Sunday, 17 November 2013 00:00

How to Cope with Emotions in an Argument

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Disagreement and arguments in relationships are inevitable and when things heat up emotionally we can easily act on impulse and do something, or say something we later regret. The result can be highly destructive for relationships and leave you feeling out of control and disconnected from your loved one.


In relationships, painful feelings can come from waiting to be appreciated, reassured or cared for by your partner. It can be tempting to constantly seek reassurance or to lash out at a partner for not being supportive. However, the small sense of relief we get from reassurance does not last and actually increases the need for more reassurance, while lashing out causes even more destruction in the relationship.


During a disagreement, knowing how to step back and notice your thoughts from a birds eye view, to redirect those thoughts in a controlled way, can help you to tolerate uncertainty and discomfort long enough to choose actions that will have better outcomes for your relationship and your wellbeing. Of course, some people find this more difficult than others and heightened emotional states can make it more difficult still, but everyone can learn new ways of coping, and when you get the results it will have been worth all the hard work.


So how can you learn the skill of cooling down your emotions during an argument? How do you redirect your mind to give yourself some distance and think more clearly and act to get the best outcome? Harvard professor William Ury suggests in his classic guide to negotiation, Getting Past No, his strategy of “going to the balcony”. This means mentally going to the balcony to cool off. Detaching your mind from the situation in front of you to allow the heightened emotions to pass over. In her book After the Stork, American psychologist, Sara Rosenquist describes the acronym DOOR as a helpful way to achieve this. The process is as follows:


D stands for detach.

To do this you may need to physically remove yourself from the room, or you may be able to detach from what is happening without leaving.


O for observe yourself.

Notice your own thoughts, emotions and behaviour towards your partner.


O for observe the other.

In turn, try to understand your partner's thoughts, emotions and behaviour and notice how the interaction is not working.


R for respond, not react.

Quick reaction to emotion often makes situations worse. But, taking time to respond carefully is likely to lead to better outcomes.


By taking time to stand back and observe both your own experience and that of your partner, you are more likely to respond based on a better understanding of the situation. So why not give it a go? Write the acronym down and keep it in your purse or stick it on the fridge to remind you to take time to detach and calm so that you can control your emotions rather than let them control you.


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Dr Julie Smith

Dr. Julie Smith, 'The Mind Doctor' is a Clinical Psychologist with several years of experience working in the field of mental health. She has put together a series of videos and articles as a self-help resource for a range of common problems.

Dr. Julie Smith is available online for private one-to-one sessions. For more information please email

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