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Have you said something to a friend, partner, or relative, and they reacted significantly to your innocent words?

Maybe you wanted to offer a suggestion. Or talk about your finances. Or whose turn it is to watch the kids? But it triggered them?

A reaction like this happens when a person feels “emotionally flooded” or overwhelmed at the moment.

According to my friend and couples therapist, Dr. Sarah Salzman, Ph.D., flooding is when one person in a relationship feels overwhelmed with emotion and shock. This typically happens after receiving an unexpected comment, opinion, or suggestion from their partner. 

Most of the time, we’re in a balanced state. Not too negative. Not too positive. 

But sometimes, when we hear something that catches us off guard, we don’t handle the rush of emotions efficiently.

Hence, the flooding of emotions. 

This, more often than not, leads to arguments, bickering, and fights. 

How do you prevent this from happening to your relationship while leaving your communication open and safe to share feelings, opinions, and suggestions? 

Dr. Sarah Salzman wrote an excellent article about how she suggests lovers “fix the flooding” in their relationships.  Sarah is a Dr. John Gottman-trained therapist.

Here’s her article below. 


Margaret and Lorenzo were intimate one night, and Margaret realized, again, that she wanted him to hold her differently.  

She waited until the following day in the remaining glow of the night before and made her request.

She expected Lorenzo would welcome this information, but he replied, “What, you don’t like how I touch you?  So I’m doing it all wrong?” They suddenly found themselves in the middle of a fight.

What happened?!

You want to talk with your partner to let you feel heard, they will feel understood, and together you feel closer.

The crucial information in this article, and four clear, easy steps, help you not let conversations turn into fights.  You will learn how to have clear communication instead of conflict. 

Here’s what happened: Lorenzo was surprised by Margaret’s unexpected request, and this surprise registered as a threat to his safety in his body.

Humans and all animals are always on the alert in the deep part of their brains for signs of threats to their safety, and they are all wired to respond instantly to any imagined threat so that they can quickly protect themselves.

Although you and your partner usually have no physical threat, your bodies have only one response to all hazards – to turn on your emergency “Fight or Flight” response. That switch brings you out of your calm, peaceful “Rest and Digest” state.

“Fight or Flight” is the surge of hormones that floods through your body instantly to prepare you to fight, run away, or sometimes freeze.  If you’ve ever been hit by a car in traffic, seen the lights of a police car pulling you over, or been startled by a frightening animal, you know exactly how this feels.

One word for the feeling when the Fight or Flight response turns on is:  Flooding, or feeling Flooded.

So here’s the thing. You want to have a great, calm, connected conversation with your partner, and you don’t want to fight.

To communicate calmly, you have to use these four straightforward steps:

  1. Learn to recognize when your unique “Flooded” feeling begins in your body as early as possible before a big fight develops.
  2. Stop talking and take a break.
  3. Calm Down and Relax during that break until you’re no longer flooded, and then
  4. Talk later when you’re all the way relaxed again.

1. Learn to recognize your unique “Flooded” feelings

Sit quietly and think about the last time you remember getting into a fight with your partner or anyone else. How did your body feel?

  • Which muscles felt tense?
  • Did you feel hot or cold anywhere?
  • Did you feel your heart beat faster or harder?
  • Did you notice any feelings in your stomach, chest, throat, or face?

Continue taking note of the unique symptoms you’re flooded with as time goes on.  

Anytime you feel like you’re getting into a fight, or soon after you realize you were headed into a battle or got into a fight, take a few moments to note how your body felt.

Remember these feelings!  They are your early-warning signals that you’re getting Flooded.

2.  Stop talking and take a break

As soon as you recognize signals that you’re getting Flooded, stop talking, excuse yourself, and take a break.

And I mean – right away!  Don’t try to fix, explain, repeat yourself or have the last word.

Just stop.  Say: “Honey, I need to take a break.”

If you can say more words, you could say, “Honey, I feel myself getting flooded. I’m going to take a break and calm down. I’ll talk to you later.”

3.  Calm Down and Relax

I will share a few relaxation ideas to help you calm down.

The key to calming down when you’re flooded is to realize that your body has to calm down first, and then your mind will follow. You’re not able to calm your mind on its own… and you also have to step in and not let your mind dwell on the conversation that turned into a fight.

To focus on calming down your body, you can use your preferred method of deep relaxation if you have one or try out one or more new relaxation ideas. Whichever you choose, tell yourself to take deep breaths and say to yourself phrases such as “I’m calming down,” “I’m relaxing,” “I’m breathing slowly,” and “I’m letting it go.”

Here are some relaxation ideas for you to try:

  • meditation
  • deep breathing
  • soothing yoga
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • taking a hot bath or shower

4. Talk later when you’re relaxed again 

When you’re relaxed again — it usually takes 15-20 minutes — check with your partner and see if they feel comfortable too. Ask if they’re ready to talk again. If you’re not quite prepared, set aside a time to talk when you both start feeling calm and relaxed.

Now that you have the tools to relax, here’s what to do next time you realize you feel flooded:

  • Stop talking (no, really – STOP!)
  • Excuse yourself
  • Allow your body and mind to settle and calm. Remind yourself to breathe deeply and let any thoughts of the fight drift away
  • After about 20 minutes, you’re ready to return to your partner and ask for a do-over!

Once Lorenzo learned what to do, the next time Margaret said something that he heard as criticism, he was aware of his face feeling hot, clenching his jaw, and wanted to give her a piece of his mind. He recognized these feelings from times in the past when he felt flooded right before they ended up fighting.

Instead, he said:

“Hey sweetie, I just realized I’m flooded. I need to calm down. I’ll be back in a bit after I can relax,” and he left the room without getting into a fight.

Margaret realized she was flooded too, letting her mind wander peacefully, and her body relax.

Later, they tried again and had a much better conversation, and it went on this way for both of them.

When your body has sensed danger and turned on the Fight or Flight response, clear communication isn’t possible anymore.

You’ve learned that you need to pay attention to your flooding signals so that you can stop talking, take a break, relax and calm down, and then return to your partner when you’re both ready for a connected conversation.

I LOVE Dr. Sarah’s advice. 

Next time you feel like you’re getting “flooded” by an unexpected request, suggestion, or opinion, learn to STOP, calm down, and get back in a loving flow. 

Things like these are little ways to create the most amazing relationship ever. 

One Response

  1. Excellent advice. I’m one who when under stress or tired tends to go off (over react). I hate that. I did this yesterday and now see I didn’t take a long enough break or do the things to cool off before talking about the situation again. I just took a break and kept rehashing what had just happened that set me off. I think I understand what I need to do instead is to use the relaxation techniques. Thank you.

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