When our fight-or-flight instinct gets triggered during an argument, we tend to get vicious and go for the jugular. The kicker is, we don’t even mean much of the (shudderingly awful) stuff that comes out of our mouths. But once it escapes, we can’t take it back. Gottman calls this being “emotionally flooded” because it feels like giant waves of feelings are knocking us down and washing away our ability to react like a rational human being. Of course, once the storm is over, our relationships feel like soggy, sloppy disasters.
Try this instead:
Take a walk to cool off. Biologically speaking, it takes the average person at least 20 minutes to calm down once they are flooded. If you can, hit pause on the argument and leave the room. But while you’re out, don’t stew, text your friend a blow-by-blow of what just happened, or mentally build your case against your partner. Instead, try to picture them in a positive moment or recall a loving memory. If you can’t physically walk away, then look inward and acknowledge to yourself that you are becoming flooded and you probably shouldn’t trust the wild, rage-fueled narrative your mind is currently spinning. Remember these feelings are temporary. We love this image from therapist Stephanie Manes: “Picture your racing thoughts as a cloud of sand that has been kicked up in the water. Wait for the sand to sink back down to the seabed, leaving clear water. As your frantic thoughts subside, your nervous system can calm down, too.” The idea behind walking away is not to shut out or abandon your partner, but to self-soothe until you get to a point where you can productively and even lovingly talk to them.