Whenever someone tells me they’ve gone out running, I ask who was chasing them. Yea, I know, total dad joke, but it usually gets a laugh. I think this joke is funny because I can’t stand running long distances. Back in the day, I was a sprinter. I loved running fast. I felt powerful. Don’t get me wrong, I was no Usain Bolt or anything, but running full out for a hundred yards was exhilarating. Long distance running… just doesn’t do it for me. I remember once running alongside a friend that was a real distance runner. He was chattering next to me the whole time while I was struggling not to heave up my spleen.
This memory comes to mind when I’m sitting with an arguing couple. (Bear with me – it’ll make sense.) All too frequently, couples will start a discussion during a counseling session and before long, the emotional temperature rises, and both people get more and more upset. As I watch their body language, I can see the signs. One of their hands begins to tremble, I can hear the pitch and volume rising in their voice. So, I pull out my handy-dandy pulse oximeter – those are the little clips the nurse puts on your finger to get your pulse rate (and oxygen level in your blood). Generally, a resting pulse is somewhere between 65 bpm and 80 bpm. Most folks will have a heart rate over 100 bpm if they are doing any sort of cardiovascular exercise. When I take the pulse of an arguing couple, their pulse is as high as if they were mid spin class. As it turns out, most of us don’t communicate well when we are huffing and puffing our way through intense exercise. The same is true when our emotions are so elevated that our bodies think we are running for our lives.
In order to build intimacy, couples need to learn the essential skill of grounding and centering. As much as it is important for COUPLES – it really is an INDIVIDUAL skill. Each person is responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors and most importantly - how to come back down to earth and soothe themselves.
Here are some reasons why this is important. When couples argue, it alerts the part of the brain responsible for threat assessment. In fact, when couples don’t look at each other while they argue, the peripheral vision is on high alert and the littlest gesture (like a sigh of frustration) can be perceived as an exaggerated sarcastic eye-roll. Arguments therefore usually escalate quickly with both people perceiving an increased threat to their well-being from the person they are most intimate with when not fighting.
Dr. John Gottman, a biggy in the relationship research field, says that upwards of 69% of arguments couples have are ‘gridlocked.’ The disagreement is unsolvable. With this being the case, you can see the necessity for couples to learn the skill of grounding and centering to work through important and difficult conversations.
Grounding and centering is a highly personalized skill. Each individual needs to find the methods that work best for them. First, we’ll start with a story that shows how grounding and centering can work in the moment. And, finally, we will share with you Ten Grounding and Centering Skills.
Let’s continue the story from above: the couple sat on the couch with the pulse oximeters on their fingers. Both screens read over 120 bpm. I said, “Okay, guys. Doesn’t look like much can be done while you’re running track here. How about you both put your feet on the ground and let’s see if we can take some slow breaths together.” The wife placed her feet on the ground and closed her eyes. The husband looked like he was seeing red. I said, “Okay ‘Husband’, I don’t think this is the right grounding skill for you. How about you go take a walk down the hall and splash some water on your face?” He nodded to me and left the room. She breathed a good solid few breaths and her pulse numbers started to descend. She got herself all the way down to a 78 bpm. Not long after, “Husband” came back in the room looking much calmer. He took his pulse, it was now down to 82 bpm. Even before I helped them begin a conversation, the husband said, “Honey, I’m sorry. I get so frustrated when we argue. When I took my break, I realized I just want you to understand how hard I’m trying here.” She said, “I know, sweetie, and I’m sorry too. I think we both want the same thing.” They reached out to each other and held hands.
From a grounded and centered place, one thinks, feels and behaves with moderation, mindfulness and consideration. When couples can start from this place, they have a much better chance of success. As you can see from the story, not everyone grounds and centers the same way. Each person must figure out what helps them self-soothe. Here are Ten Grounding and Centering Skills. Test drive each of them. See what works for you. You may have some of your own, and we’d love to hear about them. Make sure to let us know on our Facebook page what works best for you.
Ten Grounding and Centering Skills
Put Your Feet on the Floor
Take a walk
Notice 3 Things Out Loud (I see a leaf on a tree, a cloud in the sky, a shadow on the ground)
Have Compassion for Yourself
Listen to Familiar and Calming Music
Pet a Friendly Pet
Listen to Your Body
Connect with a Safe Friend
Check Your Ego