4 Ways Reactivity Impacts Your Relationships

4 Ways Reactivity Impacts Your Relationships


In the previous post, the emphasis was on how your personal success hinges on the quality of your relationships. The reverse is equally true. The health of your relationships depends upon the personal choices you make. Your moment by moment choices shape your life, and that means your relationships.  

In the words of Aristotle, “[You] are what [you] repeatedly do. Excellence … is not an act, but a habit.” The health of your relationships rests on the consistent personal choices you make regarding how you live and treat yourself, and the other, in the context of your relationships.

And, guess what? How you inwardly “treat” others reflects how you “treat” yourself. Your subconscious mind does not know the difference between how you treat the other, and how you treat yourself! (More on the power of your self-talk later!)

In turn, your choices are shaped by what you most value, the core beliefs you hold about what is most important to you in life, beliefs that were largely formed in your early, formative years as a child.  While pursuing my doctorate degree, for my dissertation, I conducted a study of the effects of childhood experiences on how partners “do conflict” in their current couple relationships. I hypothesized that partners repeat, with some level of exactitude, how they resolved conflict in childhood in how they engage in conflict. Not surprisingly, the results were significant.

Findings showed, for example, that partners who experienced the use of verbal or physical aggression by their parents as children (toward them or one another, or both) were more likely to re-enact very similar patterns in their couple relationship. What patterns? Reactive tactics you’ve been conditioned to use when you want to let others know that you feel disappointed, hurt or just plain scared. To get others to cooperate, many of us automatically use tactics that instill another with emotions of fear, shame or guilt. More than 90% of parents in the U.S. use physical punishment, and consistently exercise fear-intensifying patterns.

Thus, when partners in couple relationships get triggered, they use very similar approaches with one another to get assurance or cooperation—and then, feel totally shocked when their efforts produce the opposite result! 

To be sure, the quality of our lives and relationships are negatively impacted by these reactive patterns. Yet, our brains still hold onto these protective programs as if our survival still depends on them. Many clients share that even in cases where they want to behave in ways that are “the exact opposite” from their parents, on some level, they still find themselves repeating the same patterns.

Defensive reactivity erodes and harms your key relationships. 


  1. It creates distance between you and those we most love.
  2. It blocks your ability to empathically connect with yourself or others.
  3. It blocks you from developing mutual understanding and shared meanings.
  4. It prevents you from working cooperatively together on shared goals.

What emotion, love or fear, do you choose to activate in yourself and others when you respond to something that upsets you? How do you think this affects the results of your interactions, and your relationship in the long term? 

These questions are too big to leave to chance. Your subconscious mind, left on its own, can put a damper on the level of emotional fulfillment you realize in your couple relationship. It's patiently waiting for you to take the reins, as master of your thoughts and emotions.

The moment by moment choices you make are pure, life shaping power. Choose wisely. Your life will thank you.