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  • 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.

    Pause and Breathe

    As soon as you start to feel triggered, pause and take a few slow, deep breaths. 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. Tense and release some of the muscles in your body i.e. thighs, arms, curl your toes, etc. By bringing your attention to a physical sensation, you are forcing your brain to move out of “emotion mind” and into the present moment. This offers some space between your emotions and your reactions.

    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 just to form a response. We communicate better after we have spent some time pausing and regulating our emotions. Plus, the other person can’t hear us clearly when we are reactive. It just triggers their own “fight or flight” response and becomes a tough cycle to escape. While listening, you also give space to remind yourself to use “I statements” instead of blaming or using language that will put the other person on the defensive.

    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.



    How to Self-Regulate During a Difficult Conversation