Chronically conflicted couples become easily overwhelmed, agitated and tense while communicating. Therapists often encourage such couples to practice soothing skills and techniques to help them defuse arousal and emotion, enabling them to communicate and problem solve more efficiently. Soothing skills practice help couples to better tolerate stressful provoking situations (lessening the chance that they will become overwhelmed in the first place), and to recover faster after they have become overwhelmed.
There is no perfect definition of what constitutes a soothing activity. As the popular phrase "Any port in a storm" suggests, most any alternative to outright fighting will generally qualify as a soothing activity. However, different people have different ideas about what works best for them when they need to calm down. Specifically, some people find it easier to relax when they are alone, while others can't calm down easily unless they are around supportive people. A good therapist will recommend soothing activities matched to each partner's preferences.
- Time-Out. The tried-and-true 'time-out' technique is very useful in helping couples to disengage from a fight. The couple agrees that they will ask their partner for a 'time-out' on their discussion for an agree-upon period of time when they start to feel overwhelmed. During the time-out period, they agree that they will not discuss what they've been arguing about. If necessary, the couple should physically separate themselves so that they cannot continue discussion until the time-out period is over. The duration of a time-out period should be set to allow enough time to go by so that tempers have cooled, but not so much that any of the partners become anxious or feel overly deprived from making their case. Whatever the length, it is important that a time-out's duration be agreed upon at the time it is asked for so that neither partner feels anxiety over when they will again be able to talk.
Where the time-out technique is most useful for letting off steam during an active confrontation, other soothing practices are useful in helping conflicted individuals to lower their general tension levels.
- Talking and venting feelings about one's situation is very stress relieving for some people. Trusted family members or friends, or an individual therapist can offer support, a shoulder for crying on and a place to discuss feelings and seek counsel. Similar relief and reflection can be had by keeping, reading and re-reading a journal of one's thoughts and feelings.
- Organizing helps some people to calm down. Cleaning one's house, getting the bills paid, even making lists of errands to be run and then checking them off as they are completed can be soothing activities.
- Relaxation techniques help relieve muscular tension associated with stress. Progressive muscle relaxation is a popular relaxation technique whereby a therapist (or audio program) instructs people to alternately tense and then relax different major muscle groups, producing a profound bodily feeling of relaxation. Massage and some types of exercise (including hatha yoga) can produce similar effects.
- Soothing environments, either imagined, visualized or experienced, help to calm jangled nerves. Guided imagery exercises (such as imagining one's self at the beach - often combined with relaxation exercises) can temporarily distract people from their consuming anxieties and angers. Music, lighting and aromatherapy products can be used to enhance the effect. Actually going out to be in a beautiful place (walking in a park, visiting the beach or a nature preserve) can also promote feelings of calm.
- Exercise can be a very effective means of calming one's self down. In addition to working out physical muscular tensions and producing fatigue, exercise is also a good distraction capable of talking one's mind off of disturbing thoughts and concerns.
- Distraction, or taking one's mind off of disturbing thoughts and feelings can also be a very effective means of coping with tension. Distraction works by refocusing one's attention away from things that are concerning towards something more immediate. Watching television, reading a book, talking with friends (about other things than disturbing thoughts) or focusing on a hobby can all be effective means of distraction. While taking distraction to an extreme would clearly be detrimental to a relationship (you can't have an intimate relationship if you are always distracted from it!), used in moderation, distraction can be part of a healthy coping repertoire.
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