Let’s talk about self-soothing, and how vital it is to the development and maintenance of any type of relationship you may find yourself in, romantic or otherwise.

Whether you are queer or straight, monogamous or consensually non-monogamous, no relationship goes without its fair share of arguments or disagreements. Conflicts are an inevitable part of a healthy relationship, especially when there are fundamental personality-differences coming in to play.

We’ll kick off this topic with a shared understanding of what self-soothing is exactly before exploring some of the benefits of self-soothing when it comes to managing relationship conflicts.

Then we’ll identify some common scenarios that may require the use of self-soothing to help manage emotional reactions.

We’ll conclude with a few self-soothing techniques you can try out for yourself the next time you feel upset, hurt, or invalidated by a significant person in your life.

Let’s dive in!

Self-Soothing as a Coping skill

Self-soothing refers to the practice of engaging in any behavior that promotes emotional regulation by oneself. Such behaviors may be considered adaptive while others may be considered maladaptive.

Adaptive behaviors allow people to cope with stress in a helpful way that is most conducive to the situation so they can adjust to their environment with greater ease.

An example of an adaptive behavior would be listening to audiobooks because you love to read, and your eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be or you can’t sit still long enough to read a physical book.

In the context of a relationship, an adaptive behavior might look like going for a walk after a heated argument to create some distance from the situation so you can collect yourself and revisit the discussion from a calmer state.

Maladaptive behaviors have the same intentions as adaptive behaviors. The key difference is that maladaptive behaviors are misguided attempts to cope with stress in a way that may perpetuate difficulty in adjusting to a new environment or situation.

An example of a maladaptive behavior would be smoking a little some thing every time you feel overwhelmed because you want to clear your head and feel instant relief, even though you know it may not be good for your long-term health or it may compromise the integrity of your academic or work performance.

In the context of a relationship, a maladaptive behavior might look like feigning solidarity, or people pleasing, to diffuse tension or avoid conflicts because you’d rather compromise your well-being then risk potentially losing the relationship.

Anything you do to regulate your emotions and increase your tolerance to stress can be considered a coping skill for self soothing when emotions run high.

Why Self-Soothing is Important

Now that we have an understanding of what self soothing is, let’s talk about its role in managing conflicts.

Knowing how to calm or soothe yourself during an argument can help you dial down your physical response and automatic reaction to stress.

Self-soothing skills can help you keep your cool and stay calm enough to handle difficult conversations with greater mindfulness so you don’t end up saying or doing something you’ll regret.

When you are feeling calm and grounded, it’s easier to empathize with where another is coming from. You will be less defensive and more open to brainstorming solutions and exploring pros and cons with consideration for each others perspective.

Self-soothing as a coping skill also opens the door to deeper intimacy by allowing effective communication to occur without heightened emotions getting in the way of how a message is being delivered or received.

By practicing self soothing techniques regularly, you can increase your emotional resilience by learning how to expand your tolerance to stress.

When to Self-Soothe in a Relationship

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what self-soothing is and why it is such an essential skill to have in your relationship/well-being toolbox.

Now let’s discuss common scenarios you may have encountered when knowing how to physiological self-sooth would be super clutch.

When you and your partner have a disagreement relating to fundamental differences in values. Where to live, how to manage finances or raise children, whether or not to open up your relationship — these are just a few examples of how differences in values can create perpetual conflicts. Self-soothing can help you accept those differences as you learn to work through them over a series of conversations before arriving at some kind of a resolution.

When you feel criticized, invalidated or disrespected by someone you love or care about. Criticism is a silent killer of relationships. It is often followed by its close companion defensiveness. Knowing how to self soothe can make all the difference in whether or not you take something personally. Is the criticism really a reflection of you, or a projection of how your partner may be feeling toward themself?

When you or your partner’s emotional reactivity gets in the way of a productive conflict discussion. Sometimes an argument can get so heated that one or both partners may lose control of their emotions. That would be a really good time to practice regulating your emotions to stop yourself for saying or doing something that you may ultimately regret.

When your partner decides to stonewall you and refuses to speak to you for an uncertain period of time. Stonewalling behavior may increase your anxiety thereby strengthening your resolve to push the issue even further.The best thing to do for yourself (and your partner) is to find an alternative way to cope independently of your partner. Self-soothing is especially recommended in this kind of situation.

When you feel completely misunderstood by someone who misinterpreted your words or actions. You can have the best of intentions, but sometimes your message doesn’t land the way you may have hoped. Misunderstandings happen all the time. Self-soothing can help you maintain the objectivity necessary to ensure effective communication between sender and receiver

Techniques for Soothing Yourself When Experiencing Emotional Distress

There are literally hundreds of ways to calm and relax yourself when feeling emotionally charged by a stressful situation. When this flooding of emotions happens, the brain sends a signal to the rest of the body that it may be in danger. Here are some common relaxation techniques you can use to let the brain know that you are okay.

1. Deep Breathing

One of the simplest ways to calm your central nervous system when it is hyper-aroused is by slowing down the breath.

