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How to Calm Your Partner Down in Conflict

Practice mindful partnering to be better at conflict.

Key points

  • Practicing mindfulness in your relationship can keep your partner calm during conflict.
  • Staying calm during conflict is better for our relationships and health.
  • Mindful awareness and compassion are both important parts of being a mindful partner.

That hot-button issue comes up yet again in your relationship. All of a sudden, your partner is angry, and the conversation is completely off the rails. A tiny trigger such as the dishes or talking about plans for the weekend can turn into a blow-up fight or a prolonged period of mutual ghosting. You both are left wondering, "How did we get here?"

You may have heard that being able to stay calm in conflict is important. In fact, when we're chronically stressed by interactions with our partner that get our blood boiling, we're more likely to end up with stress-related diseases and even early mortality. Being able to stay calm in conflict is highly related to happier marriages with lower rates of divorce.

Mindful Partnering

In my unpublished dissertation, I sought to investigate if interpersonal mindfulness in the couple relationship (what I call "Mindful Partnering") may be associated with lesser physiological stress to couple conflict. Mindful partnering is characterized by a kind of attention toward one's partner characterized by full, present attention and awareness as well as compassion and acceptance toward one's partner. In meditation, we practice mindfulness and compassion toward our own internal sensations and our external environment. Mindful partnering is all about having that kind of mindful attention, but toward our partners. We hypothesized that higher levels of mindful partnering would be associated with lesser physiological reactivity to relationship conflict (i.e., less biological stress during relationship conflict).

To test our hypotheses, 17 couple pairs (N=34) visited the laboratory to complete several tasks, including questionnaires and a conflict discussion in which they discussed the largest areas of conflict in their relationship. Participants had their respiratory sinus arrythmia (RSA), a measure of nervous system activation, measured during the baseline period and conflict discussion. Participants completed the Mindful Partnering Measure (MPM) to measure the extent to which one demonstrates mindful partnering in their relationship with their romantic partner, including the subscales of MPM-Mindful Awareness and MPM-Acceptance/Compassion.

Less Stress During Disagreement

When we ran the analyses, we found that mindful awareness toward one's partner was significantly associated with a partner’s RSA, suggesting greater relaxation response and a less-pronounced stress response. These results suggest that when one’s partner is fully present and attentive, it may relieve the potential stress of marital disagreement. Being present with full attention in this way may soothe a partner’s nervous system by creating a feeling of being fully listened to and understood in the context of conflict.

So, the next time that hot button issue pops up and you find yourself getting reactive or shutting down, follow these steps to practice more mindful partnering:

  1. Take a mindful pause. Notice what's happening—you are back in the old cycle between you two that never goes anywhere good.
  2. Practice mindful partnering. Choose to do something different. You can practice mindful partnering by tuning in to your partner and becoming completely present with them. Ask them questions about how they are feeling, and get curious about their responses. Notice mindfully what is triggered within you, and share this vulnerability with your partner. Set the intention to practice empathic concern and compassion instead of acting out your part of the cycle that triggers your partner.

By following these steps, you can learn to be a more mindful partner and get better at conflict; I see it in my practice all the time! And mindful relationships are good for your mental health too!


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