Managing conflict in relationships involves a certain level of self-awareness. Conflict becomes toxic when one person becomes overwhelmed and unable to hear the other's words or respond rationally.
It's very common for this "flooding" to occur in serious conversations -- conversations about pleasant things, like what to do with the tax refund, as well as difficult things such as cheating or child-rearing.
A conflict that involves violence -- even if it is directed at a physical object rather than a person -- is by its very nature toxic. So is a conflict in which one or both partners are impaired by alcohol or drug use. It is impossible to resolve a problem productively in these situations.
If a conflict turns toxic, the best thing to do is disengage. Take a break, go for a walk, call a friend, do whatever you need to do to feel safe and get your emotions under control. If you can, communicate this to your partner and set up a time to re-engage: "I'm really overwhelmed right now. I'm going for a walk, and I'd like to return to this conversation tomorrow when I've had a chance to process some of my feelings."
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