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Couples: How to Self-Regulate During Difficult Conversations

Sharing your life with someone means having open and honest conversations, even when those conversations are a bit difficult. But that's easier said than done.

During hard conversations, it's common for many people to become triggered by something their partner has said. Calm one moment, but the next, they're thrown into "fight or flight" mode, which is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. Before they know it, the most primitive part of their brain is activated to help them survive, which in turn can shut down communication and connection and almost always breaks down trust.

If you are like most people, you may find it hard to stay calm when tensions run high between you and your partner. Luckily there are things you can do to regulate your emotional responses and keep yourself calm, open, and level-headed.

Pause and Breathe

As soon as you start to feel triggered, pause and take a few slow, deep breaths. While deep breathing may seem cliche, it is a powerful tool that helps us get out of "fight or flight" mode and into a more relaxed state. When you take a deep breath and exhale slowly, you signal to your brain that you are safe and secure. This can help to calm your nerves and bring you a sense of calm in an otherwise tense moment. With practice, this simple technique can become a powerful tool in your arsenal for managing stress and anxiety.

Use Your Senses

When having a difficult conversation with your partner, focus on your physical sensations to regain perspective and help regulate your emotions. Take deep breaths, relax your muscles, take a sip of water, and feel the sensation of drinking, or you could run your fingers along the seam of the sofa cushion and pay attention to any tension in your body. Doing so lets you stay calm, making it easier to listen and express your ideas effectively. Remember that emotional regulation is a skill that takes practice, so don't be too hard on yourself if it doesn't come naturally at first. With time and patience, you can learn to regulate your emotions and have more productive conversations with your partner.

Listen Fully

It is so common in a conversation to listen to form a response. But when we do this, it is far easier to misunderstand what the other person is really saying. Be sure to listen to understand, not to form a response. Avoid interrupting the speaker and refrain from making assumptions about their thoughts or feelings. Instead, adopt a curious and attentive mindset, ask questions for clarification, and summarize what you've heard to ensure comprehension. Remember, being curious while listening doesn't mean you have to agree with the other person's perspective, but rather that you're interested in understanding it.

Difficult conversations are inevitable in any relationship, so developing the practice of these self-regulating tips can help you to remain calm during conflicts and find it easier to be vulnerable and maintain a relationship based on integrity, openness, and trust.

If you and your partner have become aware of problematic communication patterns and want guidance in overcoming those challenges, please contact our Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Karen C Lewis, to schedule your free consultation.


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