One of the most important lessons in couples therapy is learning how to respond rather than react to one another. This communication tool is simple to learn and understand, yet tremendously important.
When you react to someone, you are saying or doing the first thing that comes to your mind. Snapping back, rolling your eyes, glaring, throwing something, using sarcasm, dramatically sighing, slamming doors, giving the silent treatment, yelling, saying something just to get the last word in, etc. Think of the last time you were in conflict with your partner. If there’s anything you regret doing or saying, you were likely reacting, rather than responding.
When you respond, you are thinking before acting. You are mindful of how your actions and words may affect the other person. You are aware of how you’re feeling, and even if you are angrier than you have ever been, you are remaining thoughtful and intentional with your words and actions. You notice your internal reaction (such as having the urge to raise your voice, or say something cutting), but you make the choice to act in a productive, appropriate, and compassionate manner.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor E. Frankl
Our reactions are instinctual, primal. When we perceive something (or someone) as a threat, our bodies respond with a surge of adrenaline, sending us into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. Most often, this is a physical overreaction. Our bodies want to get away from the threat, and therefore send the physical signal to fight (say something you’ll later regret), flight (avoid the issue) or freeze (enter a state of mental and/or emotional numbness). The next time you notice yourself entering that reactive, fight/flight/freeze mode, take a breath. Take a second breath. Take as many breaths as necessary until you feel your physical self start to cool down. If this is taking too long, kindly tell your partner that you are feeling worked up, and need a few minutes to cool down before you can continue the conversation. The more cool, calm, and collected you both are, the more likely you will reach a resolution.
Please note that this content is for informational purposes, and not a substitute for treatment. If you are in need of mental health treatment, please seek out a provider in your area.