Emotional Flooding in Relationship: How to Recognize and Manage it. (2023)

Emotional Flooding in Relationship: How to Recognize and Manage it. (1)

In This Article

Emotional flooding is a phenomenon that can occur in relationships, and it’s not good. However, emotional flooding is also a psychotherapeutic technique that can assist with the onslaught of unhealthy emotional flooding. Phew!

Do you have a home where arguments start brewing over a few days, and tensions are running high, where one tiny simple action or a word cause you, your partner (or both of you) to erupt into a flood of emotions?

Such as uncontrollable rage, resentment, or anger are directed at your partner even though you love them; that is emotional flooding of the negative kind.

What is emotional flooding?

In layman’s terms, emotional flooding is when a person experiences overwhelming emotions that take over one’s rational thinking.

When this happens, we feel a sudden pour of physiological sensations because of a surge of adrenaline and cortisol, or what we know as the stress hormones.

Flooding psychology definition is when a person gets flooded with extreme emotions to where they get lost in the present moment. This experience then triggers our body’s natural fight-or-flight response.

Did you know that this can also be used in therapy? It’s called flooding therapy.

Emotional flooding is positive when used as a psychotherapeutic technique where patients are encouraged to release all of their pent-up emotions and fears. Using it correctly in relationships you and your partner will save you from frustration and heartache.

What happens during emotional flooding?

Emotional flooding saturates your body with very intense emotions and thoughts that make it difficult for you to stay in the present moment.

A person experiencing emotional flooding can experience the following:

Difficulty in breathing

Increase in body heat

Heart racing

Redness of face

There is difficulty in connecting with what you want to say and to what you’re feeling. Suddenly, you’re engaged in your fight/flight system, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Emotional flooding is very normal.

We have all experienced it more than one time. It also more commonly occurs in men, who are likely to have been caused by how men tend to hold onto their emotions or hide them more than women might.

Flooding is a very intense experience. However, once recognized, the intensity of flooding could be managed. This is helpful when in the midst of a difficult disagreement with your spouse.

5 signs of emotional flooding in relationships?

Emotional flooding in relationships is common but also happens because of different triggers.

One of the top triggers of emotional flooding is overwhelming stress.

Imagine a glass of water, and you constantly add more water, representing stress. Soon, it will overflow, and that’s the same thing.

(Video) Emotional Flooding: How Anxiety Impacts Relationships: Relationship Skills #8

If you are constantly emotionally flooded, that’s very unhealthy.

How do you know if you’re just stressed out or already showing emotional flooding symptoms?

You know you are emotionally flooding when:

1. Unable to stay focused and make logical thoughts

You know you’re experiencing emotional flooding when you can no longer think straight. If you’re working, you won’t be able to complete your job.

If you are in the middle of an argument, expect you won’t be able to make logical thoughts.

If you’re experiencing extreme flooding of emotions, your brain won’t be able to function well, and that is one sign that you’re drowning from extreme emotions.

2. A whirlwind of emotions

Imagine experiencing a whirlwind of emotions within minutes. Your body and mind will surely suffer.

A person experiencing emotional flooding can experience extreme anger, sadness, and anxiety within minutes.

These emotions will trigger our body’s fight-or-flight response. It confuses the mind and body, and these could even make your head hurt – literally.

3. Experiences physical manifestation of emotional flooding

An emotionally devastated person experiencing emotional flooding will experience extreme emotions, most of them minutes apart.

These will have physical manifestations.

At first, you will notice your heart beating faster, your pulse rate will increase, your heart will feel heavy, your stomach will hurt, and you will experience hot flashes.

Physical symptoms differ from person to person, but these are all caused by too much stress and emotions.

In some severe cases, people could find breathing, speaking, and even fainting difficult.

Everyone experiences emotional flooding.

Even though these signs may seem alarming, we remember that we all experience emotional flooding.

It’s part of our physiological buildup where our body reacts to triggers, thus creating a response that will help us when we face dangers.

What causes emotional flooding in relationships?

What can an emotional flooding psychology example trigger a person to lose focus and physically feel the effects of it?

The answer can be vague since each of us has unique experiences that can trigger us.

Family, marriage, and even work can cause a person to experience emotional flooding, which can happen to anyone.

Flooding in relationships happens when we feel “we’ve had enough” and can no longer contain the emotions that have built up.

