Self-Soothing When You’re in a High-Conflict Relationship

by | Jan 16, 2023

If you’re in a relationship in which you experience a lot of conflict, you may have found yourself “flooding.” That is, you may have felt so overwhelmed that you were flooded with emotion, so much so that you did not feel in control. Perhaps you were unsure of what was being said because you were so upset. Perhaps you had lost all pretense of listening to your partner. Perhaps you had devolved into name-calling or throwing objects or screaming.


That’s the time to say, Whoa! It’s certainly not easy to stop escalating, but it can be done with practice. You and your partner can establish a code word that you agree upon when you’re both calm, then use it when you get into a high-conflict situation. When either of you hears the signal, then it’s time to take a time out.


And if you manage it, you should congratulate yourself. And then you should step away from the high-conflict, toxic situation that has you in a tizzy. You might try going outside or even just to another room. When you do, give yourself some credit for achieving that act of positivity that will help you going forward.

Marriage Counseling, Relationship Therapy, Couples

Next Steps to Self-Soothing


  • Wherever you are—the next room or outside—imagine yourself in a safe place, both physically and emotionally. Have you felt calm and at ease on the beach, with waves lapping the shore? Have you felt at one with nature in the deep forest, breezes gently rustling the leaves? Put yourself in a sacred place, even if it’s only in your imagination.
  • Focus on your breathing. Inhale and exhale to measured counts. In—two, three. Out—two, three. Exhale all the way. Often when you’re flooding, you hold your breath or breathe quick, shallow breaths. Concentrate on breathing deeply and fully and naturally. Think about your breathing, and if extraneous thoughts intrude, recognize them, and then bring your mind back to counting your breaths.
  • When you have recovered to breathing normally, take a mental inventory of your body. Are your shoulders tense? Is your stomach in knots? Are your fists clenched? Jaw muscles tightened? Imagine each part of your body that is affected and consciously relax it, part by part. Take your time until the stress has left your body. Remember how your body feels to be at peace so you can return to this feeling time and again.
  • Practice your favorite self-care routine. Maybe it’s going for a walk, or taking a bubble bath, or doing a yoga sun salutation, or listening to music, or digging in your garden.

All the while, remind yourself, you are loved, you are grounded, you are worthy. Spend some time discovering self-affirmations that make you feel good and use them when you are practicing self-care. You can say them to yourself or say them out loud. Whatever works.

Once you and your partner are calm and in control, arrange a time when you can revisit your conflict and address it in a reasoned way. If you are both experiencing complicated emotions that are seemingly unsolvable, seek a trusted third party or a qualified therapist who can help you navigate your issues together.



Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:



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