Relationship Repair: Calming Down

As John Gottman says in his book, The Science of Trust, “Every couple, in their daily life together, messes up communication, and every relationship has a potential ‘dark side.’ ”

It’s too much to expect that we can always have good communication with our partner. There are always misunderstandings, stress, distractions, hurt or angry feelings, and sometimes even just not hearing what was said. Even in stable, happy relationships, bad things sometimes happen, such as coldness, criticism, stonewalling, etc. Fights are inevitable.

But what Gottman found out in his research is that the thing that matters most for couples is their ability to repair things when they go wrong.

This involves your ability to remain physiologically calm during conflict, that is, your heart doesn’t race, you don’t start yelling, your palms don’t sweat, your eyes don’t dilate. In order to listen well and be understanding with your partner, as well as express your own thoughts and feelings in a way that they can be heard, you need to remain calm.

Can you take a deep breath or two and exhale slowly to calm yourself down? Can you soothe yourself by thinking positive thoughts, like “We will get through this,” or “I know he loves me,” or “I may have hurt her, but I am a good person and I mean well,” and, maybe, above all, “It is OK to make mistakes”? Can you quietly say to your partner, “Please don’t come at me like that,” or “I’m not trying to blame you”? As Gottman says, “The ability to create peace and the ability to self-soothe and soothe one’s partner are central to relationship happiness.

Can you do this? If not, what seems to get in the way? What are you feeling and thinking when you want to calm down but can’t?

Dr. Alaire Lowry

Dr. Alaire Lowry

A board-certified psychologist providing individual, couple and group therapy for adults. She also works with adolescents and families.

View details