Why does this happen?

It’s because we’re human beings and expect to be appreciated. We expect loyalty, empathy, support, and other things that can at least help us feel grounded.

When disappointments happen, and you try to keep them in, everything will soon spill, leading to emotional flooding.

(Video) Julie Gottman on When Partners Get Flooded

1. Feelings of rejection and abandonment

When you’re in a relationship, the last thing you want to hear is the word “divorce.”

Emotional flooding in divorce triggers anyone with a history of abandonment or rejection. It’s just painful and unbearable.

The trauma of being rejected or abandoned can be too much, and they won’t be able to contain their emotions.

This could also happen if you’re in a toxic relationship. The emotional flooding trauma builds up as you walk on eggshells and when you cannot talk about your frustrations.

You try your best to withhold your pain, but soon you explode, and the cycle begins again.

2. Lack of validation, i.e., gaslighting

Emotional hijacking in relationships can trigger flooding, and one of the most common reasons is when you lack validation or if you are being gaslighted.

No person can stay in a relationship where their partner is constantly gaslighting them. Soon, they develop resentment and anger towards their partners.

As the trauma increases, the anger weighs inside you. This is how emotional flooding gets triggered.

3. Past trauma

Emotional flooding after infidelity is a common reaction but is more severe when trauma is involved.

Who wouldn’t be flooded with powerful emotions when your spouse or partner cheats on you?

That’s why it is normal to have emotional flooding when your past traumas trigger you.

Some may already have experienced being cheated on and consider the emotional damage twice as painful if it happens again.

It’s like the past hurts, pain, and trauma will add to the current situation, making it worst and much more intense.

Related Reading: How to Move Past Shared Trauma as a Couple

4. General agitation due to lack of sleep/hunger

Aside from trauma and toxic relationships, emotional ambush exists.

It’s when a person is already tired, hungry, sick, or sleep-deprived, and then someone makes trigger statements that start emotional flooding.

A person, as much as possible, will control negative emotions, but factors such as hunger, sickness, and lack of sleep can make anyone prone to emotional flooding, especially when triggered by insensitive statements or comments.

How to deal with emotional flooding in relationships?

So far, we now understand the definition of emotional flooding and its causes and signs, but what about managing it?

Managing emotional flooding can be achieved through different techniques, depending on which one will work best for you, the situation, and even for your future.

Here are some effective ways how to deal with emotional flooding in relationships:

Emotional Flooding in Relationship: How to Recognize and Manage it. (2)

1. Breathe

Have you noticed how you feel like drowning when experiencing something intense? When you’re very angry, your breath seems to shorten. When you’re calm, your breathing is in a very steady state.

The first step to managing intense emotions is through breathing.

Aside from the benefits of learning breathing techniques for our day-to-day, learning how to breathe during a conflict is a blessing.

When starting to feel overwhelmed by intense emotions, take deeper breaths. As you exhale, you will notice that your thoughts will begin to change, and with these changes in thoughts, you will start to calm and clear your mind.

2. Know your emotions

Dealing with emotional flooding is difficult, and if you want to deal with it, you must learn to understand yourself and the emotions that you are feeling.

(Video) Emotional Flooding | Real life after Emotional Abuse Explained

What triggered the flooding?

You know yourself better than anyone else. Write the triggers, the cause, and how you calmed yourself.

Use this for future reference, and you can also use this in case you and your partner consult a therapist or open up with each other.

By understanding your triggers and emotions, you will handle the situation better the next time.

3. Take some time off

Emotional hijacking in relationships is common, but did you know that you have the power to stop the situation from escalating?

When you experience emotional flooding, you don’t feel extreme emotions and show physical manifestations.

Once you feel this, walk away and take some time off.

Being aggressive and giving in to your anger will worsen matters, especially for you. So, do this for yourself.

If needed, go to your room, take time off until you calm down, and then talk about the problem.

4. Self-soothe

Once you have taken some time off, you must learn how to self-soothe.

For this one, try different methods, and choose which one works best for you.

Some prefer turning off the lights and lying in bed, while others turn on relaxing music. Some people want to take a walk, hug a pillow, and rest.

Self-soothing techniques can save you from physical and mental pain. Once you know how to do this, the physical symptoms of emotional flooding will easily diminish.

