Relationship Minute: Self-soothing

Are you stressed out? Maybe your resting state just has a layer of anxiety on top of it now, making it easier for you to become flooded.

Flooding is another word for physiological overwhelm, which you may or may not even be aware of as it is happening. Flooding can lead to blowing up or shutting down. And shutting down—stonewalling—is one of the Four Horsemen.

Like the other three Horsemen, stonewalling has an antidote. The cure for stonewalling is self-soothing.

If you find yourself stonewalling, listen up! This antidote is on you to practice and employ. You can’t make your partner self-soothe, and vice versa.

What you can collaborate on with your partner is a signal that either of you can use to let them know you need to take a break to reset. It can be a code word, a hand signal, anything you agree on that means “I’m getting overwhelmed. I need at least 20 minutes.”

Then, take that break and breathe, walk it off, or listen to some music. Just avoid teetering into righteous indignation (ruminating on the conflict that overwhelmed you in the first place) or innocent victimhood (“I can’t believe they did this to me. This is all their fault.”)

After taking the time to wind down, you can engage with your partner again. You don’t even have to be ready to apologize (if that’s what’s in order). But once you’re no longer flooded, you’ll be in a better place to listen and empathize.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.