Why Can't I Stop Fighting With My Spouse?

Effective Communication: Dealing With Sudden Reaction Syndrome

If everyday events are turning into massive blowouts, it might time for a deeper look.

Does this ever happen to you? While having a normal conversation with your partner, one of you gets triggered into a sudden extreme reaction. It may become a hot volcanic explosion or a cold freeze when one person shuts the connection down completely.

We call this "Sudden Reaction Syndrome". Perhaps you were talking about a chore to be done or a bill to be paid. Maybe it occurred during a simple discussion about an upcoming event or another person. Without warning, and often without explanation, there’s yelling, blaming, bickering… or abrupt withdrawal.

Many people try to solve or fix the conflict by asking, "Who started it?" This question is not very helpful; it's better to inquire, "Why does this keep happening?" Even more important is the question, "What can we do to prevent it from happening again?"

To change the nature of vicious reaction cycles, you need to understand trauma, which is usually at the core of Sudden Reaction Syndrome (SRS). In clinical literature, the severe form is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

However, sudden reactions come in a very wide range, from mild to severe. On one side of the spectrum are outward-directed reactions, such as:

  • Escalation in language or tone (outbursts of anger, blame, etc.)
  • Expressions of verbal or physical domination and control
  • Threatening non-verbal body language or facial expressions
  • Moderate to high drama
  • Momentary or sustained violence.

On the other side of Sudden Reaction Syndrome are the inward-directed reactions, including:

  • Rapid shut-down or withdrawal (energetically or physically)
  • Addictive numbing out with TV, drugs, alcohol, work, etc.
  • Sudden overwhelming emotional floods (e.g., sadness or confusion)
  • The feeling of being out of control
  • Inability to get emotional relief, even after expressing one’s feelings

Every couple gets reactive from time to time. If blow-ups happen frequently without getting resolved, it's important to learn as much as you can about SRS.

Sudden reactions often have their roots in past traumatic experiences. When something traumatic happens to a person (especially a child), it gets stored in a kind of hyper-sensitive memory compartment. For the rest of that person's life, anything that looks or feels similar to the traumatic incident can easily wrench open the compartment and unleash the hidden feelings, and the response to those feelings.The result can look and feel like a whirlwind of out-of-control behavior for some people, or an abrupt shutting down of expression for others. It can also appear as a mixture of the two.

In groundbreaking research called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control surveyed more than 17,000 people to gauge the impact of traumatic and stressful childhood experiences on later adult health.

The results are both disturbing and enlightening. The number of people who experienced some kind of abuse or neglect in their childhood is staggeringly high. The study revealed, "63 percent of people in the population had experienced at least one category of childhood trauma. More than 20 percent had experienced three or more categories of adverse childhood experiences.” Keep reading...

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