pauseDo you know the feeling of desperate urgency in a conversation with a close friend or romantic partner? The sense that you have to defend yourself from attack, or make a very important point?

This feeling is often a signal that it is a good time to use the “pause” button in the conversation.

The “pause” button is a previously worked out way of putting a conversation on hold while you and your partner cool down.

Since you need to use the “pause” button when your emotions are running high, it is important to come up with a simple signal or phrase to use for invoking it.

One couple uses the “time-out” signal from the sports world. Another has a simple phrase that means let’s take atimeout break from this discussion for a while, and make sure that we do get back to it when  we have had a chance to think things through carefully.

Some common signs that it is time to take a break – a topic or statement that triggers a strong sense of fear, or anger, or both; a familiar argument (you don’t care for anything except yourself… yeah well you are way too needy all the time) that usually doesn’t end well; a feeling of helplessness or hopelessness; the belief that your perception of your partner right now is the only “true” perception of him or her.

Using the “pause” button needs to become a habit that you act on automatically. In the state of sympathetic nervous system activation (fight or flight) that we are talking about you can’t really think things out. The blood flow to your brain has been shunted from the parts of the brain that are thoughtful and can deal with ambiguity and subtlety (like the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and have been sent to the parts of the brain that see things as black and white, and that are most effective dealing with a sudden real danger (like a tiger or a physical attack) rather than the type of “dangers’ that we are more likely to run into in a relationship.

A “pause” button is one of those simple things that can make a big difference in a relationship. Try it out.