by David Linn, ACSW, LMFT, BCD
Believe it or not these could be the most important words in you marriage. "Flooded" is a descriptive phase coined by John Gottman, a marital researcher, for an emotional state marked by thought blocking and confusion, emotional frustration and negativity, and behavioral aggressiveness or withdrawal. At the end of this article you can test yourself on your flooding propensities.
Obviously this mood state can be very dangerous relationally because it generally occurs during discussions, arguments or other kinds of conflict. It is at these times,
we are not inclined to be on our best behavior. We can become explosive with name calling and swearing. Or engage in stonewalling using the silent treatment and become contemptuous exercising our best sarcastic wit.
When flooded we experience extremes in emotions and the impulse to act accordingly. Unfortunately, recent brain function research confirms the neurological struggles we have in moving from reactive dangerous moods to proactive engaging mind frames.
Jack Panksepp, a neuropsychologist, holds that feelings of rage and fear, frequently evident with couples in dispute, are not just passing emotions, but rather like "complex neurochemical cascades" that are not quickly responsive to willful attempts to modify.
Sounds like bad news when we are trying to create a relationship that is positive and tolerant even in the face of conflict.
The good news is that it can be done. The real bad news is that it takes some effort. You do know this intuitively. Remember during your last argument how hard it was for you to exercise restraint, to "take the high road" with your mate.
We must acknowledge our mood states and then soothe ourselves through them.
Gottman recommends conflict disengagement; that is, both parties agree to stop talking and possibly separate to different rooms until flooding can be significantly reduced. The flooded one needs to relax and think of non-conflict issues until calm. Rehearsing negative and argumentative thoughts is not recommended. The other mate must work on patience, self-calming and soothing as well. Following the flooded one around making provocative comments is definitely not recommended.
Remember this action is in the service of marital accord in reducing destructive interactions. This action is not is the service of marital discord by stonewalling and essentially "blowing-off" the mate through the use of the well known phrase: "I won't talk about it".
Re-engagement must occur in a timely fashion, say 15 minutes to 2 hours, to resume productive discussion of the contested issue. The now calmed previously flooded one must initiate re-engagement.
Here is a shortened version of Gottman's flooding self test. Answer "yes" or "no" to each question:
- At times when my partner gets angry, I get confused.
- Our discussions get far too heated.
- I have a hard time calming down when we discuss disagreements.
- I am worried that one of us is going to say something we will regret.
- After a fight I want to keep away for a while.
- I can't think straight when my partner gets so negative.
- I think "Why can't we talk things out logically".
- My partner's negative mood comes out of nowhere.
- I feel cold and empty after one of our fights.
- Small issues suddenly become big ones for no apparent reason.
- I cannot settle down after one of our fights.
- My partner's feelings are easily hurt.
If you answered "yes" four times or more, you are likely to get flooded.
It is extremely important to note the way we talk about things and the way we manage ourselves in conflict is as important at any decision we consequently make.
Take heed of your score. You could be very dangerous in your relationship.