Emotional Intensity Meter by Don Elium

Emotional Intensity Meter by Don Elium


To Repair A Disagreement, Argument or Fight

From the Research on Couples Happiness and Unhappiness by Julie and John Gottman, Ph.D.


First some notes before you do the process, and then the process will follow:


1. You are processing a PAST event, not the present.

So, talk about how you felt in the PAST event, not how you feel right now.1. 

For example, 

• Do this: In that argument, I felt hurt, sad, and dismissed.

• Don’t do this: I feel angry at you now about that argument.

Reason for this Instruction:  You are processing what happened in the past to feel more complete, so you can let go obsessing over it, learn from it and that will help you both feel closer. If your emotion is so strong now about the event, say in the “yellow” or “read”  you are most likely flooded or soon to be. So, it is best to not do the exercise until you are calm, and you can check your pulse to see. If it is close to or over 100 beats, you need to calm before you do the repair.  You both need to be in the “green” so reasonableness has a chance to stay steady. Being flooded isn’t wrong, it just means you are still hurting and need more time to calm, then do the exercise.

2.  BOTH points of view are right.

It is important to remember, and remind yourself often, that a point of view is not an absolute reality. It is relative. Subjective.  If you are flooded you will not be able to hear a point of view that you see differently without debating or being defensive. If you are in the green, you can be curious and interested in your partner’s inner world and see to understand instead of persuade them to your view.  The goal of closeness happens when each person feels heard and understood in their world. That makes each open to reasonable consideration and influence.

• Do this: I hear that you saw. . . 

• Don’t do this: What you saw isn’t right . . .

Reason for this instruction:  Repair needs to be about dialogue and understanding, not debate and convince.  Curiosity, interest, and compassion for self and other is needed. Otherwise, you will end the conversation feeling further distance from each other and worse than when you began. The goals is repair and to feel better and closer.

3.  Save all persuasiveness to step 6.  

Reason for this instruction: Happy couples in the research waited until both people felt understood and their viewpoint considered before asking for anything.  Step 6 is the Ask.

4.  In step 6, remember you are going to “try” something different next time. 

That means it may work better or it may not. Either is helpful information for your knowledge database in yourself, your partner, and your relationship. So, keep the “trying” as experimental where you are both looking for what works bests and let that grow.

• Do this:  I want to try and start soft when I have a complaint and wait until I am calm to talk.

• Don’t do this: I am going to be soft so that this doesn’t happen again.

5.  Each person gets a turn on each step. 

Start with emotions first. Don’t combine steps.

Reason for this instruction:  The emotions drive the intensity of the conversation and the repair. By starting there it takes pressure off each person and helps focus on learning.

6. If you are flooded, in the red or rising in the yellow. Stop.

Emotional Intensity Meter by Don Elium, MA MFT

Emotional Intensity Meter by Don Elium, MA MFT

When emotion runs high and stays high in the "red," it is necessary to take a break until both people are in the green, or calm. This is the most common reason repair isn't made: too much emotional intensity. It is ok and necessary to stop and return later when one or both partners are flooded.  This does not mean that  you don't feel intensity. This does mean when the intensity rises and starts to stay high or emotional intensity becomes detached, you need to stop and come back later when calm or feeling more able to be emotionally engaged.  Also, when either partner is "tuned out" or "detached," in the "blue," that is also a sign of being overwhelmed and reasonableness is also inhibited.

Reason for instruction: You cannot be yield to reasonableness, when you are flooded with emotions or detached from your emotions. When flooded (red) or detached (blue) you can make matters worse, but you can't make them better until you calm down enough to yield to reason.

7.   The Language of Healing In A Repair Conversation

This is not a part of the Gottman Research or therapy itself, however, it follows in its spirit so I included this list of 8 elements of listening and speaking that heal in relationships and promote closeness according to the research of Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. and his process of ifs-Internal Family Systems and it has been adapted by Don Elium MA MFT (June 20, 2016):

The 8 C’s That Heal by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. 

Calmness - (1.) a high degree of physiological and mental serenity regardless of the circumstance(s) (2.) the ability to react to triggers in your environment in less automatic and extreme ways(3.) to be less vulnerable to adopting the common fight-flight-freeze response when threatened. (Calmness experienced in dynamic degrees)

Curiosity - (1.) a strong desire to know or learn something new about a topic, situation or person (2.) to have a sense of wonder about the world and how things work(3.) genuinely interested in non-judgmentally understanding something or someone. (Curiosity experienced in dynamic degrees)

Clarity - (1.) the ability to perceive situations accurately without distortion from extreme beliefs and emotion s(2.) the ability to maintain one’s objectivity about a situation in which one has a vested interest (3.) the absence of preconception and objection (opposing) (4.) the ability to maintain a “beginner’s mind” in which many possibilities exist. (Clarity is experienced in dynamic degrees)

Compassion - (1.) to be open heartedly present and appreciative of others without feeling the urge to fix, change or distance from them (2.) an intuitive understanding that the suffering of others affects you because of your connectedness to them (3.) to simultaneously have empathy for others and a belief that the other has a Self that once released can relieve his or her own suffering. (Compassion is experienced in dynamic degrees)

