When you are having a conflict with your partner, you are hopefully trying to keep your cool. This can be difficult in the heat of the moment!
Sharon Rivkin, MA, MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Rose, California, and the author of Breaking the Argument Cycle, states, “We get so enraged that we don’t take time to think about what we’re saying. And those moments where we just speak without thinking are where damage gets done in a relationship.”
If you want to prevent having an argument cause potential permanent damage to your relationship, then follow these tips to control your emotions. When you keep your cool, it’s more likely that your partner will, too.
1. Sit down.
When you sit down, you are in a position that sends a message of safety and security. It can instantly reduce the rage that might be building during an argument. W. Robert Nay, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in McLean, Virginia, and the author of Taking Charge of Anger: Six Steps to Asserting Yourself Without Losing Control, states, “It sounds simple, but always make sure you’re seated when having a discussion. It sends a message to your brain that you are relaxed.”
2. Use relaxation techniques to calm your body.
When you get stressed during an argument, your chest feels tight, your throat may constrict, and your face may feel warm. These feelings come from the increased adrenaline and the fight-or-flight response that happens during an argument. In order to bring your body back to a calm state, Nay recommends counting backwards slowly from 10 to 1, while taking deep breaths. He claims, “When you breathe like that, it tricks your brain into believing you’re in a much safer place and you need to be in a much lower level of arousal.”
3. Ask questions.
When you think your partner has said something ridiculous or you might be misunderstanding, it is important to ask questions for clarification, rather than lash out. Nay suggests wording such as, “Excuse me, I’m confused, could you clarify that?” Most of the time this will invite your partner to reframe their statements and rethink how they may have said it. Besides, if you are lashing out, you are not listening, which is the key to de-escalating any confrontation.
4. Try time-out.
You do not have to respond immediately in an argument. In fact, taking a moment to reflect on what is happening can help calm the situation. Rivkin explains, “If you tell yourself, ‘I can take some time to think about what’s going on—I don’t have to express everything I’m feeling right now’, you can really change the energy.” And, going to sleep angry is not the worst thing, despite what you may have been told. Sometimes the morning makes the argument less powerful and you may not feel as compelled to continue the argument.
5. Remember your relationship.
When you love someone, it does not mean you will never have conflict. When you are having a disagreement, Rivkin recommends some reflection, “Take a minute to remind yourself, ‘My partner’s a good person. They’re probably not really out to get me. If you believe this, you can tell yourself, ‘I don’t have to take this all so personally.”
These tips can help you next time you find yourself in conflict with your partner. Most arguments can be de-escalated before they do any permanent harm.