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How to Self-Soothe and Be Calm in a Fight

Fighting with the one you love royally sucks; even if it feels justified. In moments of anger, we often lose sight of the underlying feelings behind the rage; feelings of hurt, sadness, pain and betrayal. In an effort to hide the vulnerable emotions underneath, we lash out, attack and defend ourselves. Not surprisingly, our significant other is quickly thrown off guard, becomes disoriented and perceives the negativity as a long list of impossible, impractical and unreasonable demands that can’t be met. They fight back and after the blow-up with no resolution and both partners upset, the whole fight seems crummy and like a big waste of time.

According to couples expert John Gottman, one predictor of relationship quality and stability is a couple’s physiology when discussing a conflict. Heart rate, tension and cortisol levels spike in times of high distress and creates a feeling of intense overwhelm and discomfort. The physiological changes that we go through make it much harder to problem solve, empathize and find resolution. In this state, we can’t listen well and finding common ground is physically and emotionally unreachable.

Individuals who have chronic relationship stress get sick more often and eventually leave the relationship. For those who can self-soothe and calm themselves during a fight, their chances of repairing the damage and resolving the issue is far greater.

When flooded, taking a break is essential in order to re-set and start over, and twenty minutes is all it takes for your body’s internal systems to normalize. During the break, it’s important to remember not to engage in “distress maintaining” thoughts like, “I can’t believe she’s treating me like this,” or “I’ll give him a piece of my mind.” Lastly, do something effective! Relax yourself by listening to music, taking a walk or deep breathing exercises.

The most effective ways to calm down is by getting control of your breathing, finding areas of tension and letting them flow out of you and focusing your attention on a calming vision or idea (like your favorite comforting, peaceful place).

Relaxation Exercise

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit with your feet resting flat on the floor.
  2. Turn off all distractions.
  3. Hold the tension in each part of your body for at least 10 seconds before releasing.

The first thing you need to do is focus on your breathing. Put your hand on your belly and as you take a nice deep breath in, push your hand out with your belly, as if your belly was a balloon filling up with air. Then as you exhale, push your hand back down against your belly. Every time you take a nice deep breath in, just feel your hand go out as your stomach expands, and then as you exhale, gently pushing against your stomach as the breath leaves your body.

Continue to breathe this way. Take another nice deep breath in and exhale, another and exhale, and then a last nice deep breath in and exhale. Now, as you continue to breathe normally, you should be sitting either on a sofa or in a chair. Lift your left leg up straight in front of you, pull your toe up towards your knee, and tense all the muscles in your left leg. Feel them tense, including your quadriceps and your calf muscles and now release your leg and drop your leg back down. Take another nice deep breath in.

Now, do the same with your right leg. Raise your right leg straight ahead of you. Pull your toe up towards your knee flexing your foot, and tighten all muscles in your right leg. Feel really, really tight in your calves and quadriceps, hold it and then release your leg back down. Relax both legs and take another deep breath in.

Next, move to your lower back. Arch your lower back by pushing your belly out towards the opposite wall and pulling your shoulders back. Create a nice arch in your back and feel the tension in your lower back- feel it tighten. And now, release that tension and allow your back to rest against the back of your chair. And just relax; let that chair really support you.

The next step is to raise both arms straight ahead of you and tense all the muscles in your arms by first clenching your fists really tightly, both fists. Then, stretch your fingers out towards the opposite wall, reaching for that opposite wall with all your strength. Good. Now, drop your arms back down to your lap. Take another nice deep breath in.

Now, raise your shoulders up, shrugging your shoulders way up towards your ears. Higher, higher; this is where you’re holding lots and lots of pressure and burdens. Feel those shoulders lifting even higher and now drop your shoulders and circle them first one direction, and then circle them in the opposite direction. And just feel the relaxation in your shoulders as you take another nice deep breath in.

Now move to the lower jaw. Clench your teeth tightly together, very tight- that’s where we all hold lots of frustration. And now release, circling your lower jaw first one direction, and then the other direction. Now, relax your jaw and simply drop your head to the side so that you are moving your right ear towards your right shoulder- giving your neck some stretch. Now straighten your head up and drop the left ear towards your left shoulder. Stretch the other side of your neck now.

And now, return your head to a straight position up and just relax your head now. Take a nice deep breath in.

And finally, close your eyes, squeeze them tightly shut- as if you are shutting out the world and saying “no”- tight, tight. And now, simply relax your eyes, keeping your eyes lightly closed. Take another nice deep breath in , and imagine yourself under a warm waterfall. The water is pouring down over your head and body and rinsing away any remaining stress, any remaining tension in every little nook and cranny of your body. The water is flowing down, carrying all the remaining tension in your body down towards the earth, down over your head, down over your shoulders, down over your arms and the trunk of your body, down through your legs, down through your feet and down into the earth. You’re feeling very warm, relaxed and comfortable. Take another nice deep breath in.

Now imagine yourself going to a place where you feel completely at peace. It might be a place outside, or perhaps one that’s inside. It’s a place where you can be completely safe, where it’s beautiful, where it’s quiet, where it really feels like a sanctuary- where you can feel completely at peace. Notice the colors in this place, the shapes, look around you- see what’s in this place around you. Listen for any sounds that might be there in this place- are there any sounds? Feel the air on your skin, does it feel warm or does it feel cool?

What feels best to you? Allow yourself to savor every bit of this experience- is there a fragrance with this place? Enjoy every aspect of this place. This is your sanctuary; this is your special place where you can always take yourself. You are going deep inside, following your breath and letting yourself be completely relaxed and comfortable and at peace. Just enjoy now. And when you are ready, you can come back to the place where you are now sitting. Slowly, when you feel ready, open your eyes, look around you and return to the here and now.

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