A Simple Way to Stop an Argument Before It Gets Toxic

By Bri McKoy
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Sarah Carter

My husband and I stop arguments before they spiral downward. The pausehelps us remember that no one should tear apart what God brought together. The pause allows us to seek unending grace and mercy. 

It was a regular Wednesday evening. The workday had ended. The sun was melting into the earth.
Jeremy came in through the front door, another marker of sorts that we had made it through the day.
I was so happy to spend this night at home with him, this time to come together, making dinner and
doing nothing unusual. We set out to decide what to do. Maybe we should play a board game. Or we
could read a book.

But before we could settle on anything, an argument emerged. Disagreements are so sly, like moving a
box and discovering a spider. You don’t expect the spider to be there, but suddenly you’re throwing
down the box and running away. One minute everything is calm and lovely, and the next thing you
know, you’re in a fight you didn’t see coming.

Jeremy and I used to become embroiled in discord easily. That’s why we had to learn how to say
“Pause!” It’s our code word for stopping an argument that is getting too heated too fast. That
evening we were able to stop the conflict before it became toxic. Here’s how the “pause process”
works for us.

Spinning out of control

I often get exasperated during disagreements with Jeremy because we approach conflict so
differently. I yell, and he retreats. Which makes me yell louder. Which makes him retreat more. The
hurt and resentment quickly build unless someone shoves a rod into the spinning wheel of our
to stop it.

As that Wednesday evening disagreement went from small miscommunication to my deciding to bring up
all the ways Jeremy has ever hurt me (I do not recommend this), Jeremy interrupted. “Pause?”

Pause is the rod Jeremy and I need to stop the acceleration of a toxic argument. Pause has become
one of the most powerful words in our relationship, but one I hated for years because I feared we
would never work toward resolution. I feared bitterness would grow. But before Jeremy and I pause,
we set a time and date to return to the conversation — a time to return when I’m not reeling in past
accusations and he’s not shutting down.

Coming together

That night, we hit pause and immediately put on our aprons and started cooking soup. We listened to
Latin music and danced around the kitchen while chopping and stirring. We hit pause, and we meant
it. We don’t complicate it. It really is that easy.

For us, committing to the pause means remembering that God has brought us together and that we are
for each other. The pause means we understand we are human and flawed and marriage is not always
going to be easy. So when we hit pause, we lay down our accusations and come together.

The pause does not mean there will never be resolution. It’s just an acknowledgment that right now
our communication is not healthy; it’s spiraling downward. The pause is our way to remember that
what God brought together, no one should tear apart, and most often we are the ones trying to tear
us apart. But not in the pause. The pause allows us to ask for God’s unending grace and mercy. The
pause is the reset.

Bri McKoy is the author of
Come and Eat: A celebration of love and grace around the everyday table.

How strong is your marriage? Find out today with the Focus on Marriage Assessment. This reliable assessment is based on the research and experience of Focus on the Family’s marriage experts Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley. Take this free assessment now. 

© 2018 by Bri McKoy. Used by permission.


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About the Author

Bri McKoy

Bri McKoy is a home cook who blogs about her recipes and stories on her popular food blog, OurSavoryLife.com. She has authored a book titled Come and Eat: A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table, which is filled with encouraging, embarrassing, heartbreaking and joyful stories from her own table. It is also an invitation to begin, or …

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