Are You the Predator, or the Prey?

When You Are Constantly Walking on Eggshells

Dr. Gottman is famous for setting up a “lab” where he observes couples. He invites couples into a space that looks like a bed and breakfast, and wires them up for a week. 

Are You the Predator, or the Prey?

Then he monitors how they behave and respond to one another. Picture this. So, there’s this couple that Gottman is monitoring.

What Your Spouse and a Saber-toothed Tiger Might Have in Common

3 Reasons For Pulling the Plug When You Are Upset

Have you ever had a rush of energy after hearing a loud voice in the vicinity? Or when the person in front of you slams on their brakes?

Your spouse and a saber-toothed tiger might have more in common than you think

That’s fight or flight at work.  

The same happens when an argument becomes overheated. This is when your heart starts pounding and all the other physical stress reactions happen.

The consequences for communication are disastrous. Your ability to process information is reduced, and it’s ten times harder to pay attention to what your partner is saying.

Do You Know the Feeling?

One of the most apparent physical reactions to danger is that the attacked person’s heart speeds up dramatically. It pounds away at over 100 beats per minute, and goes as high as 165.

That’s more than double a normal blood pressure. Cortisol levels in your body rise dramatically.

In such a state, creative problem solving (as well as any potential win-win scenarios) go right out of the window. You’re left with the most reflexive and least intellectual responses in your repertoire: fight (show contemptcriticize, dispense sarcasm, ) or flee (stonewall).

Any chance of resolving the issue is gone. Most likely, the continuation of the discussion will just worsen matters.

Do you know the feeling?

When you’re upset, your amygdala—the ancient part of the brain that’s responsible for the fight or flight response—has taken over full control. Your body starts to produce vast quantities of adrenaline and you’re being flooded with cortisol.

  • Your heart starts pumping
  • Your feel a rush of blood to your face
  • Your face gets reddish and warmer
  • You feel a squeezing or spinning sensation in your chest or in your stomach
  • You start breathing more quickly
  • Your hands may start sweating

When you see any of the signs of an emotional tornado coming, it’s super important for you stop the conversation and calm down.  

Why would you want to do that?

The Tiger Phenomenon

There are three strong reasons why you want to pull the plug of the conversation if you get upset.

Let’s first tackle the more obvious two:

  • When you’re super angry you won’t hear anything your spouse is saying anyway; it’s as if you are completely deaf. So, for the sake of argument, try imagining yourself fighting that sabertooth tiger (or better yet, getting the hell out of his way as fast as you can). Do you imagine yourself talking calmly at the same time? I guess not. You have other things to do.
  • More often than not, kids are watching. If they watch this happening too often, they unconsciously start forming the same pattern themselves for when they grow up. You probably don’t want that.

But there’s a third reason, and to my mind, it’s the most important one.

Back when our ancestors were chasing mammoths across the frozen tundra, cortisol was key to staying alive. Its role was to prepare the body to defend itself or get away.

That still is true today.

Except that nowadays, instead of running from a giant sabertooth tiger, we’re being almost exclusively chased by our own negative emotions. Unfortunately, our unconscious mind-–the amygdala—doesn’t know the difference.  

  • If things get out of control frequently, your brain starts to associate your partner with danger, the same way our ancestors associated a tiger with danger. That’s why I call this the tiger phenomenon.

How to Pull The Plug

So, when an argument becomes overheated, your first goal is to avoid saying or doing things you might later regret. The easiest way to do this is by using any of the below stop sentences:

  • “I need to calm down. Would you give me a minute?”
  • “Let’s take a break; I need to calm down.”
  • “I feel tension between us and I don’t want us to start arguing. Let me think about it and let’s talk again later. Is (propose the time) good for you, or would you prefer some other time?”
  • “I feel (upset, offended, sad) now.”
  • “I don’t think this is going in the right direction. Let’s talk about it later. What about when the kids go to bed?”
  • “I would like us to continue this conversation, but I need to calm down as right now I am starting to get upset. Can we do it this evening, or maybe tomorrow evening?”
  • “Can we take a break? I’m starting to get upset now.”
  • “I’m sorry but I’m getting far more upset than I would like. I think it will be better for both of us if we continue this conversation later. How about tomorrow morning, while we take a walk together?”
  • “I hear what you’re saying, and it’s not that I want to run away, but I’m getting upset now. Can we talk later?”

