Can you Predict a Break Up?


Relationship Research and Divorce-Proof Marriage


Over the past twenty-plus years Dr. John Gottman has conducted an extensive study of long-term partnerships and married couples, seeking to understand how couples who break up and couples who create strong healthy relationships differ. Most of Gottman’s early work highlighted the relationship between marital stability and how couples handle conflict.


His more recent books focus on the importance of friendship and fondness as the primary factors that predict the health of a marriage. In other words, how partners behave with each other when they are not fighting is a telling measure of how they are with each other when they do fight.  And the tiny behaviors in day to day life can predict couples longevity.


This fall I will be outlining some of Dr. Gottman’s predictors of divorce that have to do with how couples communicate with each other about difficult issues, to help you be even stronger together long-term.  Use these posts to identify unhealthy relationship patterns you currently face- and make sustainable relationship change now.


Divorce Predictor 3: Emotional Flooding


When most of us encounter a stressful and threatening situation, our bodies react to help us deal with the danger. Our body temporarily shuts down non-essential systems, heightens our sensitivity to signs of danger and releases hormones that help us deal with stress.


Typically, this fight-or-flight response works for us when we have to fight an attacker, escape a burning house, or perform miraculous feats of strength. However, it also impairs our ability to process information and to think clearly before we speak—kind of important abilities when arguing with someone we love.


Dr. Gottman calls this emotional experience flooding. Flooding occurs for many of us when we argue.  It is heightened by the presence of the Four Horsemen.


You can notice the physical signs of flooding easily.  They include rapid heart rate (above 100 BPM), high blood pressure, sweating, and the overwhelming urge to either leave or to say something hurtful. When we emotionally flood, we seek mainly to protect ourselves, either by becoming aggressive or by trying to get away.


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Your challenge:


This week notice when and if emotional flooding shows up for either of you.  I often recommend couples take a break in the conflict when they start to experience signs of flooding.


When you are outside of a conflict conversation set a pre-determined time period for your breaks (I recommend at least 30 minutes to help regulate the physical symptoms of flooding).  During the break take time to journal, meditate, take a shower, go for a jog or walk, do something healthy separate from your partner to help you get clear.


When your time is up (and not before) check in with your partner.  Are you both ready to continue the conversation?  If so, now you have a chance to start without the harsh startup and with clear calm intention.  if not, set a time in the future when you can come back to the topic at hand.


Do your best to create the best atmosphere for conversation in your tone when you start the conversation and respond to your partner.


Read the other posts in this 4-part series here.

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