What Is Co-Regulation – and How Do We Do It?

Co-regulation in relationships is the process of remaining calm in the presence of a partner who is, well, not, and passing that feeling on to them.

Why does this matter?

Well, imagine the opposite. We’ve probably all been there at one time or another with our partner. Perhaps we’re relaxing with a good book or having fun with the kids. 

Then our partner storms in, and it’s clear they’re spiraling for one reason or another. Their energy overpowers everything, and before you even realize what’s happening, you’re spiraling with them. 

Often, this means some kind of argument where you’re both getting more and more upset with little real understanding of why. This is the opposite of co-regulation.

Why Is Co-Regulation in Relationships Important?

A better question might be: What does co-regulation do?

Thankfully, this is one of those things where the answer is fairly simple: when someone who is calm is able to maintain that feeling and pass it on to their partner:

It relaxes them. Literally on a physical level, co-regulation can lower heart rate and blood pressure to bring the other person back to a calm state.

It makes them feel safe. There’s a reason mothers do this with babies and therapists with their patients. Passing on calm energy is reassuring. It’s a way of emotionally saying, “Everything’s okay. We’ve got this.” Co-regulation in relationships works in a similar way.

What Kinds of Things Can You Do to Co-Regulate with Your Partner?

Co-regulation in relationships always starts with communication. You need to be able to tell each other what you need – including when you are not feeling regulated and need to step away for a few minutes to calm down.

That being said, there are a variety of behaviors and techniques you can use to co-regulate with your partner. These include:

  • Taking their hand.
  • Giving them a hug.
  • Sitting next to them quietly.
  • Speaking in a soothing tone.
  • Just breathing together.
  • Finding calming music to listen to.
  • Maintaining eye contact.
  • Massaging them.

As you can see, this is a very physical list. That’s because co-regulation is, at its heart, incredibly physical. It’s about two nervous systems coming into contact. Being body to body.

The other important thing to remember is that it’s no use attempting to co-regulate with your partner if both of you are agitated and full of nervous energy. Because of this, the first step to achieving co-regulation is knowing how to self-regulate with techniques like meditation, breathwork, and other somatic (mind-body) practices.

A professional counselor can be a great source of education about practices to help you self-regulate and co-regulate – one of many ways that therapy can support the health and longevity of your relationship!


Walt Ciecko, Ph. D., BCB
605 Wynyard Rd
Wilmington, DE 19803