Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beware Emotional Flooding

All couples fight or have to work through conflict at times.It's normal. I am always concerned if a couple tells me they never disagree. Either someone is brain dead or afraid to speak up. What matters most to me about couples and conflict as a structural family therapist is HOW the couple moves through the conflict. Can they disagree while staying respectful of each other and their relationship? It's been said that all couples have a few perpetual unresolveable issues. What marks a successful relationship is being able to discuss those differences without threats,nastiness,or a need to win every time. Afterall, do you want to win, or do you want to be happy? Being a couple is like being a part of a team, and you've got to have your partner's back,rather than go gunning for them.

One of the most important concepts I learned from doing some training with University of Washington psychologist and couples researcher John Gottman is that of emotional flooding.Gottman ran a "Love Lab" at the university,where couples' interactions were studied as they interact with each other and live there for a brief time.Each partners' heart rate and other physiological responses are monitored throughout their stay.

Gottman and his team identified a pattern that was dangerous to couples' relationship survival.If the male partner frequently experienced "emotional flooding" during the couples interactions it negatively skews the chances of the couple making it long-term. Emotional flooding is a state of overwhelm where the individual may get flushed,stressed,physiologically agitated,and have a desire to do fight or flight.Note to all partners: when you are working through a conflict with your beloved,pay attention to your partners' non-verbal cues.Don't overwhelm them.Offer to take a break so you can both calm down. Research on stress and anger tells us that the human body usually needs 20 to 30 minutes of cool down time to release a high level of tension. You and your partner could adjourn and meet up later when you are both calmer and can be more constructive.

Conflict is completely normal and healthy,because two individual people will have competing core needs at times.Losing control,screaming threats,or making below-the-belt comments is not healthy. Unbridled anger can emotionally flood your partner and put the relationship at risk. Be smart.Watch for flooding,and when you see it, know to stop and cool down.You don't wanted your beloved to associate you with high levels of emotional distress and negative biological sensation.

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