Do you Fight, Flight, or Freeze? “How did we get here?” | Couple's Net | Chandrama Anderson | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

Couple's Net

By Chandrama Anderson

E-mail Chandrama Anderson

About this blog: About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and grief and have lived in Silicon Valley since 1969. I'm the president of Connect2 Marriage Counseling. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in ...  (More)

View all posts from Chandrama Anderson

Do you Fight, Flight, or Freeze? “How did we get here?”

Uploaded: Jul 10, 2020
When you are triggered or flooded — i.e., upset or overwhelmed — do you fight, take flight, or freeze? These are the biologically wired-in options for humans. This has made us survive as a species. You need this tool; it also gets in your way in your relationship at times.

I often see couples where they name the “dynamic” as one person being the angry one, and the other being either the distant/avoidant one or the (seemingly) calm one. And there are strong feelings about this description.

I encourage you to reframe your viewpoint: when you are triggered (remember, it happens in 1/200th of a second), you will have a limbic (emotional) reaction of fight, flight, or freeze.

The trick is to s l o w  e v e r y t h i n g d o w n to allow time for your cortical
(thinking) brain to come online so you may respond with a constructive and realistic viewpoint.

If you can stop seeing your partner (or yourself, for that matter) as the
“angry/avoidant/frozen one,” and simply as reacting in the way you are wired, many
misunderstandings and fights can be avoided. Or, you can keep playing limbic ping-pong in which you pass moods back and forth, and continue to be unhappy (and think it’s your partner’s

I have heard clients state their style as “dominant/submissive” or “forceful/cowering” or
“yelling/avoiding” and there is understandable anger and frustration with these systems. I do not believe it is your partner’s intention to disrespect you. These are attempts at connection, believe it or not!

Dr. Sue Johnson, in Hold Me Tight, explains the science of attachment theory in relation to couples, and spells out these “demon dialogues” in an understandable way. I highly recommend you read it.

We are an open system species, meaning that part of our physical and emotional regulation comes from within, but part comes from those around us. We are driven to seek connection, even if our attempts (intention) elicit a poor response (impact).

When your partner does not respond, you turn up the volume, then s/he turns up the volume in his or her emotional style, and before you know it, things have escalated and you wonder, “How did we get here?”

Does this cycle sound familiar? Does this look like you two? Do you know how this feels? If you want to break the blaming cycle in addition to breaking the fight, flight, freeze cycle, you can. It is work. And you are capable.

It is possible to get into a positive cycle of appreciation and gratitude with the person you
love(d), and pass this back and forth instead. You can build “credit” for the moments when you say something unfortunate. Dr. John Gottman’s research found that couples need a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions for each one that is negative.

Check out my recommended reading list on my website. If you spend as much time on the solution as you do interacting poorly or thinking about all the things your partner does or doesn’t do right, or avoiding him or her, or planning your vacations, you will make a difference in your own life — and each others’.

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


There are no comments yet for this post

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.

Get fact-based reporting on the COVID-19 crisis sent to your inbox daily.

Fighting an 'uphill battle,' Palo Alto's longtime MacArthur Park to close until 2021
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 4,331 views

Do peaceful protests do any good? How about the more violent ones?
By Diana Diamond | 7 comments | 2,476 views

Traffic Lights for the Whole Family
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,756 views

Did a hedge fund just steal your EV rebate?
By Sherry Listgarten | 0 comments | 1,206 views

Tough back-to-school decisions
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 316 views