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Floods that Wipe Out Good Marriages

Researchers call it "diffuse physiological arousal." Therapists call it "flooding."

You start out a little bit angry or anxious. Your stress grows. When it reaches the point called "flooding," you can no longer think clearly about anything except fight (hurting or stopping the person or thing you are upset about) or flight (getting away, even if just inside yourself, stonewalling the person trying to get you to talk).

Your nervous system is flooded with the stress chemicals, cortisol and adrenaline. You become physically stronger. Your time horizon gets very short. You don't consider the long-term consequences of what you do or say.

You are physically aroused, and the arousal is diffuse—it affects every part of your nervous system. No one else needs to get inside your head to tell you are highly upset. They could take your pulse, check your blood pressure, see you sweat.

If you are a man, you reach this point more easily than a woman. If you are a woman, you may have unwanted tears streaming down your face at this point.

If your disagreements with your husband or wife put either of you into flood stage more than once in a blue moon, you've got a problem. You need a better way to resolve those disagreements, or your marriage is highly likely to fail.

Two suggestions: avoid getting to this point and stop talking about the disagreement immediately if either of you even comes close to this point.

To stop talking about the disagreement, it might help to have a private code phrase either of you can use to change the subject, for example, "Let's head for higher ground" or "How about those Lions?"

To avoid getting here, learn to begin a search for Third Alternatives as soon as you realize you disagree. Here are some great how-to posts:

What is a Third Alternative?
Find a Third Alternative - Step One
Find a Third Alternative - Step Two
Find a Third Alternative - Step Three
Is It a Third Alternative or Just Alternative 1.5?
Big, Hairy Problems
Great Real-Life Example of a Third Alternative

Don't let a flood wipe out your marriage. Whatever your disagreement, it is not worth driving yourself to doing something you will feel ashamed of later. It is not worth the damage to your heart and blood vessels. The disagreement will not end during a flood, but your chances for a lifelong bond with another human being may very well get flooded out.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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