In difficult times it is super important to be able to handle problems and arguments in a constructive way. However, when we get upset, we cannot think clearly, and it can cause couples to go into a downward spiral. We tend to just defend our own point of view, and not listen to theirs.
It is useful to know that we have an emotional (old) brain and a rational (new) brain. The old brain, emotional brain, is with us for longer. We have it when we are born, and it protects us against danger throughout our life. It gets triggered when we feel ‘unsafe’, and then we respond with the fight/flight/freeze response.
Then we have our rational brain, which is our thinking brain. It isn’t fully developed until we are about 25 or so. You can only use one brain at a time.
When we are in a stressful situation or difficult conversation, our old brain can get triggered. And even though we are not in imminent danger, we still respond with the flight/fright/freeze response. This is referred to as flooding. When one partner floods, it often also triggers the other person to flood. This means you then have two 2-year-olds fighting, solely relying on their emotional brains, just like toddlers do. Both not using their thinking brain, which is not effective when we want to get to a solution.
You are both now just defending your own point of view and this can lead to arguments and it will just go into a downward spiral. So how can we make sure we prevent flooding? Or stop flooding from when it is happening.
Your partner is struggling, they are in pain. Often, this has nothing to do with you, you are just there, in their path. You are the one who is receiving the flooding response. You can depersonalise it and e.g. see your partner like a bee that stings you. The bee didn’t set out to sting you, but you were there in its way.
COMPASSIONATELY & CURIOUSLY LISTEN
Really listen to your partner with compassion and love. Be curious about why they see things differently. Try to see where your partner is coming from. Why are they seeing it that way? Don’t get angry that they don’t agree but be curious as to why. Stop the right fighting, when one wins, you both lose. You are not more right than your partner, it is just different. Their perception is their reality, and your perception is yours. Be curious to what their reality is.
FROM PROBLEM TO SOLUTION
Many mention the problem, for your partner to then figure out the solution. Now try to leave out the problem all together and simply ask for the solution. Your partner can’t smell or mindread what you want or need. Just ask for what you do want, without mentioning what you don’t want. If your partner mentions their problem, try to look behind the problem and see what it is they are longing for.
If you feel like you or your partner are flooding, call a TIME OUT and start again half an hour later or so, don’t leave them hanging. It takes at least 20 minutes for the emotional brain to settle down and for you to be able to switch to your thinking brain.