Peter’s couple therapy blog

How Gottman predicts separation/divorce 4


“Even if you could not hear the conversation between a stonewaller and the spouse, you would be able to predict their divorce simply by looking at the stonewaller’s physiological readings. When couples are monitored for bodily changes during a tense discussion, you can see just how physically distressing flooding is.

“One of the most apparent of these physical reactions is that the heart speeds up — pounding away at more than 100 beats per minute — even as high as 165. (In contrast, a typical heart rate for a man who is about 30 is 76, and for a woman the same age, 82.)

“Hormonal changes occur, too, including the secretion of adrenaline, which kicks in the “fight or flight response.” Blood pressure mounts. These changes are so dramatic that if one partner is frequently flooded during marital discussions, it’s easy to predict that they will divorce.

“Recurring episodes of flooding lead to divorce for two reasons. First, they signal that at least one partner feels severe emotional distress when dealing with the other.

“Second, the physical sensations of feeling flooded — increased heart rate, sweating, etc. — make it almost impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion. When your body goes into overdrive during an argument, it perceives the current situation as dangerous.

“When a pounding heart and all the other physical stress reactions happen in the midst of a discussion with your mate, the consequences are disastrous. Your ability to process information is reduced, meaning it’s harder to pay attention to what your partner is saying. Creative problem solving goes out the window.

“You’re left with the most reflexive, least intellectually sophisticated responses in your repertoire: to fight (act critical, contemptuous, or defensive) or flee (stonewall). Any chance of resolving the issue is gone. Most likely, the discussion will just worsen the situation.”


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