After saying this, beware!

No further arguing, no comments, even at half volume. And no door slamming! Politely resist letting your spouse suck you back into an already heated conversation.

We all want to solve our problems fast and, especially until you are used to this process, your partner might misunderstand this withdrawal as fleeing. Therefore, it pays to explain calmly not only why you are pausing, but also to reassure your partner that you WILL come back, and you won’t forget. Better so, ask if it’s okay with them.

Admittedly, this takes quite a bit of self-discipline. But it pays off immensely.

Your Own Endorphins Can Help

After our amygdala has been set off, our brain simply needs some time to reboot. Different people need different amounts of time to calm down. Interestingly, it has been scientifically proven that men generally need more time than women.

Either way, don’t rush.

You can speed up the time needed to restart your brain by moving your body. I mean literally moving your legs and arms and doing something with them, not moving your fingers over the screen of your phone.  

That’s because when you move, your brain releases neurochemicals called endorphins. They have a soothing effect on your mind and make you feel good.

  • Go for a walk
  • Mow the lawn
  • Start putting dishes in the dishwasher
  • Do the laundry
  • Go out, throw a ball with the kids

Basically, do anything that makes your body move.  

I wouldn’t suggest going shopping to calm down, (at least not every time) if you don’t want to anchor yourself into spending money every time you need to calm down. Because if you do that on a consistent basis, your brain will make the connection: angry–shopping–buying nice things for me–pleasure–let’s get angry some more!

QUESTION: What is your best practice for dealing with moments when things get overheated? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The Kiss of Death for Your Relationship

The #1 Predictor of a Divorce

If you’re rolling your eyes at your partner, and you do that regularly, we already know you’re going to divorce. What?!?

Dr. John Gottman and University of California, Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson found that this single behavior is so powerful that they can use it—along with other negative behaviors such as repetitive criticism, sarcasm, and stonewalling—to predict divorce with 93% accuracy.

The Trust Formula Revealed

The Quickest Way to Rebuild Trust

Trust is like love. Both parties have to feel it before it really exists. While trusting and being trustworthy are related, they are not the same thing.

Trust Formula Revealed Feel Good Rituals

 In this post you’re going to discover the Trust Formula and the most important elements of trustworthiness. It will show you which areas you should focus on in order to fix shaken trust or to avoid breaking it in the first place. 

Pick the Flowers, not the Weeds

We Have No Scar to Show For Happiness

When my wife and I were in our deepest trouble, one of the “themes” was our relentless focus on the things that didn’t work.

Negativity in Marriage

I know all too well how horrible it feels when your life mate starts to see only things they don’t like. Things you screwed up (again). Sometimes it seems they are on a mission to prove that they are right (and you are wrong).

Sometimes it feels like your spouse is deliberately overlooking the overwhelming number of things that do work. The scary part is that even the most loving couples can get hung up on negative beliefs about each other pretty easily, without even noticing.

How to Receive Complaints and Criticism Gracefully

Proven Way to Handle Negative Feedback From Your Spouse

Say you bought something in a store and it doesn’t work. You call the company’s customer support. Whether you are right or wrong, two scenarios can unfold.

How to deal with criticism

In the first scenario the customer support representative goes into defence mode. Without even knowing the details, they start implying it’s your fault, making you feel like an idiot. In the process, they’re making you angrier by the second. In fact, they are making you feel sorry you bought their product in the first place.

How to Start a Difficult Conversation

How to Express Negative Feelings Without Harming Your Relationship

Imagine you’re a small business owner. A difficult issue comes up and it involves one of your most valuable customers. You know each other for years and they’ve been there in the good times and the bad times.

5 Tips for Starting a Conversation that You’re Dreading

But something has come up and you need to have a sincere talk with them. So you pick up the phone. Then what?

The Best Way to Get What You Want in Your Marriage and Beyond

And a Little Known Phenomenon That Gets in a Way

Have you ever been on a diet? Has it ever happened that while you were going toward the fridge, you were telling yourself, “I shouldn’t eat that cake, I really shouldn’t.”

Get What You Want Without Complaining

Then your hand somehow got into the fridge. You actually saw it going in there! You grabbed the plate with the cake, took it out, and ate it. What happened?