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The Calming Factor: When Emotions Flood Your Marriage

Couples Counseling


The Calming Factor:  When Emotions Flood Your Marriage


Daily challenges can contribute to conflicts in your marriage. This is not unusual.  It is natural for all couples to experience conflicts.  Psychologist Dr. John Gottman theorized that “lasting emotional relationships do not exist without chronic conflict.”  In fact, it is considered more unusual for a marriage not to have reasons to argue.  He says, “The absence of conflict is a sign of an emotional distance, so great as to preclude an authentic relationship.”

Therefore, expect conflicts to be an element persistently present in your relationship.  To be able to handle them well and for your marriage to last, you should stay calm when conflicts arise.  Unfortunately, staying calm is very challenging, particularly when the issues question the principles and beliefs you or your partner holds dear.  Do not underestimate the rush of emotional currents these conflicts and varying views can trigger.  To bring in the calming factor during times like this, think “neutral.”  Resolving marital differences is possible with marriage counseling.


The Most Harmful Attitudes to a Marriage

Dr. Gottman explains that there are four attitudes that can stimulate a couple’s “emotional brains,” so you may either withdraw or hurl heartless responses in anger.  What are these attitudes or harsh ways to communicate?  They are criticism, contempt, counterattack, and stonewalling. Without doing anything to change these attitudes, they can all potentially overwhelm you, emotionally flooding your marriage.

Criticism usually comes to the fore when a person is angry.  It is a generally destructive approach to a marital conflict as it focuses on the character of your spouse rather than on a mistake or a behavior.  The criticism is also usually based upon the sense of right or wrong of just one spouse.  It uses blame and is unhealthy because it isn’t focused on improvement. Rather, it is building resentment in the one who is criticized and who feels controlled.  The tendency then, is for the critical partner to be frustrated and to be more critical.

Contempt is the most harmful of the attitudes.  It can manifest itself in insults, underhanded behaviors, and sarcasm.  Shock and disdain may also show in the form of facial expressions and body language – smirking, eyes rolling, or yawning.  No words are used to send these hurtful messages across.

Criticism and contempt are so hurtful the other spouse is likely to counterattack, verbally or physically.  Either way, it isn’t a healthy way to facilitate a healthy resolution of the conflict at hand.  To avoid extreme expressions of anger and resentment, stonewalling could be resorted to.  Unfortunately, it can only buy temporary peace, but not address the underlying issues.  In fact, experts consider it a sign of a declining marital relationship.


Signs of Emotional Flooding

When do you know that your marital issues are still manageable and when do you consider its magnitude has gone beyond what you can repair yourself?  Check out the magnitude of its impact in your thinking, behavior, and perspectives.  If the magnitude has reached the level when all you can feel is negativity, it is best to seek the help of a marriage counselor. Dr Gottman refers to this state as “emotional hijacking.”

When you and your spouse are “emotionally hijacked,” your nervous system gets flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that are released when you are stressed or anxious. Your reaction when this happens is akin to the signs of “fight or flight” anxiety symptoms, says Nurturing Marriage. “The diverted blood that fuels rational thinking goes to your muscles, so you can fight or flee.”   You may experience:

  • Tautness or tension of the muscles and a clenched jaw
  • Jitters and shaking hands
  • Dryness of the mouth
  • Sweating and flushed skin
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Heavy, rapid breathing and shallow breaths
  • Tunnel vision


These responses are biologically instinctive and, therefore, difficult to understand.  As an “animal” you are primed to respond defensively to protect yourself from a perceived danger.  As a human being, you can “rein in” your emotions.  So, instead of letting out a cascade of hurting, angry utterances, you may choose to fight back by stonewalling.  Unfortunately, neither reaction is a healthy one. 


The Emotionally Flooded Marriage

Biologically, when men get emotionally flooded, they stay that way longer than women.  They are more alert and usually resort to stonewalling to bring calmness and a sense of relief. Women, by comparison, can calm down faster, but the husband’s stonewalling response can agitate the problem more.  Despite these differences, there is one common thing when you and your spouse are flooded, it can change the way you see things around you as you lose your calmness. This makes it difficult to maintain a happy, enduring marriage.

Intrinsically, both of you can react to emotional flooding like our “caveman” ancestors – fighting a saber-toothed tiger like there is no tomorrow.  When you are reacting “under the influence” of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, you can create more issues than you can solve.  It can be nearly impossible to be sensible or calm in this situation.

You may have the tendency to “catastrophize” everything, always thinking of the worst.  Being distressed is your “normal,” so you have difficulty achieving peace, calmness and happiness.  With these attitudes, it is difficult to have a happy marriage and home.  This is why you must seek help to reduce your emotional flooding.


Facing the Emotional Flooding in Your Marriage

Too many marriages have succumbed to emotional flooding which have led to separation or divorce.  It may seem like the only alternative is to stay in an unhappy marriage.  This is because flooding works like overwhelm – it can take on a life of its own.  This means it may be difficult to react appropriately and be extremely challenging to stay calm when you get into another argument with your spouse.  This also means both of you will be reacting, rather than responding, causing you to do or say things that you don’t really mean or will regret later. 

When your marriage becomes emotionally flooded, seek help to resolve your marital issues.  The conflicts and the ensuing arguments can happen so often, you may not recognize the symptoms of overwhelm.  You can also be so engrossed in your unhappiness you don’t see the inevitable coming. This situation is detrimental and can capsize your marriage before you get the chance to work on your issues.  There is a way out of an emotionally flooded marriage – seek the assistance of a marriage counselor independently contracted with Carolina Counseling Services – Pinehurst, NC.

An experienced counselor knowledgeable about anxiety and marital conflicts can help you with the skills and tools necessary to calm yourself when the signs of the flooding start to manifest. While emotional flooding cannot be prevented a hundred percent of the time, having these tools and skills at your disposal can aid you in working through emotional flooding with calmness. This can improve your relationship and strengthen your marriage.

With the help of a marriage counselor independently contracted with Carolina Counseling Services – Pinehurst, NC, you can find a meaningful connection and shared understanding in your marriage.  Call, text, or email CCS today to make an appointment!


Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services – Pinehurst, NC

Counties: Moore county, NC, Lee County, Hoke County, Chatham County

Areas: Pinehurst NC, West End NC, Taylortown NC, Seven Lakes NC, Eagle Springs NC, Jackson Springs NC, Foxfire NC, Candor NC, Norman NC, Ellerbe NC, Rockingham NC

Zip Codes: 27281, 27376, 28315, 28347, 28350, 28373, 28374, 28387, 28388, 28394

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Couples Counseling – When Grief Grips Your Marriage

Kelly ErkenBrack, LCSW

Specializes in: (Ages 3+) Children, Teens, Adults, Couples and Families. Anxiety, Depression, Grief and Loss, Mood Disorders, Trauma, Adjustments and Life Transitions, ADHD, Behavioral Issues, Parenting, Relationship Concerns, Self Esteem
Insurance: BCBSTricare Prime/Select, Medicare and Cash
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Location: Pinehurst, NC

Robin Caswell, MSW, LCSW

Specializes in: (Ages 5+), Individuals, Adults, Anxiety, Depression, Grief, Loss, ADHD, ODD, Trauma/PTSD, LGBTQ, Self-Harm, Military Family Life, Mood Disorders, OCD, Phobias
Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Medicare and Cash
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Location: Pinehurst, NC

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