Think back to one of the last fights you had with your spouse. Put aside the “what” you were fighting about and zero in on how you felt. Were you “flooded” with intense emotion? Did you feel physically overwhelmed? Were your muscles tense, your palms sweaty? Was your heart pounding, your face hot and flushed? Was it difficult to think clearly? Did you attack your partner in a manner you later regretted?
Facing the tiger
It was almost as if you were face to face with a saber-toothed tiger!
And in fact, your body was reacting as if your partner was a man-(or woman) eating tiger. As conflict escalates, your brain automatically floods the body with adrenalin and other hormones to prepare you to either fight or flee. Reason and logic fly out the window. After all, when it comes to a dangerous tiger, common sense takes second place to survival.
But, of course, your spouse is not a saber-toothed tiger. And when you and your partner find yourself in this situation, no resolution is possible until you get over the “fight or flee” reaction to conflict.
Take a break
Marital researcher Dr. John Gottman recommends that couples both learn to recognize the physical signs of emotional flooding, and agree ahead of time to take at least a twenty-minute break when they sense such flooding. Why? Because it takes at least 20 minutes for the fight or flee hormones to subside once the body no longer senses danger. The break works even better if you do something relaxing instead of rehearsing how you will take up the argument again.
Once your body has returned to normal find your partner and continue the discussion. If your partner has also calmed down you will be in a much better position to have a productive conversation instead of an argument.