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Diffuse Physiological Arousal – How To Avoid DPA When Arguing With Your Partner

What Is Diffuse Physiological Arousal?

Diffuse Physiological Arousal, also known as emotional flooding, is where you get so stressed during an argument that you cannot think straight, hear your partner or manage the situation. It is like an emotional overload which can cloud your brain of thinking clearly and creatively problem-solving.

This emotional flooding, or Diffuse Physiological Arousal, occurs when you are pushed into a reactive state. It is your body’s natural and primitive response. When your body perceives a threat, it will alert you to danger through a physiological reaction. This bodily reaction is a flood of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenalin, and catecholamine to prepare you for a fight or flight response.

Of course, when your body reaches this state, it is impossible to deploy constructive conflict resolution tactics. Your body and your emotions have gone into overdrive. If you or your partner are suffering from Diffuse Physiological Arousal, then it is crucial to be aware of this as soon as it happens, to avoid any reckless decisions, emotional overload or unnecessary, damaging conflict.

What Happens In The Body With Diffuse Physiological Arousal

As soon as you begin to see a loved one as a source of threat, then the body starts to alert you to the danger. The brain will begin to release stress hormones such as cortisol and catecholamines. In your brain, the amygdala will then activate – this is the emotional centre of your brain, which causes a flood or wave of emotions that cloud your clarity.

At the same time, the frontal lobe activity decreases; this reduces your ability to make decisions or judgement or practise impulse control.

Due to this high state of alert, your body compensates other functions. This means there is a reduced oxygen concentration in the blood, a decreased blood supply to other organs in the body as well as immunosuppression. Consequently, it is vital for your health not to enter this stage of emotional flooding regularly.

The first thing to do when Diffuse Physiological Arousal takes place is to stop the conflict and remove yourself physically from the situation. Whether DPA is affecting you or your partner, there is no constructive benefit of continuing at this stage, and a break is best for everyone.

Once you spot the issue, suggest that you and your partner take a 30-minute break and resume the conversation then.

Explain to your partner why this break is essential and set a specific time to meet again to discuss the issue. It can help to provide reassurance, explaining that you really want to come up with a resolution, but that you need time to process your emotions so that you can think clearly when you come back to the discussion.

It is important to remember that Diffuse Physiological Arousal affects both men and women. However, studies indicate that it typically affects men earlier in a conflict setting. Similarly, once men are in a state of emotional flooding, they can stay in this state for longer than women. This means if the conflict involves a male and a female, the male should indicate when they are feeling calmer as this could take longer to achieve than for a female. As a result, you don’t want to jump back into conflict when there is still heightened emotion.

Change Your Mental State

If you spend the break time ruminating on the conflict, then you won’t be in the right headspace to resume the discussion and practise conflict management. Try to spend this break by focusing your mind on being present. Meditation or mindfulness can really help to create calmness and clarity. Alternatively, it may help to focus your mind on something completely different, like reading a book, listening to music or challenging your brain

A Time-Out is a 20-minute to 30-minute break away from an escalating conversation offers a temporal space for each spouse to regain control of their emotions, and allow time for negative emotions to subside.

Don’t call a Time-Out to highlight your partner’s strong emotion (“I think you need a time out” ). It could backfire and might escalate the situation.

You are Leaving the Room…Explain What it Means and What it Doesn’t Mean. Explain what’s going on with you. Be responsible and communicate clearly. If you don’t want to be pursued, speak plainly about when you will be back.


When are you ready to end a Time-Out, you should both be emotionally regulated, prepared to repair, and not flooded.

check-in first.

Ask each other how you feel about picking up the conversation. Maybe you do… or maybe you want to talk about something else for a while.

The important thing is to check-in and emotionally reconnect.

When you are both ready, resume discussions. Hopefully, with time away and without emotional flooding, you can both come up with a solution that works best for your relationship.

Essential Core Differences…Couples in Cognitive Contradiction
  • Independence vs. Togetherness. Some spouses calm themselves down by being connected, while others do so in solitude. If you prefer to be alone, you might feel cramped if you don’t get enough “me-time.” On the other hand, if you calm yourself down by being with your partner, you might judge your spouse negatively if they prefer solitude. You might even create a story about the partner in your head who abandons you.

  • Present vs. Future. Some partners focus on security. They want to delay gratification today for a more secure future tomorrow. If their spouse is focused on the spontaneous joy of living today, they might see them as childish and irresponsible.

  • Structure vs. Spontaneity. Some spouses make lists, establish safety nets, and reduce their anxiety by focusing on what is predictable or carefully planned. If they are married to a partner who has a “ready-fire-aim” approach to life, they may see them as reckless and impulsive.

  • Cool vs. Hot Reactivity. There are some partners who are chill. They don’t make a big deal out of what they see as petty annoyances. If they’re married to a spouse who is continuously pro-actively dissatisfied, they might see them as cynical and neurotic.

  • Solve the Problem vs. Understand the Problem. Some spouses calm themselves down by taking massive action at the first sign of a problem. If they’re married to a partner who lingers over an issue to fully understand it, the partner might be seen as a victim who never wants to prevail over a problem by actually solving it. This perpetual marital problem often hinders mutual understanding.

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