It can be as simple as breathing in so deeply you can not take in anymore oxygen before breathing out all the air you took until there’s nothing left and then repeating the process about five times for a solid minute.

Another popular breathing technique is referred to as boxed breathing which involves inhaling for a count of four and holding the breath for a count of four before exhaling for a count of four, then holding the breath for another count of four before repeating the process as many times as it takes for your to feel calmer.

2. Engaging the Five Senses

Another simple way to practice self-soothing is by engaging the five senses. Start by naming five things you can see, four things you can feel and three things you can hear. Proceed by naming two things you can smell and one thing you can test. Then choose at least one of the five senses to further engage with.

Examples of engaging with the senses include lighting a candle and watching it burn (vision), singing your favorite song (hearing), aromatherapy (smell), indulging in your favorite food (taste), or taking a bubble bath (touch). This techniques helps ground you in the present moment.

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This technique involves physically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body, one group at a time. For each area of the body, hold the tension in the body as you inhale for about few seconds before relaxing the body as you exhale.

Practice saying to yourself the word “relax” as you relax the muscles. Notice the feeling of physical relaxation as you work through each muscle group. The goal of this technique is to reduce muscle tension often associated with anxious feelings.

4. Mental Imagery

This technique involves the practice of using your imagination to create a safe place within your mind or recall a pleasant memory that helps you bring feelings of comfort into the present moment. By leveraging the five senses, you can use mental images, sounds, feelings and sensations to help you feel better in the moment.

All you have to do is close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and think of a calming place that relaxes you. You can imagine being at the beach or somewhere outdoors in nature. You can even imagine being at your favorite vacation spot or in a whole new world where there’s not a care in the world.

5. Physical Exercise

One tried and true way to really take care of yourself when you’re feeling emotionally reactive is through physical exercise. Not only does it work as a welcomed distraction, but it also helps allow the energy of your emotions to flow through you and out of your body through physical exertion of lingering emotions that may get trapped in the body.

Simple stretching, practicing yoga, going for a walk, running or strength training are all great ways to regain a sense of self-control when coping with circumstances beyond your control.

6. Spirituality

We wouldn’t be Soul 2 Soul without this particular way of self-soothing! For us, this means turning the situation over to something greater than yourself, whether that be a God of your own understanding, or the universe, life force energy, Mother Earth or Spirit, depending on your particular belief system. Many people find it incredibly helpful to lean into their spirituality to ask for support, guidance, or direction to experience a new perspective or more aligned thoughts and actions. Connecting to a higher power, whatever that may mean to you, often leads to greater peace and serenity.

Start Cultivating Stronger Relationships Today

Self-soothing is an essential skill for the maintenance of a long-lasting relationship. Learning how to self-soothe supports conflict resolution by promoting emotional regulation. While there are many ways to do it, the best will be whatever works for you.

Couples therapy can be helpful way to work through relationship conflicts. Through relationship counseling, you and your partner can learn to communicate more effectively and better understand each other in a meaningful way. A deeper understanding of each other’s worldview and attachment style paves the way for deeper intimacy and connection. A qualified couples therapist can help you and your partner identify effective ways to self-soothe while staying connected. As you learn to self-soothe during conflicts, you eventually learn how to help your partner self-soothe too, creating more space in the relationship for empathy and compassion. 

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Grief is one of the most painful life experiences you can go through, and the grieving process can take a significant toll on any relationship. Maybe you lost someone close to you and your partner isn’t sure how to respond to your grief. Maybe your partner lost a loved one and you’re trying to show support without being overbearing. Sometimes, a couple both grieves the same person. No matter what you’re going through, grief has the power to change the dynamic of your relationship.

Knowing how to cope with grief and loss as a couple is the key to getting through this tragic event without drifting apart. As always, communication is so important for every couple. Whether you’re experiencing grief yourself or watching your partner move through the grieving process, openness and honesty will help you maintain a strong relationship.

What to Expect as You Grieve

Grief is a complicated emotional process that unfolds differently for everyone. Many people are familiar with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, grief is rarely if ever this predictable.

Mourning is not a linear process. You shouldn’t expect yourself to move seamlessly from anger to sadness to acceptance. One day, you might be overcome with feelings of hopelessness. The next, you may feel completely numb and disconnected from your loss. The emotions can fluctuate from day to day or even from hour to hour. You can practice self-compassion by allowing yourself to move through your emotions without trying to force them into a specific timeline.

Helping a Partner Through the Grieving Process

Seeing your partner in grief can be incredibly difficult. You don’t want them to be in pain, and you hate feeling powerless to stop their grief. There’s no controlling grief, though, so you simply have to let your partner move through the process. Here are three things you can do if your partner is experiencing grief:

Step back and listen.

It’s natural to see someone in pain and to want to “fix” the problem. When your partner expresses their grief, your first impulse may be to try to make them feel better or make their pain go away. However, they have to feel their grief in order to truly process it.

When your partner is grieving, resist the urge to find a solution. Instead, just be a steady and comforting presence. If your partner wants to talk about their grief, offer a listening ear. If they don’t want to talk, become comfortable with silence.

Show practical support.

