Below are seven steps you can take as a romantic partner to prevent escalation and take full responsibility for your actions in the relationship.
1) Self-Soothing –
“One of the first places where communication breaks down is when we make it more complicated in our minds, increase our emotional arousal, and then go on to rationalize how reasonable it is to treat the other person badly.” – The High Conflict Couple: A Dialectical Behavior Therapy Guide to Find Peace, Intimacy, and Validation.
When people escalate, they tend to be emotionally flooded. It’s like an emotional dam breaks and emotions flood their words with anger, character attacks, and contempt. In order to prevent escalation within yourself, you need to be mindful of the signs that you are becoming emotionally flooded. While this is different for everyone, a helpful way of telling if you are becoming emotionally flooded is by paying attention to how you are thinking about your partner. If you find yourself thinking about your partner in an overly negative and demeaning way, you’re probably becoming emotionally flooded. Dr. Gottman calls these thoughts “distress maintaining thoughts” because how you ruminate maintains the emotional distress. Rather than getting the last word out, it’ll be most productive for you and your relationship to take a time out so you can soothe those distressing thoughts and replace them with relationship-enhancing thoughts.
“What if every moment of conflict is a chance to make your relationship even stronger?”
2) Self-Responsibility –
Van Epp states that there is a difference between being a jerk and acting like a jerk. We all act like jerks from time-to-time and say things that are not nice. It is easy for us to justify being mean to our partner by saying, “Well, they were mean to me, so I can be mean back to them.” In order to de-escalate and have healthy constructive conflict, we have to leave that self-righteousness at the door, take responsibility for how we respond (see Conflict Choices Points above) and for what we choose to say or do.
3) Repair Attempt –
Making a repair attempt is a sort of like putting on a life jacket at the point when conflict feels like a sinking ship. You know that things are going wrong and you want to keep your relationship from drowning in negativity. The goal of making a repair attempt is not to push the conflict under the rug or pretend it isn’t happening, but rather, it’s to bring the attention back to the topic at hand and focus on the main issue that the two of you were originally discussing.
“To be on the same page, we need to be in the same book.”
4) Five-Minute Conversation –
According to Stan Tatkin, putting a limit on the amount of time you can engage in the fight can actually help you avoid escalation in the moment. Allow yourselves five minutes to fight, and then at the end of five minutes, cut it off. You aren’t trying to solve the problem in five minutes, but cutting the conversation off, regrouping, and then revisiting later can keep it under control.
5) Speaker-Listener Technique –
Both partners in the conflict have a responsibility to help keep the conflict de-escalated and moving in a positive and helpful direction. Take turns speaking about your perspective and also really listening to your partner’s perspective. It’s important to help your partner understand your side of the conflict while also being able to listen to their perspective, all without allowing the conflict to escalate further. The two of you are working together to find a resolution, not working against each other.
6) State of the Union Meeting –
Having a regular State of the Union Meeting, which involves understanding each other and working together to find a solution, can do wonders for the way that you handle conflict together. When you become proactive about the conflicts and problems within your relationship, these conflicts become less of an overwhelming thing for the two of you to handle. Sitting down and having a calm discussion before the two of you have become upset, defensive, or escalated equips you both with the ability to handle the conflict in a healthier, more effective, and more clear-headed way.