- “We can’t even talk without fighting.”
- “I get so angry, I can’t see straight.”
- “It’s like we go from zero to sixty!”
- “I don’t even remember what we were fighting about, but I know it was ridiculous.”
Ever said these words or felt this way about your spouse or partner?
We hear from couples whose whole lives together have been characterized by these words and these kinds of scenarios. What should just be a simple conversation or discussion becomes a fight. Couples begin to live like they are enemies and adversaries rather than friends and lovers. The problem is likely “Diffuse Physiological Arousal” according to John Gottman, more commonly called the fight or flight reflex, or an intense emotional flooding.
Our bodies play a big role in our relationships, especially during difficult conversations and conflict. In highly conflicted or troubled relationships, normal conversations can trigger intense emotions that sometimes lead to the fight or flight reflex or flooding. You feel so stressed you become emotionally and physically overwhelmed and feel like you are in danger; you feel emotionally threatened. And so, you get a pounding heart, sweaty hands, irregular or shallow breathing. The mind races, you feel cornered, like an innocent victim. Anger gets turned up, voices get louder, and escalation increases.
Here is what is really happening:
- Reason and being logical is highly diminished.
- Hearing anything new, or even an apology is almost impossible.
- You can’t accept influence from your partner.
- There’s loss of the ability to be empathetic.
- Can’t be compassionate toward your partner.
- You find it hard to be understanding.
Think about it. If you flood, you CANNOT have a good conversation, it will always go bad. You’re no longer able to think clearly, or to participate in the conversation in a fruitful way.
So what do you do?
Take a break, do something that you find soothing for at least twenty minutes:
- Go for a walk
- Take a drive
- Run or work out
- Read a book
- Pray or meditate
- Engage in deep, diaphragmatic breathing
- Do muscle tension relaxation exercises
- Anything that is healthy that calms you down and gives you peace
Knowing yourself and your body well is the key to not flooding in the first place. Many people who flood do not have the ability to control themselves once they are flooded. Each person should evaluate their triggers and signs of flooding in order to prevent bad conversations and fights. Start now.
Evaluate Yourself and Your Emotions
Ask yourself these questions originally designed by John Gottman in his book The Relationship Cure. These may help you evaluate your potential to flood and give insight into your actions and reactions:
- What typically happens just before you start to feel flooded?
- How is your body reacting? Heat? A rising up of emotion? Nervousness? Mind jumbled?
- Are there particular words, actions, or topics that seem to trigger you to flood?
- What could happen in an intense conversation to help you not flood?
- Are upsetting subjects brought up harshly in your conversations?
- Do either of you tend to store-up problems and try to deal with them all at once?
- Can you do a better job of handling your problems one at a time?
- What can you do to soothe yourself when you feel irritable, scared, or angry?
- What can you do to soothe each other?
- Develop a signal to use when either of you feels flooded? (A word or gesture that signals you need a time-out.)
- Can you take breaks? What can you do during these breaks to calm down?
Understanding the dynamic of flooding in your relationship may just be the key in changing your conflict! What could you do to either not flood emotionally or deal with this when it happens? (answer in the Disqus box below – gotta sign up first but it’s confidential)