Managing “Flooding” in Your Relationship

Flooding is a term that is used to describe intense emotional reactions. Sometimes, these reactions can be displayed outwardly. They can include lashing out, yelling, screaming, and belligerence. There are reasons for this. This person might not believe that they are going to be heard anyway. This recurrent frustration can lead to one person yelling to get the point across.

Another way that people contend with regular relationship issues is by shutting down. They emotionally shut themselves off. They hear the words, but they don’t engage with the other person. Although this appears calm, it really isn’t.

Both of these communication reactions cause problems with connection. They make both people feel unheard, disrespected, and undervalued. Flooding makes it impossible to process and interpret a story, which is extremely important in all relationships. This is especially true in romantic relationships.

So what to do about it?

First, know when you’re flooding. It’s easier to identify when emotions become elevated. In those situations, the real challenge is stopping yourself from lashing out, to give yourself time to calm down. Yelling and lashing out will lead you to calm down (after you fizzle out), but it also can destroy trust with your partner.

If you find yourself disengaging with a complicated topic, you may also be emotionally flooding. This appears less harmful, but in time it takes a toll on relationships as well. Discussions are often left completely alone, which doesn’t allow for compromise and closure.

In order to get through periods of flooding, you have to practice. First, practice identifying that you’re emotionally flooded, but then practice self-soothing. Self-soothing is a process of slowing your emotional reactions down, so that you get your physiological responses to align with that. For example, if you get angry, your heart rate increases, you might feel shaky, etc.

When you’re doing self-soothing, a good place to start is with your breath. Take a long, deep breath, and notice the change. You can do this a couple more times. You might even feel more open when you’re just practicing this.

I recommend practicing this when you’re not in a difficult conversation. Just to sense the differences, doing this in moments of mild stress. When you build some confidence in this, you’ll be better able to do it in tough conversations.

Hang on to that “Time Out” card

Keep in mind that you need to call “time outs” when you’re feeling flooded. You need to have the time, where no one is talking to regroup.

The biggest mistake that I see people make is when they ignore this step and try to finish the conversation anyway. This leads to the famous, “I told you this already!” Don’t make the mistake. Give yourself time and space to ensure that you’re in a calm place to have the conversation.

Flooding isn’t always easy to identify. At the same time, it’s one of the biggest barriers to having a good conversation. If you’re discussions seem to end up in eruption, or they go nowhere, flooding is a likely culprit. Learn to self-sooth, and see what differences it makes in your relationships.


Leave a Reply