What to do When Your Partner is Emotionally “Flared Up”

Solving Conflict according to Two Relationship Coaches

If you’ve ever been in a relationship, then you know that it comes with both its joys and its trials. But how can you shift a fight from being “on trial” to being more supportive and constructive? 

At Happy Partners Project, our mantra is to shift your view from “You vs Me” to “You+Me vs the problem” which ultimately shifts the agenda from one of competition — who wins, who is right, who is wrong? — to one of collaboration — we’re in this together to find a mutually-satisfying solution. 

Still, there are times when one partner is emotionally “flared up” and the other partner can feel “under attack” so what’s that partner to do? 

Here are some strategies that both myself and GS Youngblood, the author of “The Masculine in Relationship — A Blueprint for Inspiring the Trust, Tust and Devotion of a Strong Woman

Calm Your Nervous System and Separate Yourself From The Intensity

Jocelyn: When you are met with heightened emotion a natural instinct can be to match that intensity in your reaction. Instead, take a breath (perhaps try Box Breathing) and bring yourself back to listening for the root of the issue your partner has raised. If you’re equally as activated in the moment, your ears and heart will shut off and you’ll depart from you+me vs the problem. When you separate yourself from “I=the problem”, you’re then able to open your ears and your heart to truly listening to your partner’s concerns. 

GS Youngblood: It’s all about the nervous system. When the nervous system is jacked up, you’re always gonna fail. You’re gonna do something that is basically counterproductive. It’s all about settling the nervous system. And my experience, my direct experience, I’m not just talking theory like this is my life, the more I settle my nervous system through various means, everything just gets easier. Because my nervous system is more settled, I have more capacity for humor, I don’t project as much, and so everything just seems a little easier. Also, learning to ground yourself to Respond versus React [one of the three elements of Youngblood’s “Blueprint”), and then from that place, you can have the capacity to be to actually feel instead of being in a protective. I think that’s the problem, is when [we] go to protective, [we] can’t feel [our partners], we’re just clenching. So if I’m clenching, I can’t feel you.

Validate Your Partner’s Experience (which is not the same as “taking the blame”)

GS Youngblood: Hear that your [partner is] in pain — that’s all you have to do. I have a very short phrase in the book, “Feelings first, facts later.” We always wanna go to facts. You’ve got to go to that feeling level first. So, when your [partner] is emotional you have to meet [them] in that emotional space before bringing up any facts or defending or explaining. Once you do that [they will be] way more open to the facts and having more of a rational discussion about it. So whether you’re taking responsibility or not, you’re going first to acknowledge her feelings. [In my book,] I’ve got a whole list of ways that you can respond to your woman when she’s upset. Number one — it’s empathy. [T]he catnip here for the feminine is being seen. [The feminine partner] wants to be seen for what is actually happening in the moment. And [the masculine partner] tends to go towards culpability a little too readily [to determine] whose fault [it is]. There’s another phrase in the book, “Hear the pain not the blame.”

Jocelyn: Rational and emotional communicate on separate wavelengths, so it’s important to meet on the same level — emotional first in emotionally intense times. Because, when our partner feels seen and heard, their emotional intensity can relax and it brings the dynamic back to connection instead of separateness. One way to do this is to repeat back to your partner what you’re hearing them say. If they say they feel left out, or overwhelmed or pissed off, repeat this back to them — “I hear that you’re pissed off / overwhelmed / feeling left out.” If they aren’t using those specific words, still try to attune yourself to their emotional state and note what you observe: “I can tell you’re really upset by what happened.” Perhaps you don’t fully understand how [your partner] got from A, to B to C, to D, to where now they are flared up, but you can see that your partner is frustrated. And even just that acknowledgement of the experience that your partner is in, can bring them down to a place of feeling seen and heard.

In my Creating Conscious Relationship audio course, I share three different lessons that support this approach — 1. How to Actively Listen to Build Trust 2. Healthy Conflict Resolution and 3. The Difference Between Rational and Emotional Communication

Go to Curiosity to Better Understand the Issue

Jocelyn: As mentioned, maybe you don’t fully understand how the situation went from A to Z. As a former coach of mine, Breck Costin, used to say: “Go for the information.” This means, go to curiosity. Some helpful phrases can be “help me understand this better.” or “I’m hearing you say this, is that what you mean?”

