Conflict is something that we all experience, yet when it comes to conflict with a loved one or a significant other, emotions can quickly escalate to make us say things that we later regret, or make our argument escalate to being even bigger than the original issue we started with. Remaining calm in a conflict is a huge challenge, and it takes work to keep an argument from spiraling out of control. And while it can be hard to respond in a healthy way in the midst of an argument, there are several tools you can use to remain calm and keep from falling into unhealthy patterns with your partner.
Notice Your Pulse and Body Sensations
“Emotional flooding” is the term used to describe the sensation of your body being overwhelmed by a surge of adrenaline and emotion. We enter this stage when we’re feeling too much stimulation in our body and getting a sense that we are in danger or in conflict. Some signs that you’re in this stage include feeling your heart speeding up, being unable to focus on what is being said, your skin becoming blotchy and red, or feeling yourself completely shutting down in the middle of the argument. These responses are often what we call being in “fight, flight or refreeze” mode. But by noticing your pulse and those other signs, you’ll be able to gauge if your body feels calm enough to handle the conflict, or if you’re feeling threatened and unable to engage with your partner in a healthy way in that moment.
Start Sentences With “I Feel”
When you’re about to start engaging in an argument and you feel yourself gearing up for what to say to your partner, take a step back to reframe what you’re going to say first. Before starting, try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and imagine how you would like them to bring up an issue to you. Generally, someone is much more receptive and compassionate when they hear a sentence like “I feel lonely when we don’t make time to share about our days” versus “You never take a break from work to listen to what’s going on in my life.” The first example starts with sharing a vulnerable emotion that can cause the other person to feel empathy, whereas the second example starts with an accusation that immediately creates a defensive response in the other person.
Know When to Walk Away
If you have tried to notice your pulse, avoid name calling, use “I” statements, but still find it impossible to remain calm in the situation, it may be time to set the conflict aside for awhile and walk away from your partner (yes, physically) for a break. It can be really healthy to put a conflict on the back burner to allow both you and your partner’s emotions and physical responses to settle down, so long as you revisit the conflict later when you have both been able to rest and collect your thoughts. When you’re being flooded with emotions and physical arousal it can be impossible to clearly say what you’re feeling or even focus on the argument taking place. That’s why it is so important to give your whole body a break by physically walking away and giving yourself a chance to calm down.
If you find yourself needing extra support for having healthier conflict with your significant other, or feel that you and your partner are in unhealthy relationship patterns, it may be helpful to get tools from one of our relationship counselors at Symmetry Counseling. Call 312-578-9990 to schedule an appointment today.