The fight or flight response is a natural response to danger. Our bodies are created to fight or flee when danger is upon us, such as being attacked by a mountain lion. When faced with this kind of danger, the stress hormones pour into our body, causing some blood to leave our brains and organs and go into our arms and legs. This is vital to us if we are actually being attacked by a mountain lion or a mugger. The problem is that this same response occurs when we become afraid in other situations, such as conflict with a partner.
When in conflict with a partner, we need to have the full capacity of our minds to deal rationally and lovingly with the situation. Yet the moment we become afraid, some of the blood leaves our brain so we cannot think as well, and we automatically go into fight, flight or freeze. That is when partners tend to fight or withdraw, neither of which leads to conflict resolution.
Obviously, fighting, fleeing or freezing are not the best ways of dealing with conflict. Yet when fears are triggered — fears of losing the other through rejection or abandonment or of losing yourself and being controlled by your partner — the stress response is automatically activated and you find yourself fighting or shutting down. No matter how much you tell yourself that next time you will respond differently, the moment fear is activated you automatically attack, defend, yell, blame or shut down through compliance or withdrawal.
What can you do about this? There are two solutions to this dilemma.
1. Take a breather. The moment there is tense energy between you and your partner, it is best for both of you to walk away from the conflict for at least 15 minutes. During this time, you can calm down and do an inner bonding process. As the stress response leaves your body, you can think better. This allows you to open to learning about your end of the conflict.
Once you are clear about what you are doing that is causing the problem and what you need to do differently, you can reconnect with your partner and talk it out. Sometimes there is not even anything to talk out, because the conflict was about the fight or flight rather than about a specific issue. More often than not, it is the stress response itself that is the issue. When you take the time to calm down, you might be able to apologize for your anger, blame, defensiveness or withdrawal, and the conflict is over. Keep reading ...
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