Flustered and frustrated, he blurted out, “I can’t talk about this right now.” He then walked into our bedroom and shut the door.
I was left standing in the living room. Alone and completely baffled. What had just happened here?
Up to that point in our relationship, I generally avoided conflict, like the plague or liverwurst. Yet here I was addressing it — not avoiding it, not ignoring it — but talking about it, albeit in a very animated manner. How could Ted suddenly end our discussion and walk away? Didn’t this completely contradict the “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” admonition of Ephesians 4:26?
Turns out it was one of the best things Ted could have done. Not just in that moment, but for our marriage long term. Here’s the thing: Ted instinctively knew that he couldn’t productively work through the conflict with me in his current emotional state. He needed to take a break to calm down. He needed to give himself some space to process on his own. Only then could he work through the issue in a healthy way, authentic and unpressured.
After I got over my bewilderment, I realized that I needed the break too. When Ted returned, we were both able to address the conflict in a way that benefited, not wounded, our relationship. And so was born Marriage Tool #4: The Break Room. We’ve been using it ever since.
If you’re having trouble resolving an argument, take a break and give yourself some space to individually calm down and process. Then come back and work through the conflict. Cooler heads prevail.
Are the words of Ephesians 4:26 to be taken literally? Must every marital conflict find happy resolution before sundown? Or are they a challenge to resolve angering issues without needless delay? I think it’s got to be the latter. Say, for example, that Ted and I get into a fight at 8:30 p.m. and the sun has already quite literally set. And it’s one of those arguments that is not quickly resolved. In these instances, I believe it’s okay — and even beneficial — to temporarily step away from the conflict. Even if this means resolving it the next day. For us, this isn’t a needless delay. Indeed, sometimes it’s a needed delay.
To use Tool #4, tell your spouse, “I need some time by myself to think about this. Let’s take a break and give each other a little room. After that, let’s continue this discussion.” Take some time alone to calm down. It may be helpful to use Tool #3 to carefully consider your spouse’s motives regarding whatever led to the conflict, attempting as you do to assume the best.
Also, you may want to use this time to formulate any criticism you need to share with your spouse by using Tool #2: The Communication Sandwich. You may also find, upon calmer reflection, that the source of conflict was a misunderstanding.
Be careful not to use The Break Room as an excuse to avoid dealing with an issue. The purpose of a break room—whether the literal one in an office or the metaphorical one in marriage — is to allow you to temporarily step away from the stress of your current environment, and then get back to the work at hand. Notice the word “temporarily.” When you use The Break Room in marriage, it should always be with the full intention of coming back together to work through the conflict in a way that benefits the long-term health of your relationship.
This is Tool #4 from my free ebook 5 Simple Marriage Tools You Should Know. You can receive the book free when you subscribe to my email newsletter. You can sign up using the form at the top of my website. You can read Tool #3 here.