Couples: How to Regulate Yourself During Difficult Conversations
Sharing your life with someone means having open and honest conversations, even when those conversations are difficult. But that’s often easier said than done.
During emotional conversations, it’s common for many people to become triggered by something their partner has said. Calm in one moment, your “back gets up” in the next when something you’ve heard activates your body’s “fight or flight” mode. Before you know it, the most primitive part of your brain activates in an effort to help you “survive” this moment of threat. This is when things can get ugly because it’s fairly impossible to speak calmly and rationally when your entire body enters that heightened mode of ‘Act First, Think Later’.
There are many things you can do during difficult conversations to regulate your emotional responses and help yourself to stay calm and level-headed.
Notice Your Arousal
See if you can begin to develop the skill of noticing when you’ve become triggered by your partner. Maybe you’re clenching your jaw, or your breath is suddenly tight in your chest. Your body temperature might have spiked up, or maybe the tone or volume of your voice has risen. There will be signs that your body has become activated. See if you can start to notice them.
Pause and Breathe
Although deep breathing may seem like a cliche, it is actually a very powerful tool that helps us get out of “fight or flight” mode and into a more relaxed state. When we breathe slowly and deeply, it sends signals to our brain that we are not in danger and that we’ve got the situation under control.
Use Your Senses
Another effective way to regulate your emotions in the moment is to focus your attention on a physical sensation. You could take a sip of water and really feel the sensation of drinking, or you could run your fingers along the seam of the sofa cushion. You might also briefly move your gaze away from your partner just long enough to take note of something else in the room. The eyes, as they say, are the window to the soul, and they can also activate very deep feelings within.
In arguments, it’s very common to spend more mental effort on thinking of your response than on actually listening to what the other person has to say. Effective conversations, that is, conversations where both people feely truly heard and understood might occur over several occasions, with a consensus coming only with time and collective reflections. Listen to what your partner is trying to tell you. When they feel heard they’ll probably be in a much better state to really listen to you.
Let us know if you would like help in managing your relationships better. We offer services for couples, families and individuals.