It’s not if you fight, it’s how you fight
Keep Flooding at Bay
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: It’s not if you fight, it’s how you fight.
Marriage joins two people with different personalities, processing, and communication styles, childhood influences and experiences — and disagreements are inevitable. Accordingly, equipping yourself with knowledge about the best and healthiest ways to disagree is a smart investment in marriage.
Sometimes though, a difficult disagreement is compounded by other aggravating factors (think tiredness, hormonal overdrive, stress at work or at home, etc.) and can lead to emotional flooding and overdrive. This can happen without much warning and can feel very overwhelming.
Imagine the following scenario:
Shimmy: “I can’t believe your brother didn’t come tonight! Everyone else had to change their schedules to show up for your parents’ anniversary dinner, but Reuven, the golden boy, gets to just skip? Niiice….”
Layala hears Shimmy’s criticism of her parents and her brother and feels angry and dysregulated by her husband’s sarcasm. She feels a sudden rush of fear, anger, possibly shame and panic, and loses her sense of equilibrium. What Layala is feeling is called emotional flooding.
Unlike ordinary upset feelings, this type of flooding shuts down the thinking parts of our brain and pushes our brain into fight, flight, or freeze mode.
Renowned marriage psychologist Dr. John Gottman explains this emotional hijacking as the hallmark of our nervous system in overdrive. Something happens in your interaction with your spouse that sets off your internal threat-detection system, and you lose the ability to maintain rational thought.
We’ve spoken about the fight, flight, freeze response. What works in nature as a bid for survival doesn’t work as well in your kitchen in an argument with your spouse. Fight can mean angry, ugly words and insults; flight might mean storming out of the room or giving the silent treatment; and freeze can mean just shutting down and retreating into oneself.
Flooding can escalate arguments intensely, and once you’ve returned to yourself, can leave you wondering why you reacted the way you did.
How can we avoid the negative effects of arguing while emotionally flooded?
Awareness: Maintaining awareness that you are experiencing flooding is probably the most helpful tactic in navigating it. If you accept the idea that whatever perception of your spouse you’re experiencing is probably unreliable during flooding, you may have a chance of pulling yourself back.
Take a time-out. When you feel the onset of flooding, it would be a good idea to pause heated discussion. Explain: “I’m feeling flooded, can we please put this on hold?” You can also use a code word devised during calmer times or literally just call “time-out.”
It’s important to note that someone with an anxious style of attachment might have a hard time allowing their spouse to end the discussion, perceiving it as abandonment on some level. So if you’re calling a time-out, it’s important to follow up with a time to regroup: “I’m feeling flooded and need a time-out. This conversation is important but I can’t think straight right now. I’d like to continue later tonight or tomorrow to hear your perspective.”
Self-soothe: This is best done during a time-out. Try a walk, a shower, a nap, positive self-talk, a cold drink, jumping jacks, or music — anything that pulls you out of the survival response and grounds you in the moment.
Picture your spouse at his/her best: During a deactivation period, after you have soothed yourself, try to remind yourself of positive things that you appreciate about your spouse. Maybe it’s of your last date night, or a favor done with grace. Try shifting your focus to this image when you feel trapped in a negative story.
If and when you do feel flooded, be gentle with yourself — your brain and body were just doing their best to protect you. A good next step would be trying to find the root of the feelings that set off this reaction so you can address it in a healthy way.
Abby Delouya, RMFT-CCC, CPTT is a licensed marriage and individual therapist with a specialty in trauma and addiction.
Imperfect by Design
You left the keys in the ignition and your car was taken for a joyride. You yelled at your toddler. You pushed off visiting your sick aunt until it was too late.
Actions taken or neglected, words spoken or unspoken, errors in judgment… in hindsight, we often realize we didn’t handle things the way we would’ve liked to. In other words, we made a mistake. We were less than perfect. And that lack of perfection often leads to guilt.
When it comes to parenting, our lack of perfection can spiral into errors with huge ramifications — which can lead to enormous guilt.
When guilt leads to shame, anxiety, isolation, depression, low self-esteem, or other forms of self-flagellation, it can be crippling. Though we’re the ones holding the whip, we try to escape the sting by overcompensating, detaching, or escaping.
While we obviously benefit from examining our mistakes to improve ourselves, self-flagellation is counterproductive. A more useful approach to self-improvement is a combination of self-honesty and self-compassion (not to be confused with resignation). With this dynamic duo, we can begin to view mistakes as opportunities to do it better next time.
The fact is, if Hashem wanted us to be perfect, He would’ve created us that way. And the corollary is: If Hashem wanted our kids to have perfect parents, He would have provided them.
Even if you made big parenting mistakes, pointing fingers of blame and shame at yourself helps no one. You can take responsibility for your mistakes, even big ones, and still allow that Hashem runs the world. You are responsible for your efforts, not the results. Therefore, you can’t accept the blame for your kids’ failures, just as you can’t accept credit for their successes.
We are not incidentally or accidentally flawed. We are imperfect by design.
Shoshana Schwartz specializes in addiction and codependency. She gives in-person and online addiction prevention lectures and workshops to education and mental health professionals, community leaders, and parent groups, as well as 12-Step workshops for non-addicts.
The Gift of the Present
“IFwe value the getting there just as much as the being there, then each moment will be just as precious as the next.” — Unknown
Growth and healing take us on a journey; a beautiful, sometimes rocky, windy path that we tread as we try to attain goals, visions, recovery, or repairs. Intellectually we probably know that growth is not linear, yet many of us have a hard time with the process.
When women are working on their relationship with food, body, and self, they are engaged in a healing process, a journey that requires time, patience, and compassion every step along the way. I encourage women to focus less on “getting there” (i.e., losing the weight, stopping bingeing, listening to hunger and fullness cues, etc.) and instead to stay grounded in the present.
An easy way to remember this tool is to “drop the T.” When you remove the T from the word there, you are here. You are in the moment, you are working on yourself a day at a time, a moment at a time, a victory at a time.
There might be ups and downs, successes and setbacks, but when we learn to embrace the here instead of focusing on the there, we can allow ourselves to experience the steps of growth without frustration.
Dropping the T allows ourselves to enjoy the gift of the moment.
Shira Savit, MA, MHC, INHC is a mental health counselor and integrative nutritionist who specializes in emotional eating, binge eating, and somatic nutrition. Shira works both virtually and in person in Jerusalem.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 846)
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