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  • Lee Lovett, LCSW-C

A Secret Tool to Improve Relationships

What kind of relationships do you want to have?

If you prefer relationships to be relatively free of tension and stress, for them to involve direct communication, where both parties are being heard, and for the interactions to foster feelings of respect, then this strategy is for you. Co-regulation is a process and skill that you can hone and utilize in relationships with friends, family members, partners, peers, and co-workers.

You’ve probably heard about or been told to practice mindfulness, deep breathing, and to self-regulate your emotions. But have you ever heard of this term “Co-regulation”? It is just (or maybe even more) important than self-regulation. It is a dynamic process when another person’s nervous system engages with your own. Co-regulation is an unconscious process that we can bring into our consciousness in order to adjust our interactions more thoughtfully. Co-regulation, in a nutshell, involves our nervous systems feeding off one another, detecting and responding to the others’ cues of safety or threat.

When we engage in self awareness and self-regulation, we can notice and affect our thoughts, feelings and actions/responses signaling our nervous system to help us engage calmly, making it more likely for others to be receptive to our communication. Consider the workplace or classroom — if you’re presenting, trying to sell a product or influence a group of people in a frantic, anxious, indecisive manner, people may not readily accept your message or be quick to trust you on either a conscious nor an unconscious level. Conversely

, if your tone and stance is calm, steady, communicating your audience is safe and sound, they are likely to engage more intently. Co-regulation can also be very useful in your personal relationships as a friend, partner or parent. Imagine an experience you have had interacting with someone you care about who is very angry, upset, or otherwise reactive. It would make sense, depending on the context, that you may feel under threat and thus an instinct to act in defense. To effectively co-regulate, at least one party needs to be in a more calm, relaxed state. Here are a couple strategies you can use to “get” into that state, thus “offering” it to another individual or group:

1. Slow down (your speech and breathing)

2. Smile (or “half-smile”) and maintain eye contact as much as possible

3. Listen

4. Tune into your own nervous systems response

5. Neutralize your tone of voice as you respond thoughtfully and respectfully

Co-regulation is about regulating your response to your honest emotions rather than changing those emotions. As you manipulate your nervous system, read the room. Are others engaging responsively, reciprocating in terms of verbal and nonverbal communication? If they continue to demonstrate a lack of self-regulation, use these indicators as you gage whether to lean further in or offer space.

Remember, the more you engage in strategies to regulate your own nervous system, the more competent you’ll become in upholding a stance of stability and attractivene

ss towards others. Others will look to you as a person to “feed” off in a healthy way and ideally, as model for how they can carry and conduct themselves in their interactions with others.

For more on understanding the nervous system and co-regulation, visit:



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