Reaction vs. Response: Which is better?

Reacting to your ex-wife isn’t usually the best move; responding is a much better choice. We’ll look deeper into the differences between the two, but first, let’s take this scenario as an example:

The next few days are your allotted time with your child. As you’re rushing out the door to pick her up from school, you receive a text from your former spouse. It reads:

“Don’t bother going to the school, she doesn’t want to see you and wants to spend the weekend with me.”

You react by sending a text that reads “you can’t tell me what to do, she’s my child too.” and maybe even throw some hurtful adjectives at the end… does that sound familiar?

Don’t beat yourself up. We’ve all been there; reacting to disturbing texts or emails when arguing with someone is a reaction. If you’re going through a divorce filled with animosity or you’re dealing with a high-conflict personality, it can be even more tempting to react this way. Our thoughts and feelings are conditioned reactions based on our past experiences, hence why it’s common to react to your former spouse when triggered.

When most people get into a highly emotional situation their decisions have the potential to be driven by emotions, rather than by the conscious choices that they make. This means a higher chance of reacting instead of responding.

Recognizing that we are highly emotional, whether by personality or situation, gives the opportunity to create strategies that will help identify and separate our emotions from situations so that we can think more clearly.

Reaction vs. Response

A reaction is instant, it comes from the beliefs and biases of the unconscious mind allowing it to run the show when you say or do something. It doesn’t give you the time to consider the long-term effects of what you just said or did.

Think of it as your defense mechanism: reactions are survival-oriented. Most often, individuals will regret the reaction, whether instantly or later. The key is to limit how often it happens.

Ideally when engaging with someone, responding is a better option. It allows us time to reframe our initial thoughts and consider what their consequences may be. It lowers the risk of regretting what you are about to say or do.

A reaction has thought, meaning, and reasoning behind it, therefore, presents itself more slowly.  It’s based on information from both the conscious and unconscious minds.

So how can we shift from reaction to response?

It requires emotional intelligence, patience, and a willingness to make this change.

1. Collect yourself.

Before reacting, pause and allow your initial emotional reaction to pass (this is usually the most difficult part). Then address the individual again, and see how you respond differently. Repeat this process, giving yourself time to work through your old conditioning. Consider pausing to respond and give yourself time to relax and settle your thoughts.

2. Create a strategy.

Winning teams don’t show up on game day without a plan. And you shouldn’t either. Like any good sports team, you want to have multiple game plans to choose from— for both a good offense and defense. Although you can’t think of every emotionally charged scenario that you might run into, you can think of different ways you can generally respond. For example, if you know that your former spouse will most likely be confrontational when you pick up your children, being prepared with a plan can help you stay focused and not react. The more prepared you are to enter into a conversation like this, the more likely you will be able to remain calm, focused, and successful. Viewing it as a process allows us to be intellectually invested rather than emotionally attached. This is not to suggest that you should interact like a robot. Expressing your emotions is healthy, being emotionally reactive is not.

3. Change your language.

Changing the language you use, both to describe yourself and the situations in which you find yourself, can help you when you notice if you’re becoming reactive. Tell yourself (out loud if you must) how you want to be. You may be angry but saying “I am fine” or “I am ready to talk rationally” will help set aside the emotion you’re feeling until a better time comes along when you can work through it.

If you tell yourself that you are losing control of the situation, you will. Instead, tell yourself that you have everything under control. Your brain will catch up.

The language that we use influences us more than people realize.

If you practice these techniques, over time you will get to the point where you will be able to be calm and respond with a strategy in emotional situations. You will feel so empowered the next time you and your former spouse are in a highly emotional situation, that you will handle it by responding—not reacting.

Imagine how much more you could accomplish if you focused on the end game by responding thoughtfully instead of reacting emotionally in the moment.

In the meantime, the next time you receive that gaslighting text or phone call, pause when you feel yourself about to react. Take a deep breath, step back, and allow yourself to respond.

Hayley Lisa

The Divorce Coach For Men