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.

Be Curious

Rather than approaching the conversation with assumptions or preconceived judgements about the other person, do your best to be curious about what might be at the heart of their beliefs or behaviours.

Being Right is not the Aim

When we feel hurt or wronged, it is easy to get stuck trying to prove we’re right or that our feelings are justified. Rarely does it help to persist until the other person ‘admits defeat’ in a difficult conversation. Instead, try to remember the common goals or aims you have in your relationship and see how you can work towards them as a team.

Remember Your Values

Even in difficult moments it’s helpful to remind yourself about the person you want to be and what you want to stand for in your relationship. Perhaps being authentic, kind or patient are particularly important to you. Slowing down long enough to reconnect with this values that you’d like to embody is particularly important during difficult conversations or moments of conflict,

Moving Forward

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. If you’d like some more help, please reach out to me. I specialize in helping couples communicate more effectively.



Marcy is a Clinical Social Worker in Halifax, NS who specializes in helping women who are struggling with anxiety, people pleasing, perfectionism and low self esteem cope more effectively.  She also works with new moms who are experiencing challenges with the transition to parenthood and with people who experience chronic illness.  In addition she specialized in helping couples who are struggling in their relationship to learn to communicate more effectively and rebuild intimacy in their relationships.  If you’d like to book a free 15 minute consultation with Nancy click here. Or call (902) 702-7722 to schedule.

Marcy Daniels MSW, RSW

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