Marriage Moats-Flooding

Published: Mon, 03/21/11

Marriage Moats Caring for Marriage
This is not a good time to plant flowers on the riverbank.
A flood takes precedence over other plans that may have been neatly organized in your daily calendar. Do it later and deal with the water now.
John Gottman has studied marital exchanges. He says that no communication happens when we are flooded with emotion. One physiological indication that we cannot listen is our heart rate. If it is over 100 beats per minute, close your mouth. Ears shut down in the presence of too much feeling.
The other day I was with a room full of kids who were all talking at once. It was comical, really, that none of them seemed to notice that the air space was saturated with words. Bantering seemed to be the point, not being heard.  I decided to simply watch the show.
But in a relationship where two people actually need to work together, and feel understood, wait for the water level to go down. Take a time out. Go for a walk. Breathe. Look at each other. Remember. You are after all a highly evolved form of life and are capable of making a different choice than strong arming your words into your partner's ears. 
Gottman tried to create this in his research. He asked couples to start a discussion about a volatile subject while he videotaped them. In a few minutes their heart rates went up. They were shouting, which is not homogeneous with listening. Then he told them that there was a problem with the equipment, and to sit tight while he fixed it. This was not true. Yet it gave the couple a few minutes for the flooded feelings to subside. Then he told them that the problem was resolved and to resume fighting. But they were calmer, and they were able to speak as well as listen.
John Gottman may not be doing research in your personal living room, but you can. Find out what happens when you pause mid flood, and let the feelings subside.
Help your marriage be less of a comical show and more of a good place for planting flowers.

Photo by Caleb Kerr