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Individual and Couples Counselling in Calgary

  • Writer's pictureRovena Magidin

One of my Favorite Relationships Tools

Red Light/Yellow light

It’s time for another relationship tool share. This one I share with pretty much all of my couples in Marriage Counselling. I use it myself - and It WORKS. In fact it worked so well, that Rick and I don’t have to use the tool anymore, it has become a second nature.

It’s called Red Light/Yellow Light.

I’ve learned this tool from a beautiful man, an amazing mentor, Scott Catamas from Love Coach Academy. Yes, I’m a love coach. It’s my favourite title, and I still smile every time I say it. Because, Love.

So many fights start with a good intention, two people trying to fix a problem, to figure out an aspect of their life or relationship, to make the relationship better, to understand each other, to share something important.

But what do we do instead - we get triggered, we escalate, we get louder …..

Often the message we are trying to deliver is not received in the way we want. We then turn to blame or criticism in a hope that our partner will hear us better, or understand how important this conversation is to us, but of course the only thing it does - our partner feels hurt and gets defensive, and either attacks or withdraws.

The result is no one is feeling understood, or connected, or heard. So we fight. We don’t know what else to do.

What if we tried something different?

Red light/Yellow light tool helps you have important conversations without escalation.

You are able to stay true to your intention to have a conversation where you can figure something out, not just trigger each other.

It works like this

When you notice things start to escalate.

Maybe you feel it in your body, you get tense or antsy.

Maybe it’s your mind, you start noticing overwhelm or confusion.

Maybe you realize you or your partner are now raising your voices.

Maybe you can’t even look at each other anymore.

Then you call out “YELLOW LIGHT”.

Yellow light means we need to slow down, A LOT. We need to make it a more conscious, intentional conversation, we need to make sure we are hearing each other.

Yellow light means I’m getting triggered, and maybe you are getting triggered as well, and we both know nothing good is going to come out of a conversion like this. So let’s take a deep breath and continue slowly, with a lot of gentleness and kindness. Let’s reset our intentions. Let’s make sure we remember what’s important.

It’s not a Win/Lose conversation, it’s a Win/Win.

Maybe you need a redo.

Maybe it needs to become a Dyad, not a regular conversation.

But what happens if it’s too late for this, you are too triggered, you don’t want to slow down anymore, you are in a fight or flight mode?

Then you call a “RED LIGHT”.

Red Light means we have to stop now.

"I cannot be present with you the way you need me to. I cannot even hear what you are saying. I am probably making assumptions that are not right.

Maybe I am overwhelmed or flooded and all my instincts are telling me “run”. I"m shutting down.

Maybe it is becoming emotionally too intense. Nothing wrong with intensity, as long as we can handle it, but right now we cannot".

Essentially Red Light means "I need a time-out, I need to take care of me before I can be present and listen to you again."

Terry Real in his book "The new rules of marriage" talks about time-outs like this:

"Dear partner, for whatever reason, right or wrong, I am about to lose it. If I stay here and keep this up with you I am liable to do or say something stupid that I know I am going to regret. Therefore I am taking a break to get a grip on myself and calm down. I will check back in with you responsibly."

Time-out in this case is not a punishment. I’m not punishing you by leaving, I promise you I’ll be back. I promise you we’ll talk about it.

It is that important to me. You are that important to me.

I just got too triggered, and can’t be present right now. That’s it.

Of course it can only work if both people agree on this in advance. You need to have a conversation about it way way before you get into a fight. You agree that Red Light doesn’t mean a way out.

Red Light is NOT something I can conveniently call out when things get uncomfortable for me. And then maybe we don’t even have to talk about it. No. It’s the opposite. There’s a commitment to come back, to work through it, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

You are that important to me, I’m coming back.

One way to check - can we look into each other’s eyes for a moment, and feel empathy - if we can’t - we are in a fight or flight. Time to call a Red Light. Do I even care about what my partner is saying - if the honest answer is no - you are in a fight or flight, self preservation mode. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, it means you physiologically can’t right now - so you take a time-out.

What to do then.

It takes about 20 minutes, and sometimes as long as 45 minutes to calm down the nervous system, to shift from a fight or flight to a connected state.

That’s 20 minutes of conscious work - like breathing, meditation, going for a walk or a work out, being in nature, taking a shower, cleaning - whatever it takes to get your mind off the triggering situation, back into your body, grounded, calm, present.

If you took 20 minutes to pace around the room thinking about what you should’ve had said, what kind of sarcastic remark you could’ve made - you are obviously not ready to come back and continue the conversations. You are still in a fight or flight, you are possibly even more triggered now.

So make a commitment when and how you’ll check in with each other. Maybe if you are not sure yet, decide to check in in 30 minutes or an hour. Maybe you need a good night's sleep. Some people believe in a “never go to bed angry” policy - but it will only make things worse if you are not ready and not in a space to have that conversation. So reassure each other, take that time to calm down, let that be ok.

What do you do after you get back?

That’s a topic for another post (coming soon) but for now - here’s one of my favourite Dr. Gottman’s tools - Aftermath of a Fight

One of the main reasons for practicing this tool - most of us don’t notice when we are in a yellow light zone. By the time we notice, we are way into a red light situation.

Practice calling a yellow light, and practice it often.

Eventually, you would know each other so well, you won’t have to. You’ll find yourself naturally slowing down, and helping your partner de-escalate, creating the trust that you can deal with any tough situation or conversation in the future.

If you have any questions - please ask me, and if you need individual support, this is exactly what I do.

Let’s talk about it - Book a Free Consultation where you can ask me any questions, and we can talk about how I can support you. Couples Counselling works, and often people need to learn some better tools to create a deep connection and intimacy.


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