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Why Speed Is the Enemy of Understanding in Relationships

communication habits space Jul 10, 2024


When you and your partner start fighting, all sorts of things happen.

Your heart rate increases.

Stress hormones pulse through your body.

Your muscles clench.

You become more defensive, less curious.

But there's something else that changes, something so subtle that it often flies under the radar of our awareness: everything speeds up.

The conversation shifts from a meandering 40 mph drive through the countryside to a 120 mph drag race.

And, just like driving, having contentious conversations at high speed comes with real risks. It can total your connection, your trust in each other, and your love.

That's the bad news.

The good news? 

By simply changing the pace of conversation, by slowing down, you can turn these moments of conflict into opportunities for connection.

But how do you do that? Try these tools.





1. Catch yourself speeding up.

As always, awareness is the first and most essential move.

If you can't see the pace of your conversation speeding up in real time, there's really nothing you can do. Your default habits will inevitably run the show.

So notice when you feel the pace of conversation accelerating. Turn this into an internal alarm clock moment, your cue to try something different, something that can break the natural momentum of the conversation and allow the two of you to slow down.


2. Call time out.

You know that moment in a basketball game when one team gets on a streak and the coach for the opposing team calls time out?

They do this for one simple reason. Calling time out breaks up the momentum of the situation. It slows the other team down.

You can do the same thing during conflicts with your partner. 

When you feel the acceleration of conflict occurring, you can say, "I notice myself getting stirred up. Can we take a second to slow down?"

Or, if you feel uncomfortable calling a time out verbally, you can do it internally, without saying a word.

Take a few conscious breaths. Slow yourself down. By slowing down your side of the conversation, you silently invite your partner to do the same.

Lastly, if you can't find a way to do it on your own, finding a skilled coach or therapist is a great way to slow down high intensity interactions.


3. Reflect back.

In ordinary conversation, we assumed that each person's words are fully internalized by the other.

But conflict changes everything. When you and your partner are pissed off, this ordinary assumption breaks down.

The cascade of stress hormones creates a fog of conversation so thick that your partner's point of view becomes impossible to see.

In these conditions, reflecting back is one of the most powerful ways to come back to a place of understanding.

How do you reflect back? Take turns revealing and listening. After your partner reveals their experience, take a moment to reflect back what you heard before revealing your perspective.

Here's what this sounds like. 

Partner 1: "I feel frustrated and misunderstood when I see the Amazon packages arriving with all sorts of new purchases that, in my view, we can't afford."

Partner 2: "What I'm hearing you say is that when you see the Amazon packages arriving, you feel frustrated and worried that we can't afford the things that I am buying. Is that right?"

This practice of reflecting back in moments of conflict has two benefits.

First, it slows down the pace of contentious conversation.

Second, it forces each of you to pay closer attention to what the other person is actually saying.

In short, reflecting back creates the conditions for understanding. And that's the key move for shifting from conflict to connection.

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