In the Heat of the Moment: Keeping Your Emotions from Causing More Damage

couple fightingYou’ve just had a huge fight with your partner. You’re still fuming. Does the situation seem hopeless, insurmountable, or like there’s no way out? Does your mind immediately turIn to thoughts of separation/divorce? When you have those feelings, what do you do with them? Do you explode them out or keep them hidden?

Conflicts can seem hopeless when you are in the heat of the moment. At times, these feelings are so strong that the entire marriage seems like a mistake. You feel as if the only solution is to get out permanently by leaving or divorcing.

Even though it may seem that way during these blowups, ending the relationship is not the only option. When you can’t change your partner or leave easily, there is still one area you do have influence over: yourself. It’s time to consider how your reaction might be exacerbating things. Whether your reaction to these emotions is to show them on the outside OR to keep them bottled up, your reaction might be adding to the difficulties. Most likely, you’re so focused on what your spouse did or said wrong that you aren’t considering how you may be contributing to the problem. It takes two people to have an argument.

People behave differently when they’re emotional. Some people overreact and others underreact. An overreactor is very obvious. When something upsets them, you can usually see it their body. They might clench their fists or jaw, stomp around, point, or stand up to appear bigger. You can see their emotions in their face: anger, sadness and crying, or disappointment. They can also react by yelling, raging, cursing, using sarcasm, bemoaning, complaining, or talking non-stop. Generally, overreactors get more expressive when they’re upset.

An underreactor can be harder to see. They tend to shut down and close off from others. In fact, at times they may not even know they are feeling anything! Underreactors often do things like cross their arms, turn to some distraction like the computer, go off to bed, or just leave the room. They say very little. There’s hardly any change in their expression, yet they can have an elevated heartrate or blood pressure.

Many times, your emotion – or what looks like your lack of emotion – deeply affects your spouse and adds to the conflict. You are so closely connected to your spouse (even if you currently feel distant) that your spouse picks up on your feelings. Now, both of you are experiencing painful emotions and you are both reacting to them. For most couples, this pattern is a big problem in and of itself.

Rather than continuing to freak out OR to shut down:

  1. Stop and think before you overreact or underreact.
  2. Notice what you are feeling.
  3. Think about how you could react in a way that will not cause a secondary problem.
  4. Reach out to talk to someone who supports your marriage and will help you sort through things.

Learning to control your reactions will have a profound effect on your spouse. You’ll feel more in control of yourself the next time a dispute arises. It’s your skill in handling the difficult times in relationships that is the most crucial, and most difficult, to learn.

Here at the Couples Therapy Center, we teach people what to do with their emotions: how to identify them, how emotions are showing up in your body as tension or illness, AND how to react to them in a way that keeps your relationship intact.

To learn more about how we can help, schedule an appointment here at Couples Therapy Center. Call 908-246-3074, email

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