What’s going on here?
Don’t you just love confrontation? No, really… Do you enjoy it? Or do you hate it and try to avoid it? When you’re frustrated and upset with your spouse, partner or others, do you yell, keep it to yourself, take it out on the dog, cat, or neighbor? Maybe you feel dread in the pit of your stomach, your hands start sweating, your heart beats faster, and a pressure in your chest makes it difficult to breathe. Well, I have news for you. You could be experiencing what Drs. John and Julie Gottman call “Flooding.” Making marriage work means recognizing this and working to overcome it.
Fight, flight, or freeze?
Flooding is what occurs when your body is going through fight, flight, or freeze during a confrontation. Technically, flooding is the “sensation of feeling psychologically and physically overwhelmed during conflict” (The Gottman Institute). This is a physiological response, not an emotional reaction.
When this happens, couples tend to become gridlocked in conflict and repeat the same patterns or behaviors. Unfortunately their current way of interacting or communicating, which leads to flooding, only gets worse over time – unless they are able to identify it and take some simple steps to improve.
Defensiveness, Criticism, Contempt, and Stonewalling are indicators that couples are engaging in a harmful way of communicating that could become the “new normal.” Being able to identify these behaviors in yourself as an individual could help your relationship. As individuals, we can be quick to point a finger, but in relationships it takes two to make it work.
Creating a better communication style
Being able to practice how to approach your partner before bringing something up can make a huge difference in the outcome of that conversation. Which is exactly what happens in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work workshop. Here are a few helpful tips from the workshop for changing up your relationship communication style. Try them and who knows, you might discover something new about yourself and your partner.
- Save the conversation for a calm moment and remember that your “right time” might not be your partner’s “right time.”
- Set the tone of how the conversation is going to go. If you start harshly, well…you know what the outcome will look like. Try starting with a soft approach and tone without blaming. You may find this softer approach leads to a more productive conversation.
- Stick to one topic at a time.
- Avoid these conversations when there are likely to be interruptions. Or if you’re under stress. Or even “hangry.”
- Pay attention to your body; make sure you’re not flooded (fight, flight, or freeze). If you notice you are becoming flooded, let your partner know. Then take some time to step away, self-soothe, and regulate.
- After self-soothing, come back to the conversation. Be sure to return no sooner than 20 minutes, but no longer than 24 hours after the initial attempt.
- Pay attention to all of the positives (NOT negatives) your partner does day-to-day and keep a list.
Do these things and you’ll notice some positive changes. And remember the only person you can control is yourself. Stay committed and keep on the path. Continue to invest in your relationship. You invest in other things, how much more important it is to invest in the things that last.
Moving forward with confidence
We’d love to help you learn more about building a solid relationship of communication with your spouse. Check out The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work intensive workshop at Family Strategies Counseling Center. This workshop includes the Gottman Assessment for couples and has helped literally thousands of couples strengthen their relationships. We want to help you!
If you’d like more information about couples counseling, call our office at (480) 668-8302 and speak with one of our amazing client care specialists.