We’re fortunate to live in a civilized country where most of the time most of us regulate our emotions relatively well. In public. The main reason we do this is because of the consequences of not doing it. You give someone the “finger” in your car because you feel safe to do it. It’s unlikely to cause you any harm (that is, unless the guy gets out of his car and threatens to bash your windshield in and beat you up. See image above). Try doing that to a police officer who pulls you over for speeding. You control yourself because of the consequences.

But what are the consequences of reactive (unskilled) behaviour in intimate relationships? The price we pay. Loneliness, frustration, anger, pain. The existential angst of emotional disconnection. In other words it hurts. A lot. We turn to misery stabilizers to cope. Medication, substances, screen time, shopping, eating, etc. Lack of awareness and skills are dramatically reflected in what we in RLT (Relational Life Therapy) call “The Five Losing Strategies.”

Emotional reactivity is not always aggressive and violent. It comes in a variety of flavours. 

For illustration purposes I’ve listed the reactive and unskilled behaviours (losing strategies) followed by skilled behaviours (winning strategies) in brackets.

1. Unskilled: Being right. Skilled: You realize that relational reality is SUBJECTIVE therefore arguing about it is futile. You can be right or you can be married but you can’t be both.
2. Unskilled: Controlling your partner. Skilled: You realize you can only control yourself.
3. Unskilled: Getting “unbridled” (if you don’t know what this means refer to image above). Skilled: You respond appropriately (mindfully) to the situation, neither over or under reacting.
4. Unskilled: Retaliation, offending from the victim position. Skilled: You take responsibility. You don’t believe in provocation because you know you can always walk away.
5.  Unskilled: Withdrawal. Avoidance. Skilled: You deal directly and warm heartedly with the situation.

Take kids for example. When they don’t get their way they argue, manipulate, intimidate, retaliate and sulk. Adults do the same thing, except it’s called “relationship issues.” I’ve never worked with a couple that weren’t caught up in one or more of these losing strategies. The stories may be different but the patterns are same.

How to overcome the 5 Losing Strategies – Relational Mindfulness 101

I’ve talked about this in the past but it’s so important I want to bring it up again. In RLT we call it the STOP-BREATHE-THINK technique. Just like you would when the police officer pulls you over, before you say anything (argue, retaliate, get upset, etc.) STOP! Don’t open your mouth because if you do “words will fall out.” BREATHE. Take a couple of deep breaths to relax your nervous system so that you can THINK (at least reasonably straight). 

It sounds simple because it is. But it’s not easy. It takes practice. Try it out and see what happens. Of course there’s a lot more to learn about mindfulness and emotional regulation. But it’s good way to start moving in a better direction. The bigger question. Does the pain of the losing strategies in your relationship provide sufficient motivation for you to WANT to change your habits of reacting? Pain is the great motivator in life! People don’t change when they’re comfortable. Something to ponder.

I’ve come to believe that mindfulness training is the long term solution and antidote to the losing strategies. It’s also the path to a happier life. Let me know if you’re interested in my 10-session Couples Mindfulness Training program. I’d love to talk to you about it.


*Bane is a character created by DC Comics