Fight Fair With This Exercise Gadget

I’ve been reading John and Julie Gottman’s And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives. (Gottman is the famed shrink who can predict with 95% accuracy whether or not a couple will divorce within the next 15 years by observing them talking for 5 minutes.)

Statistically, marital satisfaction plummets within three years after having a baby, and this book details the Gottmans’ plan to combat those statistics.

The Gottmans offer up solid, if unrevolutionary, advice on adjusting to life after baby. But they surprised me in chapter 6 when they revealed their secret weapon for improving troubled relationships:

A heart rate monitor.

By closely observing couples while they argued in the “Love Lab”, the Gottmans realized that many individuals were going into full-fledged panic mode, or “fight or flight,” when they argued.  When heart rates soar and adrenaline surges, arguments rapidly go from bad to worse.  We react as though we’re being attacked.  But surprisingly, we may not even realize we’re doing it!

Enter the Gottmans and their exercise equipment. They began fitting their clients with inexpensive wristwatch-style heart rate monitors, and programming them to beep when heart rate exceeded 100 beats a minute—a sure sign that stress is mounting.  If the heart rate alarm sounded, they knew to stop talking, take a break, and come back when they’d simmered down.  There’s no reason to continue the discussion at this point, anyway.  We can’t listen well or think clearly when we’re in fight or flight mode, so nothing productive will happen if we move forward.  But a whole lot of harm can be done.  Take a break!

The Gottmans found the results of this simple strategy nearly miraculous:

Lo and behold, in most cases, the conversations changed completely. For many couples, it was as if they’d just had a brain transplant. The warriors had stepped out of the room and the peacemakers had returned.  The couples had become much more reasonable, flexible, collaborative, and even kind with one another.  We’d stumbled onto a secret.  The only thing required was for couples to take a break, just long enough to get those heart rates down.

Ideally, couples would pause their argument at the first sign of heatedness.  (It’s okay to be emotional, but adrenaline surges are not okay.)  When you first realize you’re getting upset, take a time-out.  The problem is, many times we don’t even realize we’re getting carried away, especially if we’ve not had practice with this strategy.  If this is you, get a heart rate monitor!

Gottman doesn’t explore using this strategy outside the marriage relationship, but time-outs work for parents, too. If it’s your kids–and not your spouse–that sends the adrenaline pumping through your veins, take a break!  When you feel yourself starting to get really angry, step away and give yourself time to calm down before you resume the conversation.  (I started implementing this revolutionary piece of advice several years ago with my own kids.  If they’re driving me crazy, I’ve learned I need to walk away and calm down!)

If you know you’re one of those people who doesn’t even realize you’re getting carried away, get yourself a heart rate monitor, and program that thing to start beeping when your heart rate exceeds 100 beats a minute.

Then take a break.

Can you relate?  What’s your strategy for calming back down after you get fired up?  Post to comments.


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  1. Linda says:

    I just want you to know how much I appreciate your blog. You give much common sense advice in a day when common sense isn’t terribly common.

  2. Lori says:

    I argued with my husband for 23 years and had a terrible marriage. 8 years ago I stopped arguing with him and now we have a great marriage. I learned how to discuss things with him without arguing. I learned I didn’t always need to be right or get my way. Peace and harmony in my marriage has been wonderful!!!

    • Just Audrey says:

      My mom has said that, too–that she’s learned that it is not always worth it just to prove a point or want to be right. I think that is great lesson, not just for marriages, but for our other interactions and relationships. Sometimes it’s best just to swallow our pride and back away.

  3. Damsel says:

    I’ve tried very hard over the years to walk away when I’m over-the-top upset, and it has worked wonders when I’m able to do so… but I’ve never thought about the heart-monitor aspect and the physiology behind it.

    Excellent article!!!

  4. Bobbi says:

    I do believe this is a powerful piece of advice. It’s important to know, too, that men are even more prone to those adrenaline surges (also called “flooding” than women are; it’s just built in. So pay attention to hubby’s reactions as well as your own!

  5. Amber @ says:

    I find that if my first reaction is based on emotion, then it is probably wrong. So, I try to keep my mouth shut and wait until I have calmed down. I usually find that there was some information, or a piece of the puzzle I didn’t see and now understand, which decreases my anger.

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