Grief greatly impacts your ability to take care of other areas of your life. You can show support to your partner by taking on the tasks that they’re too drained to handle. You could cook meals, complete chores around the house, schedule appointments, or take care of any other day-to-day tasks so that your partner can navigate the grieving process without feeling like their entire life is falling apart.

Be patient.

Grief doesn’t happen on a linear timeline, and no two people experience grief in exactly the same way. When your partner is grieving, resist the urge to find a solution. Instead, just be a steady and comforting presence. If your partner wants to talk about their grief, offer a listening ear. If they don’t want to talk, become comfortable with silence. Being patient with your partner as they grieve is vital. Allow them all the time they need to process their loss.

This can be especially challenging when a couple is grieving together. You may heal faster than your partner, or you may feel like your partner is moving on too quickly. Recognizing that everyone handles grief in their own time is the key to coping as a couple.

Navigating the Grieving Process Yourself

If you’re experiencing grief yourself, you might feel completely alone in your pain. Your partner may not understand what you’re going through, but they’re here to support you. Here are three things you can do to stay strong as a couple as you grieve:

Don’t feel guilty for needing support.

Many people isolate themselves when they grieve because they feel guilty for asking for support. Your partner wants to help you, though. Just like you offer support when they’re unwell, your partner is here to help as you go through this painful experience. Try not to feel guilty for asking for support or for leaning on your partner as you grieve.

Tell your partner what you need.

Communicating in words can feel extremely challenging when you’re overwhelmed by grief. However, telling your partner what you need from them is essential for maintaining your health as a couple. Your partner may have the best possible intentions, but they can’t always anticipate your needs. If you need them to give you some space, let them know. If you want them to sit in silence with you, communicate that to them.

Allow yourself to grieve on your own timeline.

Just like your partner needs to be patient with you as you mourn, you also must be patient with yourself. Don’t try to force yourself to feel better or to move on within a certain timeline. Grief unfolds on its own, and all you can do is experience your emotions without judgment.

Dealing With an Unsupportive Partner

Unfortunately, not everyone is able or willing to offer the support their loved one needs during the grieving process. Your partner might be uncomfortable with the concept of grief and loss, or they may not know what to say to comfort you. If your partner tends to isolate or disconnect when going through a difficult time, you might feel like they’re pulling away from you when you need them the most. This is especially challenging when you’re both mourning the same person.

Open up to your partner about how you’re feeling. If they have a different style of grieving, they may not recognize what kind of support you need. When dealing with loss, everyone is stretched thin emotionally. Try to be extremely clear about your support needs when communicating with your partner so that they don’t have to guess.

If your partner continues to be unsupportive, look for support outside of your relationship. Lack of support is a serious issue in your relationship that should be addressed, but your priority right now is to get the help you need to process your grief. You could lean on family or friends during this time, or you could talk to a counselor about how you’re feeling.

How Loss Impacts the Entire Family

Loss can dramatically transform a family unit. If you lose someone in your immediate family, nothing feels the same. The loss of that person’s presence can create a feeling of emptiness within your family, especially in the early stages of grief. Family roles can also shift during the grieving process. The family member who always supported everyone else may now need the most support themselves. Because grief hits everyone differently, family members have to be compassionate with one another.

Family therapy can be an excellent way to explore how loss has impacted your family structure. During counseling, everyone has an opportunity to express their emotions. Each family member should feel seen and heard. Your counselor will help you and your family find ways to support one another and keep moving forward after your loss.

Individual therapy is important for processing a loss, too. If you feel like you can’t move through the grieving process alone, a counselor can help. Your therapist will offer a safe and supportive space for you to express yourself, and they can help you identify the steps you need to take to heal. Many people find grief support groups to be helpful as well. Connecting with others who are also mourning can help you feel less alone in your pain.

Couples Therapy for Grief

Losing a loved one can change you forever, and it can profoundly impact your relationship. Some people lean on their partner when going through grief, and others pull away. When one partner is grieving and can’t give their full energy to the relationship, the other partner may start to feel isolated or rejected. If you’re both grieving the same person, you might both be so emotionally drained that you just can’t show support to one another.

Couples therapy is a valuable resource for learning how to cope with grief and loss as a couple. You shouldn’t expect yourself to have perfect communication skills or perfect coping skills when you’re in such intense emotional distress. If you’re going through the grieving process as a couple, a mental health professional can provide you with the support you need to heal.

You can reach out to a couples therapist if you’re in the height of your grief, or you can start couples therapy if you feel like past grief has had a long-term impact on your relationship. Your counselor will help you understand and process your grief. Then, they’ll help you and your partner discover ways to strengthen your bond and improve your communication.

You may feel like nothing will be the same between you and your partner after a loss, but there is a path forward. By allowing yourself and your partner to grieve and seeking professional support when needed, you’ll take the vital first steps toward healing as a couple.

If you’re looking for a couples therapist in El Segundo CA, Soul 2 Soul Healing is here to help. We understand how grief can take a toll on a couple, but we have the tools and resources you need to make it through this challenging time. Contact us today to speak with a couples therapist in El Segundo.