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Taking a break after a fight

Andres Carrion | July 2023

We’ve all gotten into a heated argument with someone. Whether it was someone we are close to (like a partner or a friend) or someone we are less close to (like a coworker), there may have been things said that we wish we could take back. Things may have even gotten so overwhelming that we felt ourselves shut down while the other person continued to speak. People in therapy sometimes share arguments they want to process, and oftentimes they express either walking out on a fight to avoid saying something they might regret or shutting down and/or leaving due to feeling overwhelmed. The reason we either shut down or get so angry we need to storm off (to avoid saying something we do not mean) is because we are becoming emotionally dysregulated. Whether the argument was heated from start or if the argument escalated, these types of events can be very mentally and emotionally exhausting. Moreover, our actions might be emotionally driven. So when we walk away, we might have the right idea, but we are not executing it properly.

Taking a break when fights or arguments become intense can be essential at helping us calm down when we feel ourselves becoming emotionally dysregulated. However, the way we ask for and implement breaks is essential. It can be difficult to let the other person know that we are feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated because that level of disclosure requires vulnerability. The reality is that when we are feeling angry or hurt by someone, we probably do not want to be vulnerable with them at that moment. Despite how scary it might feel, vulnerability is a strength and can help us make our relationships stronger and our arguments more productive. 

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated in an argument, there are some steps you can take to take a break and resolve your disagreement. The first thing to do is identify the signs that you might be feeling emotionally dysregulated. This could feel like heightened anger, feeling warm, breathing heavily, or even feeling tired. Once you notice that the conversation is intensifying and/or you are becoming dysregulated, it’s important to communicate the need for a break to the other person. In addition to asking for a break, it is equally important to set a time limit on the break. 

The time limit is needed because when we do not set a time limit or communicate the need for a break, the other person is left feeling abandoned. We also run the risk of never returning to the conversation or reaching a resolution. Communicating the need for a break could look like, “I love you, but I am feeling emotionally flooded and can sense myself withdrawing. Could we talk about this after dinner? I need a break.” 

During the break it is essential to do two things. The first is to find a way to calm down. You can do this by practicing mindfulness or doing a grounding exercise, taking a walk, or completing some other self-soothing exercise. The second thing to do is to identify some of the key points you want the other person to understand. Think of specific things you want them to know about how you are feeling and use healthy communication skills to convey these points to the other person. Additionally, be prepared to actively listen to the other person. 

The more we are able to practice these skills, the more prepared we might feel to handle arguments and disagreements and the more productive we might feel these conversations are.

While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more.