Any Reaction is an Overreaction
I’m sure at one time or another your doctor tapped you right below your kneecap and your leg kicked up. Doctors refer to this as the ‘pateller jerk’ which is what you and I would call a ‘knee-jerk’ reflex. There’s no conscious decision on our part to kick; it’s automatic. So what does this have to do with relationships?
Couples often believe that their reactions are reflexive also. Partners will tell me, “I worry because I’m an anxious person,” or “We argue because I have a bad temper.” Instead of taking personal responsibility for causing their anxiety or contributing to the argument, partners will blame it on their nature.
It’s true that sometimes reacting can be naturally instinctive or reflexive. Instinctive behaviors like the instinct to eat, or fight or flee are innate and relate to our survival. Reflexive behaviors, like the knee-jerk reflex, also include chewing, blinking and swallowing.
However, most partner reactions are unnatural and avoidable. These avoidable behaviors are learned over time, and are reinforced by our current thinking. When triggered by our partners we may act in defensive, angry or judgmental ways. These behaviors cause disconnection, hurt and conflict.
Let me repeat. These behaviors are avoidable!
A healthier behavior is responding. Responding occurs when you make conscious choices that are in your highest good. When you and your partner are intentional in how you interact with each other, you create connection and intimacy which lead to feeling fulfilled, and joyful.
So how do you stop (over) reacting and start responding? Reactions start out as physical sensations. A feeling of tightness in your chest, shoulder or neck, a racing heart, an upset stomach and rapid breathing are all examples. Your first job is to notice when you feel those sensations.
When you become aware of these sensations, practice relaxation techniques and self-soothing strategies to replace uncomfortable physical symptoms of stress with feelings of calm.
Now that you’re calm, ask yourself: What would a loving response look like? Then take that loving action.
Responding intentionally instead of reacting will help you feel better and will do wonders for your relationship.