It usually starts with a little passive aggressive comment. Maybe it sounds neutral to someone that doesn’t know, but you *know* your partner and you *know exactly* what they’re saying. You decide to retaliate with a little pass-agg of your own, dialling up the heat just a touch to remind them that if anyone has a reason to be sassy it’s 100% you. They reply and it’s even WORSE, who tf do they think they are? You strap in, and before you know it, you’re having “that fight again” on a one-way train to losing-your-shit-fuck-you town.
Sound familiar? The vicious cycle can be defined as “a sequence of reciprocal cause and effect in which two or more elements intensify and aggravate each other, leading inexorably to a worsening of the situation” or just, a vortex of hell. If you’re trapped in the rage-reconciliation cycle, pinballing between loving and hating your partner, there’s actually several really valid reasons why, one of them being biological. This unhappy habit causes hormonal shifts that our body can actually come to rely on.
When we feel threatened, stressed, and like someone is getting up in our grill, our brain is literally flooded with the stress-hormone cortisol. As cortisol enters the chat, all helpful, tension-diffusing functions like strategy, trust and compassion smoke-bomb, leaving your instinctive brain to take over (uh-oh). As humans, we’re pretty much born with ego-mania to y’know, survive, so when this happens, our instincts kick-in and we can go NUCLEAR for our literal lives (or SHOW THEM WHO'S BOSS).
It’s here that our bodies make a chemical choice about how it should protect itself from the loss of power and shame of being wrong (even though you NEVER are, we know), and as a result is unable to regulate its emotions or handle the gaps between expectations and reality. There’s 3 options here: Fight, flight or freeze, and if you’re still reading this article, we’re gonna go ahead and take a wild guess that your default is numero uno. Don’t feel bad, it’s the most common response. The more often this response is activated during interactions with your partner, the more memories will be created of conversations that were not safe, setting you up to become more reactive towards them, and ultimately maintaining the vicious cycle.
The Wreckage + Reconciliation
Once the argument is over, your brain goes through an adrenaline slump that can mimic feelings of mild depression, so it goes looking for it’s next high: dopamine. Dopamine is the daddy of pleasure, reward, satisfaction, basically all the good shit. Your brain comes to learn that after the hell comes the hell YEAH of forgiveness, realising they’re the best person ever, ever and maybe even some banging make-up sex. The ceremony of reconciliation feels even better after all the toxic aggression, and you can’t have the rainbow without the rain baby. Fun at the time? Yep. Sustainable and healthy? NO.
Pump The Brakes
When you’re in the eye of the storm, it’s hard to see it from a bird’s eye view and the patterns might be harder to understand. “That one argument” you keep having might still fuck you off, but there’s ways you can control and even stop this freight train in it’s tracks.
Adopting the DIY approach involves a change of attitude. What your partner says or does is no longer critical. How you react is what matters now – and that’s entirely up to you. Meditation, journaling or even just chatting it through with that one friend who always tells you the truth can all help give you a fresh perspective.
Consider the root of the argument, or the seed of shit if you will. Often the content of the argument is a cover for a more fundamental difference. Dig deeper and try and identify what this is. Because of how intense this can feel, the presence of a trusted, experienced third person can go a long way and some sessions with a recommended couples’ therapist could help.
50 Shades of Grey
No, that doesn’t mean just f*ck the pain away (although who can say no to the big-O?). It actually means that you should try and stop viewing the issue as you Vs them, black and white, right and wrong, and start meeting in the middle. As annoying as that might seem, a little compromise can change that train ride from hell to well pretty damn quickly. Breathe, listen, leave your ego at the door.
So now you know, it’s not you (ever), it’s hormones (when is it not?). Good luck out there, and remember every couple fights, it’s how you deal with it that counts.
Article Written by Ianthe Jacob
Article image credit @katherinelond