How to Diffuse an Argument: Part 1

Relationships will have conflict. It’s a part of becoming more closely connected. It helps you get to know yourself and your partner better. However, most of us worry we are losing connection with our partner when conflict arises. When we don’t have reliable tools, it can be easy for conflict to escalate and drive us away from one another.   

Based on patterns we learned growing up and our attachment style, we use a variety of strategies to get ourselves through these situations: 

  1. If we learned healthy ways of dealing with conflict growing up we are more likely to stay regulated in these circumstances. We can trust that we’ll get through it and come back to a safe connection. This results in a secure attachment style. 

  2. If we have developed an anxious attachment style we might turn up the heat to try to re-establish the connection. This can overwhelm our partner. 

  3. Those who have developed an avoidant attachment style will likely withdraw to try to reduce tension. This can leave our partner feeling really alone. 

When we find ourselves in a pattern of disconnection our best way out is to gain awareness of the moves we are making and identify the underlying emotions that are getting triggered. 


The EFT Tango

When training in Emotionally Focused Therapy, we learn to use 5 moves to help couples process a triggering moment and come to a better understanding of one another. We call it the EFT Tango and it goes like this 1) identify the negative cycle, 2) access underlying emotion, 3) share the underlying emotion with the partner, 4) process what it’s like for each partner to share/listen and 5) tie a bow (highlight the process that just happened so the couple can learn to do it again intentionally).  

As couples practice this in session they become more able to have these conversations at home. While the tango is going to look different at home, following these 5 steps can help couples get back into connection, and even create a deeper understanding of one another. 

Pro-tip: You might want to work through this process on your own before you dialogue with your partner. With more experience and practice, you can learn to sort it out together. Sometimes it can work to call this up at the moment of the trigger, however, it’s often helpful to give our partner some warning. We can either say, “I’m feeling triggered. Is now a good time for you to listen for a minute?” Or, “Hey, I’d like to talk about something. Can we talk when you get home from work?”


Look Inside Yourself

Next month I’ll share more details and concrete examples for using the EFT Tango at home. For now, remember that frustration and anger are only the emotional tip of the iceberg. Over the next few weeks, see if you can become better acquainted with signals in your mind and body that could trigger conflict and how your attachment style drives your interactions. Then come back for Part II next month.  

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