How to End Conversations Without Triggering My Partner

Emotional flooding refers to a physiological state where your body is prepared to detect and respond to a threat. You may notice this in your body as your heart rate begins to increase above 100 beats per minute, you feel hot, or your chest becomes tighter. In an instant, you start losing all sense of curiosity, logic, or compassion. If you continue talking with your partner, this often results with you yelling or saying something hurtful. If you decide to leave the conversation, either by stonewalling (looking down or away) or by leaving, then the other person may become triggered by your response. They may blame you for becoming angry, walking out, or leaving them vulnerable. Ultimately, you feel there is nothing you can do and that you have no agency. When you look back on moments where you felt flooded and how you responded, you may feel guilty for your actions and a simultaneous helplessness to change the response were it to reoccur. Setting a timeout or break, when done following these steps, may help you and your partner change this dynamic slowly over time.

1. Identify Emotional Flooding

Start out by identifying what happens when you become emotionally flooded. What sensations do you notice? Do you notice your heart pounding, feeling hot, your stomach dropping, or pressure on your chest? What thoughts do you have? Do you notice thinking about the injustice of the situation, not feeling heard/cared for, or focusing on the other person’s behavior? Are there things that your partner does behaviorally that trigger this quick, emotional response? Do you notice them using a particular phrase/word, using a certain tone/volume, or using a specific facial expression?


The better you understand your own experience, the better you will be able to accept this experience, inform your partner, and change the dynamic. If you are new to the world of emotions, then this will likely be a significant challenge and you may need additional support. For almost everyone, this will forever be an evolving process of listening to and understanding yourself.

2. Indicate a Break is Needed

Once you notice yourself becoming flooded, the conversation that follows is not likely to be productive and a break is necessary. Basically, you are stating “I need a break.” So long as you are talking about your own emotional experience, then it may be helpful to also share this with your partner. For example, you might say “I am feeling overwhelmed right now, I am not sure why, and I need some time to regroup” or “I am having a hard time listening right now and I need to take a break.”


Stating that you are taking a break, rather than shutting down or leaving, is essential. This helps your partner to understand what you are doing rather than leaving them confused or chasing after connection with you. As they begin to understand what is happening for you and that the break does not represent a threat, they are able to more easily transition into giving you space.

3. Set a Time

Next, set a specific time for when you are going to return to the conversation. As with Dr. John Gottman’s advice, I often recommend at least a 30-minute break because this is the time needed for your body to calm down physiologically. If for some reason a 30-minute break is not possible, then you may need to extend the time. However, anything beyond 2 hours can be very difficult and you certainly do not want to go more than 24 hours without reconnecting. Ideally, you should work collaboratively to find a time that fits for the both of you. Here you might say something like, “Can we agree to set the timer for 30 minutes and then come back to this conversation?” or “Can we revisit this conversation at 7:00 when my meeting is over?”


This step is important because it gives your partner some predictability rather than leaving them wondering if/when you are going to come back. Although predictable, this time apart will likely be the most challenging time for your partner. This is especially true if you have previously shut down/left or implemented breaks and did not return to the conversation.

4. Practice Self Care

Now that you implemented the break, go practice some self-care. What kinds of activities bring you joy or relaxation? You might consider mindfulness, going for a walk, listening to music, taking a shower, cooking, reading, drawing, playing with a pet, or creating something.


You do not want to spend this entire time ruminating over how right you are and why the other person is wrong. If you are worried about forgetting something that occurred, then consider writing it down and keeping that information in a confidential location. If you believe that what occurred is abusive and you are not safe in the relationship, then consider what you need to do to keep yourself safe and reach out for help where possible.

5. Return to the Conversation

It is highly important for you to return to the conversation after your set time has been reached. You may even want to return to the conversation a few minutes early just to curtail an event where your partner has waited exactly 31 minutes and is now feeling abandoned. Over time, your predictability sends signals to your partner that they are important, they are safe, and you are trustworthy.


First, you want to make sure that you are calm and able to go about communicating in a more productive way. As with the first step, you should continue to identify how you know that you are calm. Do you notice your heartrate and body temperature returning to baseline? Are you feeling lighter? Do you notice feeling curious or hopeful? Pay attention to what feeling calm or ready to reengage looks like for you. If you are not ready to reengage, then consider returning to your partner and repeating the process. Let them know that you are struggling, you need more time, and set another break.


Before you reenter the conversation, you should consider your partner’s experience, how they might be feeling, and decide on at least one thing you can do better in the conversation.

Final Considerations

If you or your partner are new to the concept of taking a break, then it is important for you to discuss it with them prior to implementation. This gives them the opportunity to respond in a more productive way and to feel more connected to you.


You should be cautious of overusing breaks for minor/tolerable tensions or continually taking lengthy breaks as this transforms the discussion of a break into an abandonment trigger. To your partner, it can feel like you are avoiding the conversation, or you do not care enough about them to revisit the issue.


Understanding your experiences and taking a break when you start to become emotionally flooded can be a useful tool. However, I encourage you to find a therapist that specializes in relationships to help you better understand and tailor these items to your specific circumstances. If you are interested in working with me you can visit my therapist page or contact us.