How to Not Destroy Your Relationship When You're Mad

Don’t Destroy Your Relationship When You Get Mad… Take a Break!

Today I want to talk about what you can do when your arguments get heated, so that you don’t destroy your relationship. In Gottman Method Couples therapy, which is the single most evidence-based form of couples therapy, based on decades of research on thousands of couples, we’ve learned a lot about what healthy couples do, and what disaster couples do.

Healthy Couples Argue

One of the most important ways healthy couples behave is in the way that they argue. They take steps to bring their heart rate down whenever it starts to get heated, so that they don’t destroy each other. That’s why in my therapy office, I often have my couples wear a pulse oximeter. But I’ll tell you more about that in a bit.

When couples argue in a flooded way:

Think of a time you and your partner really had an argument:

    • Maybe you just got home with the kids, and now you’ve been waiting for them to get home. He said he’d be home by 6 but it’s 7 already.

    • He’s late again, and while you’ve been taking care of the kids for an hour, who are both screaming right now, you’re also trying to get dinner. You’re stressed to say the least.

    • Finally he gets home.

    • You hope he will help but he instead goes to the couch and starts scrolling on his iphone. He has the nerve to ask what’s for dinner?

    • Then you ask for help with the kids, and he just sit with them but keeps scrolling on their iphone.

    • You say something like, “you’ve been gone all day from your kids and you don’t even want to play with them?” He says that you are being dramatic and need to lay off. Your blood starts to boil. That’s when you say a few nasty words, then he says a few nasty words, and you’re off to the races.

So you went off….

Now you’re in the “flight or fight response”. The research shows that in a heightened physiological state, which is typically above 95 or 100 beats per minute, you are “FLOODED”! That means that your brain stem, the oldest part of the brain, that is helpful for survival, is in full gear. Instead of seeing your partner as a friend, they are suddenly a threat, and you either want to run away, or attack, or freeze. This is the worst possible time to discuss anything. YOu need a break to bring that heart rate down so that you can again remember that this person is your friend, who wants good things for you, and is not a threat.

Fighting is Inevitable

In relationships, getting into fight or flight is inevitable, but what you do afterwards is critical to the success (or demise) of your relationship. This is what YOU can do next time you start to see red! When you know your temperature is rising, or your pulse rate is rising, you can regulate your physiology a little better before talking with your partner.

Breaks Go A Long Way

A little break goes a long way towards more productive conflict, and a better chance of getting more of what you want and need from your partner. Be emotionally aware of your own body and recognize when you are getting triggered. Take a break!

Need Help? Schedule a Session!

Call Tiffany, our assistant, at 678-999-3390 to schedule your first couples therapy session!

 About Couples Counseling ATL

Couples Counseling ATL provides couples therapy and marriage counseling in Atlanta from two offices in Grant Park and Poncey Highlands. We also serve Morningside, Midtown, Buckhead, Virginia Highlands, Kirkwood, and the surrounding communities.


Stephanie Cook

Stephanie Cook, LCSW, is an Atlanta area therapist and owner of a private psychotherapy practice, Counseling ATL, LLC, located in Decatur, an in-town suburb of Atlanta, GA. She has expertise providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families and primarily specializes in work with young adults and couples