When we blame our partners for our discomfort, this tends to create distance within an emotionally committed relationship. This distance, then, creates a feeling of further discomfort. The clue to dealing with this dilemma is to learn how to soothe your own emotional pain. This can open the way to more passion and closeness in your relationship. In his book “Passionate Marriage” David Schnarch, Ph. D offers several suggestions for helping people learn the art of self-soothing.
- Don’t take your partner’s behavior personally. Even if your partner doesn’t make all the changes that you’ve made, it should not be taken personally. If you and your partner are having a conflict, try some inwardly focused relaxation techniques. Focus on your breathing. Stop talking and try to slow your heart rate. Lower the volume of your speech and work on relaxing your body.
- Put the current conflict into perspective. Think about past instances of the same type of conflict. What resources did you use in the past for dealing with the conflict? Think about how discomfort will surface again in the future – and if you learn now how to deal with it, you will be better off in these future instances.
- Control your behavior, even if you can’t regulate your emotions. While we may have difficulty in controlling our emotions, especially in the face of a conflict, we can have control over our behavior. Prevent yourself from saying and doing things that you will regret later. For example, tell yourself: “I don’t have to take action on my feelings.”
- Stop the negative thinking. Our thoughts can drive our feelings and behavior during conflict. When you find yourself engaged in negative thinking, make the change to more positive thoughts. Accept what is happening and then calm down.
- You may have to break contact temporarily with your partner until things cool down. When you are engaged in a conflict, you may need some time to get in touch with yourself again. Look on this as a time-out, not a separation. Tell your partner that you need some time alone to calm down and that you can discuss the issue better later, after both of you have had some space from each other.
- Self-soothing does not involve substance abuse, the abuse of food, or emotional regression. You need time to confront yourself and understand what your part in the conflict may be. This does not mean hiding out, sleeping, binge-eating, or the use of drugs or alcohol, which are all ways to avoid self-confrontation.
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