107142789 1666985213388 Gottmans c The Gottman Institute 1

As psychologists, we’ve studied more than 40,000 couples about to begin couples therapy.

We’ve also been happily married to each other for 35 years, so we know a thing or two about how to build a successful, long-lasting relationship. But that doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes. We argue, we get frustrated, we snap at each other. We’re human.

Still, there is one thing we’ve learned to never ever do: fight when we are emotionally flooded.

What is emotional flooding?

Emotional flooding is when you feel psychologically and physically overwhelmed. It often happens when our body senses danger during a conflict, and it prevents us from having productive conversations.

We’ve found that it’s a common pattern in unhappy relationships.

Everyone has their own built-in meter that measures how much negativity and fear they can take in at a single moment. When it becomes too much, the nervous system goes into overdrive and we essentially enter “fight or flight” mode.

Here are some signs of emotional flooding:

  • Your heart races and you feel out of breath.
  • Your jaw or muscles clench.
  • You have a hard time hearing your partner.
  • You struggle to focus on anything outside of your own racing thoughts.
  • You want to scream and say negative things, run away, or ignore your partner.

These behaviors can harm both your partner’s trust in you and the foundations of your relationship. You may stop communicating altogether and start to resent each other.

How to avoid flooding while fighting 

It’s okay to fight in your relationship

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