Confidence - (1.) to maintain a strong personal knowledge in one’s ability to stay fully or as present as possible in a situation and handle or repair anything that happens with the belief that “no matter what, it’s all okay and will all work out the way that it can” (2.) to have the direct experience of being healed from previous traumas and learned from previous failures to such a degree that their effect does not spill into the present (3.) to understand that mistakes are only lessons to be learned. (Confidence is experienced in dynamic degrees)

Courage - (1.) strength in the face of threat, challenge or danger (2.) the willingness to take action toward a goal that you or others would find overwhelming(3.) the ability to recognize the damage we do to others then take action to make amends (4.) the willingness to reflect and “go inside” toward our own pain and shame, carefully examine it and act on what we see. (Courage is experienced in dynamic degrees)

Creativity - (1.) the use of the imagination to produce original ideas (2.) the ability to enter the “flow state” in which expression spontaneously flows out of us and we are immersed in the pleasure of the activity (3.) the ability to create generative learning and solutions to problems. (Curiosity is experienced in dynamic degrees)

Connectedness - (1.) the state of feeling a part of a larger entity such as a partnership, family, team, community, or organization (2.) a connection to a meaningful purpose or a "higher calling" above the circumstances of daily life (3.) to be in a relationship with someone who truly knows and accepts you for who you actually are(4.) to be able to relax your defenses with others as you know that judgement or controlling can happen and can addressed openly with options and have less fear of getting hurt because you have grown degrees of confidence that you can repair damage or misunderstandings when they occur. (Connectedness is experienced in dynamic degrees)



Step by Step Guide To Repair A Disagreement, Argument or Fight


Go through the list and say the ones that you felt in the disagreement that needs repair. The more the better to help you express to your partner how you felt. This helps relieve the intensity about the past argument.

Emotional Intensity Meter

Emotional Intensity Meter

  1. I felt defensive.

  2. I felt listened to.

  3. My feelings got hurt.

  4. I felt understood.

  5. I felt angry.

  6. I felt sad.

  7. I felt happy.

  8. I felt misunderstood

  9. I felt criticized.

  10. I didn’t take my partner’s complaints personally.

  11. I felt disliked by my partner.

  12. I felt cared for.

  13. I was worried.

  14. I felt afraid.

  15. I felt safe.

  16. I was relaxed.

  17. I felt right and my partner wrong.

  18. I felt we were both partly right.

  19. I felt out of control.

  20. I felt in control.

  21. I felt righteously indignant.

  22. I felt that we were both morally justified in our views.

  23. I felt picked on unfairly.

  24. I felt appreciated.

  25. I felt unappreciated.

  26. I felt unattractive.

  27. I felt attractive.

  28. I felt morally outraged.

  29. I felt taken for granted.

  30. I didn’t feel taken for granted.

  31. I felt like leaving.

  32. I felt like staying and talking this through.

  33. I was overwhelmed with emotion.

  34. I felt calm.

  35. I felt powerful.

  36. I felt powerless.

  37. I felt that I had no influence.

  38. I felt I could be persuasive.

  39. I felt as if my opinion didn’t even matter.

  40. There was a lot of give and take.

  41. I had not feelings at all.

  42. I have no idea what I was feeling

  43. I felt lonely.

  44. I felt alienated.

  45. Other feelings

II.  Share your subjective reality.

Summarize your own personal point of view, your personal reality about the disagreement. What was your story?

III.  Find something in your partner’s story that you can understand.

Try and see how your partner’s subjective point of view, their reality, make sense,  given your partner’s perspective. Tell your partner about one piece of his or her reality that makes sense to you.

IV. What triggered in you during the disagreement.

What in your history, your childhood, life before this relationship became triggered during the conversation?

V.   Accept some responsibility. 

       Admit your role in the conflict, what you did that made matters worse.

  1. I have been very stressed and irritable lately.

  2. I have not expressed much appreciation toward my partner lately.

  3. I have I have been very stressed and irritable lately.

  4. I have not expressed much appreciation toward my partner lately.

  5. I have taken my partner for granted.

  6. I have been highly sensitive lately.

  7. I have been highly critical lately.

  8. I have not shared very much of my inner world.

  9. I have not been emotionally available.

  10. I have been turning away from partner.

  11. I have been getting easily upset.

  12. I have been depressed lately.

  13. I have had a chip on my shoulder lately.

  14. I have not been affectionate.

  15. I have not made time for good things between us.

  16. I have not been a very good listener.

  17. I have not been asking for what I need.

  18. I have been feeling a bit like a martyr.

  19. I have needed to be alone.

  20. I have not wanted to take care of anybody.

  21. (Add your own)

Overall, my contribution to this disagreement was __________ . 

VI. Make it better in the future

This is where persuasion is appropriate. Not trying to manipulate, but asking for the favor of trying something different.  By the time you get to this step, you both will clearly see possibilities to try differently next time. Be sure to start with what YOU will try next time. Then have your partner go. Then, what your "ask" is for your partner to try next time, and then, theirs for you. If the "ask" to too far of a stretch  for either of you, adjust it to something you can try that is reasonable. Remember, it may not work out so whatever happens is ok to learn from and try again and again as you learn to care about yourself and each other.

1. One thing you could try next time? (Let each respond before moving to number 2)

2. One thing you would like your partner to try differently next time?


The Aftermath of a Fight, by John and Julie Gottman and some adaption by Don Elium, MA MFT for his counseling sessions.