Catherine Morris, MFT - Psychotherapy for Couples

How To Move Beyond Reactive Communication Patterns With Your Partner

Do you find yourself automatically going from “zero to angry” in less than fifteen seconds when your partner says something that disturbs you?

If you’ve ever acted on autopilot whenever your partner has said or done something that has rocked your boat, your reaction might have been triggered by an old experience that you may be unaware of.

Reactive behaviors destroy the bridge of intimacy between you and your partner. If you want to create a healthy, loving relationship, you have got to break free of the automatic reactions that are unconsciously running your life.

How many of these reactive behaviors do you recognize in yourself?

  • Blaming a disagreement on your partner.
  • Becoming angry and raising your voice.
  • Attempting to dominate your partner.
  • Disengaging or withdrawing from your partner.
  • Resentful compliance. o Whining, nagging or bullying.
  • Denying there is a problem.
  • Becoming confused and overwhelmed.

Re-Wire Your Brain

Your brain stores past painful experiences to help you avoid repeating them. Some painful memories are so embedded in your brain they will cause you to react unconsciously any time a current situation mimics that past experience. The good news is that you can “re-wire” your brain and teach it to respond in less reactive and more appropriate ways.

4 Steps to Develop Healthy, Non-Reactive Communication

In order to create new patterns, you and your partner will need to gain insight into the emotions and resulting behaviors that you trigger in one another. Here are 4 steps to get you started:

  1. Ask yourself: What does my partner’s behavior symbolize or represent for me? What are my beliefs and attitudes about his/her behavior? Remember you are seeing your partner’s behavior through your own lens and your perception may not mirror what is actually running through your partner’s mind.
  2. Become mindful of your behavior and the actions that you automatically take when you get “triggered”. Slowing yourself down and taking a few moments to gather your wits will help you to make better choices in how you react. You will be able to begin to see the pattern of the reactions that you and your partner are caught in. Becoming aware of this cycle is the first step in changing it.
  3. Agree to share your “triggers” with your partner. Expressing your own concerns and being open to listening to your partner’s concerns builds a bridge towards understanding each other more deeply. This understanding alone can help you to begin to control your own reactions and communicate more appropriately.
  4. Once you and your partner better understand each other’s reactive behaviors, you can practice new and healthy patterns of communication. As you engage in new, positive behaviors, you will reprogram the connections between the neurons in your brain and create new patterns of behavior. Instead of functioning from autopilot, you will learn to make healthy choices when you are in a conflict.

If you are having difficulty identifying your reactive emotions and their triggers, you may want to seek help from a couple’s therapist. Through coming to understand the cycle that exists between the two of you and additional practice during marriage counseling sessions, you and your partner can develop the skills to experience strong, healthy communication. In time, you will be well on your way to being loving communicators in a wonderful, and supportive relationship.

If you want help in re-programming your reactive behaviors in your relationship, contact me for a FREE phone consultation. Together we can decide how marriage counseling will be helpful for you. You can reach me at 650 289-9972 or via email at

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