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Managing Conflict: Importance of Individual Self-Soothing

Now that we’ve tried to work on accepting one another’s influence within the relationship and helped manage conflict by identifying and working through solvable vs perpetual problems, we can now focus on the last step, and arguably most important step, on the 5th floor of the Sound Relationship House: self-soothing. Self-soothing refers to the ability to calm oneself during times of stress, anxiety, emotional distress, etc. It’s a crucial skill for maintaining emotional regulation and well-being and can prevent conflict from getting too far or escalated within your relationship. 

It can be important to recognize when things have gone too far in an argument or when you need to stop before they get too far. If you keep going, you may find yourself saying things you regret, exploding at your partner, or stonewalling, where you shut down and withdraw from the conversation and the other person. None of these actions typically will help to strengthen the relationship, but more likely can end up hurting it. That’s where a timed break can become important. Figure out a way with your partner to identify and communicate when each of you needs a break within a heated conversation to ensure that it stays productive. It’s important to do what works best for your relationship and for each of you to let one another know you need a break; whether you use a code word, a signal, or just saying that you need to take a timed break, make sure you listen to your partner when they say they need this, even if you still have something to say. The important part of this is actually setting a timer to come back when both of you have utilized the time to calm down so that you can have a more rational conversation.

It is reasonable that either of you may need a break during a time or conversation when things might get too heated or there is major conflict. It’s important during the time that you take a break to ensure you’re using it in the best way; to self-soothe, to regulate your emotions, to challenge thoughts, but not to continue thoughts of anger or believe you have nothing to work on. It’s important to utilize this time wisely and in the most effective way. 

Let’s go over a few aspects of self-soothing that can be helpful to keep in mind.

  • Awareness - Recognizing when you are feeling stressed, anxious, or upset is the first step in self-soothing. Having this awareness can allow you to acknowledge your emotions without being overwhelmed by them and identify that taking a break is not a bad thing.

  • Mindfulness - Practicing mindfulness can help you stay present and observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This can prevent negative emotions from escalating or help us to de-escalate when things have already gone too far.

  • Self-Compassion - Being kind and understanding towards yourself during difficult times can be essential. Having self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same care and concern that you would offer a friend.

When we’ve recognized we need a break and actually take one, now it’s important to know what to continue to do during that time. Again, this break is not to think of more things to use in your argument, but to focus on soothing yourself so that when you come back to the conversation, you and your partner are able to think more clearly and have a more rational and productive conversation, focusing on understanding. Here are some examples of coping strategies to utilize during this time.

  • Deep breathing - This may be a tool most people are familiar with when we think of coping skills, but it’s popular for a reason. Engaging in deep breathing exercises can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to calm the body and mind. Try inhaling slowly for a count of four, holding for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, and then hold for a count of four, before repeating. Continue to breathe like this until you feel yourself relaxing.

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation - This technique involves tensing and then gradually relaxing different muscle groups in your body. Start from your feet and work your way up. It helps to reduce physical tension that we may not even initially notice and promote relaxation throughout our whole body.

  • Positive Self-Talk - We typically speak to ourselves, both in our head and outside of it, a lot harsher than we would to anyone else in our lives. Try replacing negative or anxious thoughts with positive affirmations or comforting statements. Remind yourself of your strengths and past successes to help focus on building confidence and reassurance, rather than tearing yourself down in a time of stress.

  • Mindfulness & Meditation - Mindfulness can be used in many different forms and can have many different benefits. When we practice mindfulness and/or meditation, it can help us focus on the present moment and accept our thoughts and feelings without judgment. Guided meditations or yoga are some helpful examples.

  • Other Strategies - There are many other ways to help focus on self-soothing, and a lot of it is dependent on the person. What works for you to help calm yourself in escalated situations may not be what your partner needs. Make sure to explore different strategies and tools that you may find helpful in moments of self-soothing. You can never have too many.

By developing and practicing self-soothing techniques, you can enhance your individual ability to manage stress and maintain emotional balance. Not only can this be helpful when managing conflict throughout your relationship, it can have a positive impact on all other areas of your life.

Written By,

Emily Blair, ALMFT



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