How to De-escalate During Conflict

We’ve all been there. In a heated dispute with a loved one and we feel our heart pumping, our jaw and fists clenching, and we can clearly label our feeling as ANGER. How do we bring ourselves out of this intense state so we can productively communicate with our loved one?

A recent study published in Hormones and Behavior addresses the benefits of Mindfulness during conflict in romantic relationships. The results show how Mindfulness techniques can help one quickly calm down, engage, and collaborate in conflictual moments.

The researchers measured cortisol levels (stress hormones) during conflict. Subjects who used Mindfulness techniques were able to bring down their cortisol levels faster than subjects who did not engage in Mindfulness. “Mindfulness helps partners to regulate their own responses and more fully accept one another,” the researchers suggest, “resulting in less negative fallout from conflict when it arises.”

For almost 20 years, I have been teaching yoga and mindfulness techniques. These techniques have helped me as a psychotherapist and I have offered Mindfulness techniques to my psychotherapy clients as coping tools. The following three techniques can be useful to reduce stress in conflicts:

  1. Do not take things personally. One of the best gifts we can give to our loved ones is the gift of presence- to truly listen to the other person without the need to immediately react, respond, and defend.
  2. Notice how you feel and notice your impulses. Pay attention to the tension in your body and how your body wants to react. Just notice these sensations with curiosity and full awareness without actually acting out.
  3. Empathize and Engage. Be accepting of our emotions, sensations, and impulses. If you can, calmly share your experience with your loved one and be accepting of your loved one’s experience.

If the other person becomes abusive and dismissive, then the conversation should end for the moment until there is an agreement to be mutually respectful.

For more information on this research published in Hormones and Behavior, click here.