Rival Reactions

Have you ever noticed that some people tend to overreact while others under-react? Do you find that you and your partner often react differently to situations? Many couples, in fact, do assume the opposite position when it comes conflictual topics. We polarize each other in an attempt to balance out each other's positions. For example, when one person in the relationship reacts with a strong emotion, the other person responds with an unemotional or intellectual response. Or perhaps one person minimizes certain issues while the other person maximizes the same topic. We are different people, with different personalities and different past experiences, all of which shape our beliefs, behaviors, and emotions. The problem arises when we get stuck in our view and have a difficult time appreciating the other's perspective. Why are we so set in our ways? It may relate to our need for control or our lack of trust in others. Sometimes fears and insecurities contribute to our competing reactions. Or maybe we are just stubborn, strong willed, and hard headed. Regardless of the reasons behind our reactions, inflexibility and rigidity prevent change and compromise.

Choosing the opposing response may seem natural to some of us even though it often creates conflict. For others, assuming an opposite position creates too much stress and turmoil so they are likely to give in. The individuals who typically react with strong emotion tend to marry partners that minimize their response. Some who overreact may be considered emotional rollercoasters while the minimizers tend to be emotional flat liners. Opposites do attract, but the initial attraction may wane over time and can actually become an irritant. You may have been attracted to the excitement, energy, and passion of an over-reactor. Or maybe you were drawn to the logical, stable, and even keeled type if chaos was a big part of your childhood. Either way we tend to polarize each other and assume extreme positions in relating to each other.

So how do we get out of this polarization of positions and opposing reactions? I suggest starting by swapping positions with the other person and arguing the opposing view. Or how about validating and accepting the person's position even though it's different from our own. When we accept that others may have wisdom or knowledge that we don't have, we show humbleness. Humility enables emotional maturity and interpersonal growth. Ultimately we want to respect other's opinions and compromise so that we can act as a team instead of opponents. Relationships are not easy and take effort. Recognize that when we take an extreme reaction with our partner it only fans the flame and prevents resolution or closure. Consider modulating your reaction and avoid the extreme response since that only keeps the process from moving forward. Being right is less important than being happy.

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