How To De-escalate Conflict in Your House

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By: Megan Tuohey, Relationship Psychologist

Let’s talk about what happens in your house when you experience conflict with your partner or child. In situations with conflict, emotions run high and so do the sensations in our body. This means there is a physiological and an emotional experience during conflict.

First up, we experience a stress hormone, followed often by a surge of adrenalin. These two phases send neurochemical information to our brains that tells us we are unsafe and/or under pressure. Once we realise this, we start using our defenders. Strongly. This is often where we start using what the Gottman Institute call the 4 Horseman.

We become critical – we verbally attack blame the persons personality or character

We become defensive – we look to reverse the blame – so it belongs with our partner or child

We use contempt – where we evaluate and scan the person/environment for all the things that are wrong and then we attack with an intent to insult or abuse.

Oftentimes we become so overwhelmed by our physiological and emotional responses that we can’t cope in the conflict any longer, and then we retreat. When this happens, it’s called Stonewalling. We use stonewalling – to withdraw whilst conveying our disapproval, distance and separation from our partner or child. That way we can avoid the conflict and the associated rising feelings in our body.

The thing is, once we use any of these 4 horsemen, we have started creating an environment that is unsafe, circular and where the conflict is unlikely to be resolved well. What this means, is you’re likely to be creating an environment where conflict is something to be avoided and to be feared.

It hurts you, it hurts your partner and it hurts your child.

How To Put The Brakes On Conflict

Here are 5 simple ways you can de-escalate your conflicts, so you can respond to any situation from a calm and connected position, whilst still being able to hold your boundaries.

  1. Keep up the self-care. Self care is the exact way that you can fill your own energy tanks. You and I both know that the more you invest in yourself, the greater the energy you have to respond to life and all of it’s demands. Keep up the things that bring you energy and safeguard that time for you. Need some ideas? Think running, swimming, pilates, rituals like making a cup of tea, or reading a new book, craft, gardening, making something new for dinner, date nights etc.
  2. Reconnect with yourself – Remember. If you’re triggered by the conflicts around you, you will have trouble responding in a way that is calm, compassionate and kind. The best way to tell yourself that you are safe (remember we define a trigger as when the brain/body perceive a threat and then the body reacts). When this happens for you, you need to manage your physiological response. That means deep breathing, time outs, centring yourself by grounding and feeling your feet on the ground, your clothes on your skin and your breath.
  3. Reframe - When you are in a good space, conflicts seem like problems to solve together, not a burden that drives us apart – so tackle any conflict as a problem to be solved. Take the perspective that we can ‘work this out together’. That change in energy and focus, means even the trickiest of problems are resolved quickly.
  4. Listen to understand – Humans are guilty of formulating their response to a conflict whilst the other is listening. Set up and agreement in your house that first you will listen to understand exactly what the problem is, and then you will switch turns and the other person will have that opportunity. Being heard and understood removes a LOT of tension.
  5. Make repairs – if you lose control of yourself, and use the 4 horsemen, you’ll need to take some time to evaluate your contribution and come back to the person that you broke connection with and apologise. You’ll use ‘I statements’ and you won’t blame. Then you’ll follow all the points above and come back to the issue to be solved. As a team.


So next time you have a problem to solve in your household, start playing around with these ideas, and practice. Remember, it’s going to take time to get it down pat, but so it does with any new skill.

The unexpected benefits of you committing to these changes is the experience your partner and children have of you. Soon enough you’ll see that that same language and approach becomes the norm in your house, and this, my friends will change the whole family dynamic. For the better.


About Megan: Megan is a Relationship Psychologist who specialises in women. She focuses particularly on the relationship you have with yourself, your partner, your kids. When she’s not writing, you will find her working in her online coaching business for women, reading or playing with her kids and high-fiving her hubby for another excellent day. You can read more of her work at