GS Youngblood: Sometimes empathy doesn’t work. Sometimes you’re like, “What the…? I don’t get this. This is crazy.” Then you go to curiosity, you just be honest. “I feel you, and I want you to know I’m right here, but I have no idea what’s happening right now.” [You can also say] “Tell me more.” or “I wanna hear more about your upsets.” In some cases, that can totally disarm. So if you can’t genuinely understand try to feel what she’s feeling, then you go to curiosity. 

Know When to Set a Boundary…And a Pause from the Discussion…But Maintain a Connection

GS Youngblood: Sometimes it gets to a boundary. Sometimes it’s not okay [when] the emotional turmoil can turn into abuse. Sometimes it’s like “No, we’re not gonna do that.” And that’s one thing I do is say, “Nope, we’re not fighting right now. It’s not happening.” If you’re gonna set a boundary, you have to stay in connection. It’s not like “No, we’re not doing that,” and then out the door [because then] the connection just got severed. [Instead] you’d say, “I’m right here, but no, and I love you, and I’m still connected to you, and I’m still with you, but no.” If you can maintain the connection through whatever you’re doing like you’re just gonna be a 100% more successful typically, because that’s what [your partner is]craving —  the maintenance of that connection. Maintain the connection at all times, whatever you’re doing.

Jocelyn: I often get asked, “Is it better to go to bed angry or to stay up all night until you reach a solution?” and my answer to that is that it’s better to approach conflict when you’re both able to be best resourced — and if you’re tired, sick, hungry, depleted, you’re not resourced to take on a Marathon Fight over night. 

In any situation where one or both of the partners are “maxxed out” and either or both want to “tap out” here are a few guiding steps: 1. Voice that you’re maxxed out and can’t continue the conversation. 2. Assure your partner that this is still very important to you and reaching a solution is a priority 3. Establish a time frame for when to revisit the discussion — in the morning, the next day after work, if you need a full day of space to reflect, that’s ok too. 4. Ensure your partner is in collaboration with the timeline as appropriate. Your partner could counter-request and say, for instance, do you think we could meet tomorrow instead or do you need 2 full days of space? 5. Follow through! This one is the MOST important. Once the timeline is set, make sure to come back to it as planned. 

Add Levity and Physical Connection, When It Feels Needed

GS Youngblood: Even though you probably feel like [your partner is]radioactive, you don’t want anything to do with [them]; you go over there and you pull [them] in. And, in 90% of the cases, that’s gonna have an amazing effect. 

[Another] thing you can do [is] humor. You know, sometimes, [the situation] is ridiculous, and [we] need to use humor to really save [our partner]. I hesitate to use those words but humor demolishes drama. And so sometimes humor really works. Humor at the right times [can be] really refreshing. Cause then you’re like, “Okay, you know, I’m being ridiculous, and then you trust [your partner] more. Cause [they] actually led you to a place you couldn’t go on your own in that moment.” Now the dark side of that is when you try to use humor to dodge. Don’t use it to dodge the gravity of the moment, use it judiciously. And then if it’s not landing, if [your partner is] getting more pissed off, [acknowledge that]. “All right, sorry. I just wanted to try to lighten it up, let me back off.” And then back off [the humor].

So, there you have it! — few strategies to diffuse a heightened emotional state, reach a healthier place for conflict resolution and bridge connection over separation during emotionally intense times.

Which have you tried and which are you eager to test out?  


NOTE: A portion of this article was sourced from an interview between myself and GS Youngblood, which can be viewed in full here.


Jocelyn Johnson is the founder of Happy Partners Project and the creator of the Relationship Check-In (TM) Method, the acclaimed science and psych-backed process for strengthening relationships and empowering couples to create their best relationship. She coaches couples and individuals to integrate conscious relationships habits, heal relational wounds and accelerate change. She is certified in Cognitive Behavioral Coaching, Neuro-linguistic Programming and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy.

This post is from Happy Partners Project which creates science and psych-backed products that support couples and individuals with building and sustaining healthy and blissful relationships.

Happy Partners Project is also the creator of the acclaimed “Relationship Check-In™ Method” — a science and psych-backed process for strengthening relationships.

The belief is that happier partners build happier homes and ultimately have healthier communication, greater life satisfaction and increased emotional intelligence.

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