Couples: How to Regulate Yourself 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, their brain sensing danger. Before they know it, the most primitive part of their brain is activated in an effort to help them survive. And this is when things can get ugly. Because it’s fairly impossible to speak calmly and rationally when your entire body is in survival mode.
Luckily there are things we can do during difficult conversations to regulate our emotional responses and keep ourselves calm and level-headed. Communication skills from the Gottman Method can be key components.
Pause and Breathe
As soon as you start to feel triggered, pause and take a few slow, deep breaths. Gottman calls this being flooded, and it impairs our ability to think and respond logically and calmly. While 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 a signal to our brain that we are out of danger.
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.
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. In Gottman conversation about distress we practice taking turns as speaker and listener, checking that we’re understanding along the way, and offering validation and empathy.
Difficult conversations are inevitable when you are in any kind of relationship. But if you use these tips to regulate yourself, you can remain calm and communicate effectively with your partner.