From Conflict to Connection: Using the S.T.O.P. Technique for Intimacy

Written by: Jason Howard, M.A.
From Conflict to Connection: Using the S.T.O.P. Technique for Intimacy

Intimacy is a cornerstone of healthy, fulfilling relationships. One researched and effective tool for improving intimacy between partners is the “S.T.O.P.” technique, which focuses on mindfulness and emotional regulation. I often use this technique with clients who need a quick tool to catch themselves in an overwhelming situation. Instead of making things worse, they can choose to stop and more mindfully choose to do something more effective and not make the situation worse. More and more, I find this technique extremely helpful for couples to defuse a tense situation and deepen emotional connection, safety, and intimacy in the relationship.

What Does it Mean to “S.T.O.P.”?

The “S.T.O.P.” technique is a mindfulness-based strategy that stands for:

  • S: Stop – Pause whatever you’re doing.
    T: Take a deep breath and lean or step back – This helps center your mind and body.
    O: Observe – Notice your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Ask yourself what you need at this moment.
    P: Proceed mindfully – Take a deliberate and thoughtful next step based on the situation and your needs.

How to Apply the “S.T.O.P.” Technique to Improve Intimacy

1. Pause to Connect: When a disagreement or emotional moment arises, pause whatever you are doing and take a step back with a big inhale and exhale. This pause allows you the mental and physical space to cool down, as well as the best chance to approach the situation and your partner with a clear mind. Also, talk ahead of time with your partner about the purpose for stopping. Agree that when one partner stops, both need to stop.

2. Deep Breathing for Emotional Regulation: Both partners need to stop and take three deep breaths. You could do this together if it feels safe. Or, if you need to step away and breathe, that is fine, too. Just let your partner know you’ll be back. The act of deep breathing can reduce tension inside of yourself, and foster a sense of safety, unity, and calmness between you.

3. Observing Emotions and Needs: Each partner next observes their own emotions and physical sensations. You can share these observations to increase understanding and empathy. You can also state you’re not sure how you feel, and you need a break. As an example, one might say, “My head is spinning, and I’m overwhelmed the more we talk about finances. I need a break and for us to come back to this in an hour after dinner.”

4. Mindful Communication: As in the example above, pausing and taking a few deep breaths with a step back can help create space to observe and put words to body sensations, feelings, and needs. It is very difficult to proceed with more responsive communication when our body and brain is engaged in fight or flight mode. By doing the above three steps, it is easier to choose to express feelings and needs without blaming the other person (e.g., “I feel overwhelmed when we discuss budgeting and need to slow down” versus “You never listen to me and are so controlling with the finances”).

Four Benefits of the “S.T.O.P.” Technique

1. Reduced Conflict: Pausing to breathe and observe can stop (or at least shorten) the escalation of conflicts, allowing for more constructive and unifying conversations.

2. Increased Emotional Awareness: By observing and acknowledging your emotions, you and your partner can become more aware of what is happening in and between you. This awareness can foster deeper empathy, understanding, and connection.

3. Enhanced Communication: More mindful communication also reduces misunderstandings and promotes a more compassionate and supportive dialogue.

4. Deeper Connection: And, finally, asking for what you need while sharing observations and emotions helps you and your partner feel heard, which strengthens the emotional bond.

Getting Practical – Three Ways to Integrate “S.T.O.P.” in Daily Life

1. Daily Check-Ins: Set aside a few minutes each morning or evening to practice the “S.T.O.P.” technique together. This can be a simple pause, breathe, share one thing you notice that is positive in your relationship or an emotion or need you have from the day in general. The goal is to foster regular emotional connection and try out the technique when you aren’t under a lot of stress.

2. Conflict Resolution: Use the “S.T.O.P.” technique in a conflict to pause, breathe, and approach the situation with a calm and open mindset. You can also use it to take a needed time-out in order to come back together and discuss things more effectively in the future.

3. Add On Other Mindfulness Practices: The ‘P’ is for proceeding mindfully. After you pause, breathe, and observe, you may want to incorporate other mindfulness practices, such as prayer, worship, meditation, a walk, yoga, etc. to support emotional regulation and connection. You can proceed in these activities with your spouse or use them to regulate your own brain and body needs.

Reach Out to Learn More

The “S.T.O.P.” technique is one of many tools not only for managing stress but also for enhancing intimacy in relationships. If you want support in exploring this and other behavioral therapy tools to build a stronger, more empathetic, and deeply connected relationship, reach out to myself or our team through or 678-893-5300.