When the conflict starts to get heated, the Gottmans say you should simply take a break: “Stop on a dime at that point,” says Julie. “Don’t try to get in the last word, if your partner’s [the one] asking for the break.”
However, you don’t want to leave the conversation with no plan of action. Make sure to say when you’ll come back to continue the conversation. “That’s crucial, because if you don’t and you’re the one asking for the break, your partner may feel abandoned or rejected,” Julie notes. In terms of timing, she says the break can last from a minimum of 20 minutes up to 24 hours—don’t make it last longer than a day, or she says it can start to feel like a punishment.
Now, here’s the challenging bit: When you’re separated during this break, participate in something self-soothing. “This is crucial,” Julie says. “A lot of people will think about the fight and what they should say when they go back: ‘What’s a perfect rebuttal, what’s a perfect response?’ That’s terrible to do because it keeps you engaged internally in the fight. As long as you’re thinking about it, your body can’t calm down.”
In other words: On your break, do something to get your mind off the conflict. Take a walk, watch TV, listen to music, practice yoga or meditation—anything that brings your mind to a calmer state. That way, “when you go back at the designated time you agreed to, you’re calm, and the conversation is entirely changed.”