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What to do When Flooded

It is not uncommon to become emotionally flooded during conflict with our partner. But without steps to respond to it, it is sadly very common for emotional injuries to occur because of it. Developing a ritual with your partner around flooding can provide a reliable way to navigate these previously uncharted waters.

Develop a ritual

Consider the following steps to plan with your partner while you are both calm and not engaging in conflict:

  1. Provide a stop signal to your partner. Discuss what this signal might be when you both are in a neutral or positive place. It is not advisable to discuss this when you are already amidst conflict.
  2. When the signal is given by either partner, stop all interaction. Even if one partner wants to continue, it actually risks causing more harm to continue the conversation. 
  3. Separate for at least 20-30 minutes in order to self-soothe and establish a time to check back in. This could be in 30 minutes, in 2 hours or at dinner. This is to ensure both partners know this conversation can and will be continued. It implies that your feelings and needs on this issue are valid and worthy of revisiting; it just might not be doable at this moment. When we reach DPA, it takes time for our bodies to settle back to their normal state. This can sometimes take more than 30 minutes and that is okay.
  4. Practice self-soothing. Engage in an activity that will effectively distract you from the conflict and help you return to a non-flooded state. This is so your body and mind can get back to a place where productive communication can occur. If we continue to think about the interaction, how we want to respond, or ways to get back at our partner, this will only maintain our DPA and invite further conflict upon re-engaging with our partner. Consider having exercises available for when you experience flooding. These might include meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, body scans, walking or running, reading, or playing a game.
  5. Re-engage and repair is essential. If we do not come back to the conversation, the implication is that the issue and each of your feelings about it don’t matter. Over time, these interactions may get swept under the rug only to build up to be tripped on later down the line. Re-engage with a repair such as “I’m sorry I got so upset, are you ready to talk about what happened?”. Or, “I’m feeling calmer and ready to talk, how about you?”. If one or both of you are not ready, let your partner know and establish a new time to check back in. This is still progress due to communicating your needs for space, acknowledging the importance of revisiting the topic, and self-soothing in between. This sets your relationship up for success by you both arriving at this conversation more prepared and clear-minded.

Though naming our experience of flooding is crucial, so is coming back to process a conflict or find a resolution. Leaving a conflict after there has been emotional injury or before clarity was provided can lead to resentment over time. Consider attending couples therapy to process previous fights or carefully create a ritual that works for you both. A ritual around flooding can ensure both partners feel cared for and heard, even after things may have escalated.