Gottman Method Couples Therapy: How to Regulate Yourself During Difficult Conversations
Couples’ relationships involve sharing your life with your partner, which means having authentic, open, and honest conversations, even when those conversations are challenging.
During difficult conversations, partners struggle to communicate appropriately and maintain calmness. Oftentimes, partners can experience trauma trigger responses to their partner’s body language and tone of voice. Gottman Method Couples Therapy is the gold standard for supporting couples in effective communication and addressing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that can create dysfunctional, toxic interactional patterns leading to disconnection and unhappiness. When we become emotionally dysregulated and flooded, our brain can go into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response where you may be calm one moment, but the next you are thrown into a survival response of the brain sensing danger due to the primitive part of their brain being activated to help you survive. As a result, our heart rate goes above 100 bpm, and cortisol and adrenaline run in our bloodstream, causing our prefrontal cortex, the center of analysis, logical reasoning, and language, to go offline temporarily. It is fairly impossible to speak calmly and rationally when your entire body is in survival mode.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman have provided 40+ years of empirical research studies dedicated to supporting couples’ relationships and marriages, providing interventions, exercises, resources, and a toolbox that we can use during difficult conversations to regulate our emotional responses and keep ourselves calm and level-headed.
Pause and Breathe
As soon as you feel triggered, pause and take a few slow, deep breaths. While deep breathing may seem cliche, it is a 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.
Take a Twenty-Minute Break to Self-Soothe
Agree with your partner to take a break and step away to self-soothe with activities such as walking, listening to music, meditation, running, and yoga to help decrease your heart rate, reduce dysregulation, and reduce stress. Come back together after you both have taken time for calming activities before resuming the conversation.
Use Your Senses
Another effective way to regulate your emotions in the moment is to focus your attention on a physical sensation. You could take a sip of water and feel the sensation of drinking, or you could run your fingers along the seam of the sofa cushion.
It is so common in a conversation to listen to form a response. But when we do this, it is far easier to misunderstand what the other person is saying. Please be sure to listen to understand, not to respond.
Difficult conversations are inevitable when you are in any relationship. But if you use these tips to regulate yourself, you can remain calm and communicate effectively with your partner.