An Uber driver in Melbourne has the console between the back seats filled with Tic Tac containers. They are all lined up in their colours, a big display. When a couple are arguing during the drive, he says, “Open the console!”
“Wow!” Followed by laughter. This is the invariable response. Distraction. Time to take a breath and reconsider.
That Uber driver must know a thing or two about brain science, because a well-timed distraction can save us from a blow-out.
The Gottman’s research over thirty years discovered that a 20 minutes break from an argument allowed both partners to cool down, regroup, and bring something of their more integrated selves to the discussion.
They didn’t use Tic Tac’s, however. John Gottman’s team were observing the couple through a one-way window, and when tempers flared and insults flew the technician went into the room and announced there was a problem with the recording equipment. Would they mind waiting while it was fixed?
Twenty minutes later, the technicians returned with the now-functional equipment, and the observation continued. Invariably, the conversation was resumed more kindly and respectfully. Therefore, the likelihood of regrettable incidents from which it is difficult to recover was reduced.
Dr Dan Siegel explains the brain science of what is going on, with his hand model of the brain. This YouTube clip is two minutes long and well worth the time.
If the primitive brain – the limbic system – is in control, our raw, unedited emotions are in charge. To use Dr Siegel’s phrase, we flip our lid and our rational best self goes off-line. Allowing time to calm down allows for an integrated response. In other words, our brain then processes emotional input without being overwhelmed.
A comment here: well-timed distraction has nothing to do with denial and procrastination.
Flight – your response is to run, to leave the scene, to get away
Fight – you are muscling up to defend yourself, with fists, or words!
Freeze – you are unable to respond, and have no idea what to say or do
Feign – when you unconsciously or consciously pretend unconsciousness, or inattention or disinterest
Fiddle – you play with your phone, your hair, your clothes, cleaning, in an attempt to distract yourself
Fumble – when you suddenly become a klutz
Fawn – when you act obsequiously or deferentially
These behaviours alert you to the fact that you are operating through the limbic system. In other words, you don’t have access to your whole brain, specifically the more developed, socialized, educated and adapted self.
Soothing and calming enable you to get back to your integrated brain! What a relief!
It takes a real presence of mind to know when you or your partner need a distraction during a fight. Learn to know when you are flipping your lid. Learn to use a soothing and calming behaviour and not escalate that fight.
It’s worth it!
Do you need some Tic Tacs in your console?
A related Insight is managing conflict with your partner.
Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2018.