Couples often ask me why they can’t seem to get out of their negative cycle and change the dysfunctional behaviors that often lead to escalating conflicts. I typically explain how our sympathetic nervous system reacts to stress in relationship, particularly when we are not feeling emotionally safe.

The first step is always to identify the behavior, what do you do, do you lash out? Shut down? Scream or walk away?

And then secondly, and most importantly in my opinion, is having compassion for the behavior and understanding as to why it’s there in the first place.

“Stress: It’s Not in Your Head, It’s in Your Nervous System” by Melody Walford explains quite well how the stress response process is rooted in our nervous system and not our minds.

“Unprocessed stress becomes traumatic memory that lies dormant in the body. A present day trigger can cause the stored memory to resurface. Understanding what is happening inside our body and brain, gives us compassion. Learning why our body responds the way it does, leads to awareness and empowerment. It moves us out of being isolated, fearful, victims. By caring for our bodies and understanding their self-protective responses, we can release shame.”

Past articles by Julie Hughes

Julie Hughes
Senior Associate Counsellor at Steadfast Counselling | Website | + posts

Julie has been counselling individuals and couples for over 10 years and is a Registered Professional Counsellor (#3065) with the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association. Julie holds a degree in Psychology from the University of Ottawa as well as having completed a 3 year counselling program with Clearmind International Institute.

View Julie's biography and counselling schedule.