The “Fight or Flight” Responses

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Here’s what the “fight or flight” responses typically look like in “couple” terms.  One partner prefers to tackle things that need solving and likes to press forward towards that goal. The other partner prefers not entering into conflict for fear that it will “get out of hand.”  In their moderate forms each inclination is constructive.  The first adds energy towards getting to a solution.  The second helps the emotional climate remain calm enough so that the first can be accomplished.

But each of these inclinations has its downside, too.  Under stress, when the inclination to press forward towards a solution become more extreme, its energies escalate into a “fight” kind of energy where volume increases and things can be said or done that are hurtful.  Under the same stress, the inclination to back away from conflict can turn into  stonewalling and “shut down.”  Then the conversation goes nowhere.

The trick to resolving differences is learning to be aware of, and to manage these “fight” and “flight” energies.  In my marriage counseling practice, I give couples the tools and the “here and now” practice, in session, for doing just that. As couples gradually adopt these practices as their own, they take them home and use them between sessions.  Through this gradual “handoff,” couples acquire a skill set they can use for the rest of their lives to reliably work out their differences and increasingly deepen their relationship.