In early November we ran the Real Life : Real Love marriage retreat here in Melbourne, with thirty three couples taking time out of their busy schedules to work on their relationship together. One such topic discussed was the reactive cycle, with questions such as "What do you do when your buttons get pushed? What feelings do you experience? What are your fears or reactions that get pushed during conflict tension and disharmony?"
We each have a reactive cycle, something within us that reacts to a certain mode of operating. Often it can be triggers from past hurts which rise up within us, which can have a detrimental effect on a relationship, and can damage, often unwittingly the person we most should cherish. As these triggers get pushed, certain feelings rise up within us such as abandonment, feeling unsafe, helplessness, humiliation and inadequacy to name a few. The other spouse then reacts with their own set of buttons which may be a different set of feelings like feeling uncared for, being misunderstood, defensiveness or some of the same feelings as the spouse. This then goes round and round, repeated many times (reactive cycle) sometimes for days, weeks and even years.
James 4:1 says, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?"
The family of origin plays one of the most significant parts in building the foundation for the marriage whether it was positive or a negative experience. Many of the issues we see forming in our marriages can be traced back to not dealing effectively with what had been role modelled for us in our formative years. How the parents communicated with each other, handled money, demonstrated love or responded during conflict.
It’s as we identify the triggers which is a first step to gaining understanding and to label the feelings and express them to our spouse, such as "I feel misunderstood by your comment" or "I feel unsafe when you speak to me in anger." It is better not to accuse our spouse, "You always…, You never", but to own our feelings and identify when our triggers are being pushed. This will hopefully open up a fresh dialogue to change, and to examine why we do the things we do.
Prov 20:5 " The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out."
Dealing with breaking this reactive cycle is not easy and may require the help of a third person, a counsellor, but by examining how and why we react the way we do, and what might be causing the trigger to be pushed, can go a long way to breaking the reactive cycle. To find a Christian counsellor in your area go to Christian Counsellors Australia. For article on Reducing negative reactions in conflict.