5. Be kind

If you are experiencing emotional flooding, do not forget that it is your partner to whom you are releasing emotions, and try as hard as you can to be kind as you go through this.

Remember, your partner has their feelings too! And as in the previous point, it’s important to remember to learn to accept your feelings as your own, to take a moment to breathe, and not to blame your partner.

The goal of this argumentation is to find a middle ground where both parties are understood and both parties needs can be addressed.

To the partner being vented to, it’s your opportunity to learn to empathize more.

Empathy is a learnable skill and is a trait of the kind. When a partner empathizes, they offer space for their partner to be able to vent freely without the fear of being judged or misunderstood.

Empathy allows us to understand where our partners are coming from. Empathy also will enable us to love our partners despite being in the middle of a heated row.

6. Communicate

Prevention is better than cure. Before you find yourself erupting in a cascade of emotions, communicate your feelings to your partner.

Your partner should be your best friend and ally. They are your confidante. At times, they’re your only solace in the world. Communicating your feelings with your partner should be safe.

Communication, however, might be difficult during an argument.

When communicating with your partner, own your emotions. This is your moment to release; this is your moment to gain clarity of your feelings. Own your feelings instead of blaming your partner.

Take your time and check in with yourself before you say anything you might regret.

(Video) Overwhelm (Emotional Flooding) and Why You Need to Manage It

Step back a bit to have some air. Focus on your emotions and how they make you feel physically. Try, as much as possible, to be very specific about what you wish to communicate and how you express that.

Remember, your partner is not a mind reader. If you are having difficulty speaking, write it down. Please make an effort to be understood; it will be good for you both.

7. Be present

Sometimes, people keep their frustrations, fears, and agony inside because they feel they will not be heard.

Being in a relationship will require both of you to listen to each other.

Have compassion for your partner and listen. It’s during these times that silence will be appreciated.

Encourage your partner to speak up instead of being defensive.

Be present with them during this intense time and do not turn them away, distract them, or interrupt them. You’re not giving them the space they are due when you interrupt them.

Show your love by being present with your partner.

Related Reading: The True Meaning of Being in a Relationship

8. Practice mindfulness

You may not control flooding in relationships, but you can practice mindfulness and help yourself in healing.

Mindfulness will help you tremendously.

Practice tapping, meditation, and breathing, and you will see how quickly your body reacts. It will be better to incorporate these practices into your daily life.

Related Reading: Improve Your Relationship with Mindfulness and Meditation

9. Learn to set boundaries

There’s another effective way to deal with emotional flooding, and that is, learning how to create healthy boundaries.

What are healthy boundaries?

In a healthy relationship, boundaries exist. It’s when you and your partner honor each other’s right to say ‘no’ if they don’t want to do it. It’s also the act of ‘putting yourself first’ in any event that you need some time off.

These boundaries prevent resentment, hidden anger, and triggers.

Why is it so hard to say ‘no’? Kati Morton, a licensed therapist who helps people through her videos, explains why it’s so hard for us to say no, and the importance of learning how to say it properly.

Emotional Flooding in Relationship: How to Recognize and Manage it. (3)

10. Talk to a therapist

What if there’s infidelity involved? Or maybe emotional flooding isn’t stopping because you’re in a toxic relationship?

In cases like these, it’s also best to ask for a licensed therapist’s help.

These trained professionals know how to deal with triggers, emotional trauma, and communication.

Related Reading: How to Find the Best Psychotherapist


Emotional flooding is normal and won’t last long, but experiencing intense emotions, including physical symptoms, can be painful.

With the help of self-soothing, learning your triggers, communication, and for some, even therapy, we can minimize the effects of emotional flooding.

When you feel you’re experiencing a flood of emotions, walk away from the argument and use your techniques to calm down.


1. Therapist uses THE HULK | explains EMOTIONAL FLOODING
(Michael D. Nelson, CMHC)
2. Healing After An Affair: Emotional Flooding and Reminders
(Affair Recovery)
3. Emotional Flooding
(Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby)
4. A Strategy on How to Diffuse from Reminders, Triggers, and Emotional Flooding after Infidelity
(Affair Recovery)
5. Emotion Flooding In A Relationship
(Couples Academy)
6. Emotional Flooding: I Can't Hear You
(Married To Social Work)
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