I’m so mad I could just scream!
I wanna murder somebody!
Like it or not, we all have emotions
You can try to deny it and say you don’t; but, good luck.
And no matter what, we’re always communicating those thoughts and feelings!
The one that gets the most bad press is Anger
The Gottman’s in their LoveLab and other researchers have determined that at roughly 95 BPM (Beats Per Minute) and above, we get emotionally flooded and overwhelmed. This is also known as Fight or Flight Response. The Gottman’s refer to this as Diffuse Physiological Arousal. And it’s not a good thing.
Typically, when we reach this point in our relationships, things are about to get ugly. Our instincts take over and we react to defend ourselves either through fighting back, running away or shutting down. Our body starts to engage a set of procedures designed for protection – Heart Rate, Breathing Rate and Body Temperature all go up. This is because your body needs blood and oxygen to function and the harder it has to work to keep up the hotter you are going to get. In addition, your body starts to kick out stress chemicals – Adrenaline and Noradrenaline – This is the extra fuel you need to fight back or run away. As all of these things go up, other things go down in order to counterbalance and maintain regulation. On the down side, our body siphons blood away from our brains to send towards our hands and feet (Fight = Hands, Flight = Feet). Blood going away from the brain means oxygen going away from the brain. This translates into not being able to think as clearly, communicate as well, compromise, etc.
Most people don’t know they’re even doing it until it’s too late. I often refer to the concept of Ready, Fire, Aim or Shoot First and Ask Questions Later. Afterwards, when the dust is settling it’s easy to see, “Wow. That got out of hand fast!”. In the moment it’s a lot harder to stop the train once it’s left the station.
The automatic rule is, if either you or your partner hits emotional flooding, call a time out and get away from one another. Nothing you will say or do at that point is going to have much positive effect.
The key is to talk with your partner beforehand and determine specific language for calling a timeout. The understanding is that calling a timeout trumps anything else that is being said or done. It’s automatic! It’s hard enough to call a timeout. It’s even harder to respect the timeout and back off! Understand that if you can respect the timeout and back off for 30-40 minutes, you and your partner will be more likely to repair and work through the conflict much faster and easier than if you had tried to force it during the period of emotional flooding.
Another key is to work to develop a number of positive coping skills. These are things that aren’t damaging to you or your partner. Things like working out, reading, journaling, prayer and meditation, taking a shower/bath, walking your dog, taking a nap, etc. (Alcohol, drugs, and completely avoidance do not qualify as positive)
That’s where a little bit of discussion, self-awareness and practice become crucial.
It’s important to know what your warning signs are for when emotional flooding is imminent. What do you typically do when you get angry? Some people clench their jaw or their fists, some people get shaky or jittery and can’t sit still. Some get flushed and feel warm all over. To help, think about what your body typically does when you exercise a significant amount.
Next, think about what your partner’s signs are. How do you know when they have hit their boiling point? This is important to pay attention to for future. It’s vital that you not use any criticism (or other 4 Horsemen) for your partner’s reactions to conflict as this is often learned from their childhood. ***This is not referring to abusive reactions to conflict. If your partner is using emotionally or physically abusive responses to conflict you should contact a counselor or domestic violence shelter***
One exercise that I use in my counseling practice is called an Anger Genogram. This looks at what your own and your partner’s anger currently looks like as well as what did anger look like in each persons family life growing up. Discuss questions such as – How did each person in your family express anger? When that family member got angry, how did everyone else respond? What was the worst memory of anger in your family? Be very careful if you attempt to discuss this outside of a counseling session.
Remember that the key is to know when you or your partner is hitting emotional flooding and to be able to communicate in order to take a timeout before hitting the 4 Horsemen.
Up Next: Relationship 911 – Rebuilding Your LoveMaps