It’s normal—even healthy—to get angry with your partner from time to time. He forgot to put the toilet seat down. You left the dirty dishes in the sink. Little annoyances can trigger irritation in you or your partner. But when your anger gets out of control and your good judgment is overtaken, then you are bound to say and do things that can be detrimental to your relationship.
When you have a strong angry reaction, your nervous system hijacks your brain and sends signals that you’re being threatened. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase and you are on high-alert. You feel overwhelmed. You’re experiencing “flooding.”
This is when you react quickly, angrily, intensely. Likely there’s something in your background that triggered you to respond so strongly. Often, it’s a negative event in your past that reminds you of your current situation. But at the moment, it’s happening to you; you are so overtaken that you cannot access rational thinking.
If you’re with your partner when flooding takes place, it can be bewildering, because behavior doesn’t match the circumstances. If your partner’s flooding, you probably think he’s overreacting. What’s he being so over-the-top for? He’s acting crazy. But in fact, he’s not in control, and through no fault of his own. His body is responding to what it perceives as danger. There’s a lot more going on than whatever it is you’re arguing about.
An Ounce of Prevention
The difficult thing about flooding is, you or your partner—whoever is going through the experience—will not be in control. So, if it’s you, try to notice and identify flooding in yourself. If it’s your partner, you are the one in control, so you can help him identify what’s going on with him. Then take a break.
The important thing is to establish this preventive strategy in advance. Agree that you will take a time-out before things escalate. You might want to create a password or signal that you will both recognize as break time. And agree in advance about how much time you will take. Perhaps a minimum of 20 minutes is good, which will give your emotions time to settle down. Use the time to take your mind off your disagreement. Distract yourself by taking a walk or listening to music or whatever works for you. Anything to keep you from ruminating and stoking your anger.
When you’re both feeling ready, it’s important to try, try, try again. You need to resolve whatever issue that made you fight to begin with. And you need to discuss why you or your partner became overwhelmed with emotion. What buttons were pushed, and why? You can both talk about this without judgment and with plenty of compassion. After all, we are all wired to protect ourselves. We all want to feel safe.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact