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How to Help Your Partner Calm Down

Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40

Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck are write a weekly column on midlife relationships. They are working on a new book, "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40."

Yes, we are all grown-ups, and we are ultimately responsible for our own emotional state. But the good news is that a loving partner can help us to regulate our feelings and handle stress more appropriately.

The first step, of course, is to pick a partner who is an emotional adult. According to psychologist Dr. Alice Boyes, these are the ten crucial questions to ask:

  1. Can they make effective repair attempts after an argument?
  2. Do they lose control of their actions?
  3. Can they persist through frustration?
  4. Are they willing to discuss difficult topics?
  5. Can they delay gratification?
  6. Are they able to admit mistakes or acknowledge their role in a problem?
  7. Can they identify "soft emotions?" (e.g., feeling sad, lonely, anxious)
  8. Are they self-absorbed?
  9. Are they supportive of your successes?
  10. Do they know how to boost their own mood?

Assuming both of you rate reasonably high on the positive aspects of emotional self-control, you can each help the other when stress is high. The first (and sometimes most difficult) task is to avoid automatic reactions to your partner’s emotional state. If your sweetheart is frustrated, anxious, or angry, work on your own composure and self-control. Breathe, take a few minutes by yourself, think of your partner’s good qualities, and try hard not to escalate the situation by becoming angry, worried, or frustrated yourself. We know this is easier said than done, but it is worth the attempt.

Second, use humor judiciously. There is a point beyond which humor may not work, but if you can lighten the mood early on, that may help your partner regain a sense of perspective. If it seems to just make things worse, move on to another strategy. Don’t keep insisting, “But I was just joking!”

Third, validate your partner’s feelings. We often make the mistake of trying to make someone feel better by telling them why they shouldn’t be so angry or upset. “Just relax” is a statement that adds gasoline to the fire of anger and frustration. Instead, ask gentle questions to show you are interested and concerned, and let your partner know that you see his or her feelings as legitimate, even if you wouldn’t feel the same way. Your feelings really aren’t relevant if it isn’t your problem. For example, Martha comes home with steam coming out of her ears because her supervisor Bill reassigned a project that was important to her. If George, her partner, is smart, he won’t start telling her to calm down and not be so angry. Instead, he’ll listen and say something like, “That had to be frustrating when Bill handed your project off to someone else. You’ve worked really hard on that project.”

Last, wordless comfort may help your partner reestablish emotional balance. A hug can go a long way toward conveying your concern. You don’t have to fix your partner’s problem – providing a supportive environment can often be enough to help your sweetheart regain emotional footing and feel calm enough to work through the difficult situation.

Reference: Alice Boyes, Ten Essential Emotion Skills to Look for in a Partner, Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-practice/201304/10-essential-emotion-skills-look-in-partner

Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck are write a weekly column on midlife relationships. They are working on a new book, "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40."

Previous Magic at Midlife Columns:

Creating Shared Goals

Having the “Senior Safer Sex” Conversation

Planning Your Wedding (for Mature Couples)

Too Young or Too Old to be Your Partner?

Who Pays for What on a Date

Starting a New Relationship Before Your Kids Are Grown

Why You Need a Relationship Roadmap

Living with Pets and a New Partner

Exploring New Roles

Rowing Through Life Together

Let’ Talk About Sex

Helping Your Adult Children Accept Your New Partner

In Sickness and In Health

Step-Grandparenting Can Be Grand

Enjoy Life Together

Online Dating for the Older Set

Enjoying the Single Life

True Love

Sex in Midlife Relationships: Complicated but Wonderful!

Upgrade Your Communication Skills

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