How to Have a Difficult Conversation with Your Spouse Part Three: Controlling Your Emotions
Do you find it hard to stay calm during the really tough talks, especially with a loved one? Or do you know how to keep your cool during a difficult conversation? Sometimes it’s much easier said than done!
What is it about spouses and long-term partners that makes it so hard to have a difficult conversation?
I mean, we are committed to these people – and maybe have been for years. You would think it would be easy to talk to them about pretty much anything. Unfortunately, it’s often hardest to remain calm during these intense talks, even though it’s so vital.
If you are like most people, you have a hard time staying calm when tensions run high between you and your spouse.
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Whether you are in a new relationship or have been together for years, there will be plenty of times when you and your partner disagree. Sometimes these disagreements are minor and easily reconciled. Other times there will be a serious conflict between the two of you that requires a difficult, contentious conversation.
Knowing how to stay calm during these emotionally charged conversations is one of the most vital relationship skills we can develop.
Here are some techniques you can use to remain calm, focused, and able to work through the conflict rather than being overwhelmed by it.
How to Control Your Emotions During a Difficult Conversation with Your Spouse
Recognize and Understand Your Triggers
When something triggers us emotionally, our brains are flooded with cortisol, making us more likely to lash out.
Our emotions are heightened when we’re triggered, often because our past experiences come to bear on the present situation.
For example, if you felt abandoned or ignored as a child, you may have a tendency to react strongly to any perceived rejection in the present. If your partner fails to call you as planned while on a work trip, you may take that as a personal rejection rather than just assuming he was busy in a meeting. This may cause you to want to lash out unjustifiedly.
The same goes for your partner. If his parent was erratic or temperamental during his youth, he or she may grow up feeling defensive. He or she may react negatively to feedback when there’s a lot of emotion involved.
We find ourselves reacting in the present to triggers from our past.
When we understand our triggers and reflect on the early roots of our strong emotional reactions, we have a clearer perspective on our interactions and react more appropriately in our current lives.
Know When to Remove Yourself From The Conversation
When you are feeling overwhelmed to the point that you are not making progress in your discussion, sometimes it’s best to take a break from the other person.
Many intense arguments reach that point where no one is saying anything new or helpful. This is the point at which things start to get personal, uncomfortable, and hurtful.
Know when to take a break.
Know, also, how to suggest a break. Bring it up when it is your turn to speak so your partner can understand that you are not dismissing or ignoring the things he is saying. Make it clear that it is an opportunity to soothe your emotions, so that the conversation can resume on a more rational level.
Agree upon a time limit for the break, and plan to resume the conversation when calmer heads prevail.
Learn Self-Calming Techniques
Understand what actions you can take to self-calm during your agreed-upon break.
Practicing mindfulness helps in almost any situation in which we feel emotionally triggered.
Mindfulness teaches us to slow down in the moment, regardless of our surroundings or situation. Although this can be challenging in instances when we’re provoked, taking a moment to self-calm can be a huge asset in a difficult time.
Ideally, you should use these actions on a regular basis so that they are familiar. You don’t want to practice mindfulness techniques for the first time during an argument!
Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist and Hindu teachings. As mindfulness shifted into mainstream science and medicine, it became a pivotal therapeutic technique.
According to Psychology Today, mindfulness techniques can help you to address stress, anxiety, or pain, and simply to become more relaxed.
Try any of these mindfulness practices and see which work best for you:
- Slow, deep breathing
- Name your feelings and the physical feelings they are creating in your body
- Take a short walk alone
- Positive self-talk
Once you’re in a calmer state, it’s much easier to control your behavior based on the outcome you desire.
When operating from a mindful place, you’ll be better able to tune in to your partner and see the situation from his or her unique perspective.
Generally, give yourself at least 20 minutes to calm down, and you should be able to return to the discussion with less intense emotion.
Focus on Sharing Your Perspective
Phrase your words to convey how you feel and what you are experiencing. Share your personal perspective, and don’t try to interpret your partner’s actions.
Focus on saying “I” instead of saying “you”.
Instead of saying, “You never called, so clearly you don’t care about me” or “You were so busy out with your friends that you forgot all about me”, rephrase as “I felt lonely and less confident when you didn’t call. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to talk.”
In other words, tell your true story without laying blame. Your story is your perspective on the situation.
Give your partner the opportunity to tell his story, too.
By being more open and direct, we’re not putting words into the other person’s mouth or provoking them to be on the defense. If you own your reactions and present your feelings without blame or righteousness, your partner is more likely to listen to you and empathize with your feelings. You can then be open to hearing his experience and seeing the situation from a different perspective.
Pay attention to what you communicate, not just in the words you say, but in your body language and tone.
Saying, “it’s no big deal,” while giving the cold shoulder is sending the message that it is in fact a big deal. It will feel ingenuine to both you and your partner.
It’s not always easy to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, but it does help. Realize that there might be something more going on with the other person than there appears to be on the surface.
In every relationship, we must be open to the possibility that our perception isn’t necessarily right or wrong—just different.
For example, if your partner didn’t call you while he was away on a business trip, you may feel hurt. However, your partner’s experience is likely very different from yours. He may have been busy in meetings, or under tight deadlines to complete work.
If you attack your partner for what you’ve imagined, he will most likely retaliate, accusing you of being ridiculous, too sensitive, or needy. Unfortunately, this may lead to a confrontation in which neither person is willing to hear out and empathize with the other.
Be Willing to Reconcile
Is it possible that your argument is due simply to having separate perspectives, and that neither of you is right or wrong?
Learn to recognize that there are times being forgiving, accepting, or willing to reconcile is more important than being right.
Sometimes, the best way to end an argument is with an apology. Often, when one person apologizes, so does the other. Apologizing should not be a way of “giving in”, just recognizing that there is hurt on both sides that you want to soothe.
Recognize that it does take two people to get into an argument.
And although you will invariably have more arguments in the future, it’s vital to remember that this person you are currently in conflict with is someone you love.
Your goal is to work through the issue and come to a place of mutual acceptance, respect, and comfort.
The only time you “win” an argument with a partner is when you both have expressed yourselves fully, listened attentively, and come to a mutually agreed-upon conclusion.
Read More About Dealing with Relationship Conflicts:
- How to Have a Difficult Conversation with Your Spouse: Part One: Deciding What, Why, and When
- How to Have a Difficult Conversation with Your Spouse Part Two: 9 Steps to Better Communication
- How to Have a Difficult Conversation with Your Spouse Part Four: Using Humor to Diffuse the Tension
- 3 Keys to Make a Relationship Last
- 4 Ways to Keep Your Midlife Relationship Strong and Healthy
Final Thoughts on How to Have a Difficult Conversation with Your Spouse: Controlling Your Emotions
Having partner conflicts may be unavoidable.
How you deal with conflict says a great deal about you as a person and a great deal about you as a partner. Being able to keep your cool in trying situations is an invaluable skill and one well worth cultivating, especially when communicating with those closest to you.
Here are the basic steps to remaining calm during a difficult conversation:
- Recognize and understand your triggers
- Know when to remove yourself from the conversation
- Learn techniques to calm your emotions
- Focus on sharing your perspective
- Practice empathy
- Know when to reconcile
What tips can you share for keeping your cool during a difficult conversation?