If you’re in a marriage, then you’ve been in a fight before. Do you remember emotions rising, the voices raising, the tension increasing? What about your pupils dilating? I’ve never been able to feel that in the middle of a fight. What about feeling your heart rate increasing? I recognize that sometimes, but I don’t recognize it during a fight unless I’m consciously feeling for my heart rate’s fluctuation.
When a couple is fighting, physiological changes occur. One of those changes that inhibit healthy discussions is a heart rate that exceeds 100 beats per minute. Once a person’s heart rate surpasses that threshold no progress can be made, because a person frequently shuts down their verbal responses and/or turn their bodies away from their partner creating a stonewalling effect (Gottman & Gottman, 2015). Beneficial communication can only resume when both partners soothe themselves to the point where their heart rates remain under 100 beats per minute. Sometimes being slow to anger requires developing skills to self-soothe. Breathing techniques are often taught in couples counseling in order to equip couples for necessary relaxation before resuming the discussion about the conflict. In therapy it is common for couples to be given a book and separated for 20-30 minutes, which is how long it takes for a person to return to a consistent acceptable heart rate for communication.
James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Before letting ourselves be carried away with our skyrocketing heart rates, take some time to calm down and gather yourself. Be quick to understand your spouse’s perspective. Listen for understanding. Lavish forgiveness. Abound in love.
Gottman, J. S. & Gottman, J. (2015). 10 Principles for doing effective couples therapy. New York, NY: Norton
Youth, Family Life, and Counseling Minister