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Reactivity and Agreements

When you react towards your partner with sharp words, an angry rant, or sudden shut down, your partner is left feeling hurt, disheartened, and/or frustrated and probably needing consideration and caring.  From his pain he might burst forth and tell you never to do that again.  You agree not to react that way again, but sadly, you and your partner may find yourself repeating this cycle anyway.

It's important to set boundaries around behaviors you are not willing to engage with in your relationship.  While knowing and maintaining these boundaries is essential, it is only one step in handling reactivity in your relationship.

Having do-able agreements about how to handle reactivity is another important step.  Making agreements around reactivity requires that you accept that the same reaction will occur again. Accepting this you then have two tasks.  

First, take time to reflect on your reaction.  Name all the little signs that lead up to it.  Look at all dimensions of your experience:  thoughts, energy, posture, behavior, physiology, impulses, feelings, and beliefs.  Also, take note of the circumstances preceding your reaction like:  lack of sleep or food, just before a work deadline, a stressful time with family, etc.  The more you know about your reactivity the more you can anticipate it arising, the more quickly you can intervene with yourself.

Second, shift your focus from what you won't do to what you will do.  Make an agreement with your partner about what you will do at the first sign of reactivity.  Small do-able behavioral responses to reactivity often include things like this:  take three deep breaths before speaking, ask for a time-out, say "I'm reacting, could you say that in another way?", decide on a nonverbal signal to stop action - like putting your hand on your heart, go for a walk, etc.

If you and your partner have an agreement about how you will meet reactivity and can keep that agreement, the occurence of reactivity can be trust building rather trust eroding.


Take a moment now to reflect on the last time you were reactive.  Go through the steps above and then share with your partner the new way you would like to handle reactivity and see if it works for him or her.

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