The Couple’s Conflict


by Clint Hamm, Refuge Center Intern

“In most cases partners do not intentionally hurt each other; they just don’t know how to get through to each other in more  successful ways.” — Mona DeKoven Fishbane, Loving with the Brain in Mind…

Does conflict with your partner leave you baffled and confused? Do you walk away from arguments unable to remember why (or how) you let yourself get so emotional, so heated… so mean ? You’re usually so reasonable… Right?

love-brain-121106What if I told you that – at least in part – your super charged reaction to your loved one is as it is because he/she is your loved one? It’s the same reason you’re “reasonable” at work: your loved one isn’t there. There’s no one else in the world with whom you can have an argument that would mean so much. When you fight with your partner, there’s everything to lose. You probably understand me by virtue of your common sense and personal experience. But in this case, we also have the support of “attachment theory” and neurobiology to back us up. Conflict with our partners activates the “amygdala response,” that fight or flight or freeze reaction we all experience in the face of danger and threat.

Yes, a heated argument with your loved one sends you straight into survival mode. Suddenly, self-defense and protection turns into blame and defensiveness. Before you know it, you’re caught in a cycle of back-and-forth,  pursue & retreat: one of you in fight, the other in flight. It’s like watching a lion go after a gazelle on the Discovery Channel.

So, ask yourself: why are you eating your loved one? Or fleeing in terror? Do you wish you could interrupt this automatic,  downward cycle that seems to be the real enemy of your intimacy, the real threat to your marriage? There are many counselors at The Refuge Center who would love nothing more than to partner with you and your mate and help you join together in “more successful ways.” Call us at (615) 5915262, or visit our website at

Further Reading…
Fishbane, M. (2013). Loving with the brain in mind: Neurobiology and couple therapy . New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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