Love & Relationship

Does Flooding Play a Role in Your Perpetual Conflict?


Perpetual conflict is having the same arguments or disagreements over and over again. It can feel exhausting and frustrating to have the same fight day after day with your partner. 

Is flooding to blame?

Before you deal with the conflict, it may help to assess if flooding could be getting in your way. Flooding or Diffuse Physiological Arousal is the body’s alarm system to help you escape a perceived threat. When physical harm threatens you, like a speeding car through a crosswalk, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. Adrenaline surges through your body to prepare to fight the threat or get away quickly. Your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, digestion slows down, blood pressure increases, and it’s all to help you to safety. If a car is about to hit you, this is especially useful as it gives you extra strength and focus to get out of the way. Once you are safe, the adrenaline leaves your body and you begin to relax. 

When there is no threat of harm, flooding can be damaging to your body over time. All the adrenaline builds up without release, you feel anxious and stressed, and you can’t focus to listen or speak clearly. If in the middle of a conflict with your partner, flooding can derail what the problem is and create more problems. It’s common to say things you don’t mean when flooded, and this can cause a new conflict. 

Signs of flooding

Here are some signs that flooding might be an issue in your perpetual conflict:

  • You or your partner don’t feel heard by each other.
  • You often say things you don’t really mean.
  • Your voice raises.
  • You interrupt or talk over your partner.
  • You feel out of breath.
  • Your heart races and you may feel like you are having a panic attack.
  • You stonewall, withdraw, or shut down during conflict.
  • You feel very defensive.
  • You use contempt towards your partner.

How to reduce flooding

Luckily, you can manage flooding with a little practice and persistence. First, recognize when you or your partner is flooded as soon as it starts. If you catch it as soon as possible, you can use the following techniques to reduce the flooding and return to problem-solving.

  • Come up with a key phrase to use to initiate a flooding time-out.
  • Use the phrase when you notice you or your partner are flooded.
  • Take at least 20 minutes, but no more than 24 hours to separate.
  • While separated, do something self-soothing, relaxing, or distracting. This is especially important. To reduce all the side effects of flooding, your body needs a way to release the adrenaline, stress, and tension. This can be something like taking a walk, doing a guided meditation, deep breathing, listening to music, reading, or coloring.
  • Don’t stew. This is not a time to replay the argument or think about how you would like to respond once the time out is over. Redirect your thoughts to calming and soothing your body and mind.
  • If your time-out is up and you still feel flooded, repeat the process until you feel calm enough to talk.

Once you’ve mastered recognizing the signs of flooding and taking a time-out, you can focus on the perpetual problem. It may help to sit down with a therapist so they can help you find the dreams and needs behind your conflict.


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