Oh, here we go again.
December 21, 2009 9:35 PM   Subscribe

I am an ENFP. He is an ENTP. Our emotional responses while arguing lead to complete exhaustion. M'aidez!

Obviously, I cannot entirely free my question of biases, but I will try to be as objective as I can:

Occasionally, my partner & I argue. Often our arguments are the result of miscommunication, so we're trying to work on that. However, our emotional responses, or lack thereof, seem to be an obstacle.

He typically shuts down when we start fighting & tries to be logical, rational, & expedient. When he does this, I feel like he's retreating emotionally & ceasing to be invested in our discussion. If (who am I kidding, when) I start crying, he'll watch me detachedly or try to prod me to continue what I was saying, regardless of my capacity for coherent speech; I end up feeling hurt and betrayed, & wonder why I'm spending so much energy on the conversation.

I, on the other hand, feel like I lose much of my ability to rationalize when I'm in a heightened emotional state; the lizard brain takes over, as it were. & I tend to get trapped inside of my emotional response instead of fighting to have a logical response. I try to be logical, but often I can't even remember what I said five seconds ago, much less remember a whole structure of cause and effect. I want to communicate on his level but continue to be undermined by my own hyperreactivity.

This nearly invariably happens. I have been working to disarm the triggers that turn a situation sour, but I would also like to have skills to cope when we're in the thick of things. In sum, I can't deal with him being cold, & he doesn't know how to relate to me. Has anyone successfully dealt with this before, or can point me to helpful resources?
posted by opossumnus to Human Relations (27 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Read How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking. You and your partner are almost an exact fit for the dynamic that the authors are describing. Bottom line - you aren't the only one responding from the lizard brain. He is using logic to protect himself from the emotional reality that the person he loves most is upset with him. The simplest advice is don't try to sort out a miscommunication when you are both upset - first focus on re-establishing connection ("I still love you") that will let you both feel safe in the relationship and then work through the specifics of the problem.
posted by metahawk at 9:43 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh God, I'm on the opposite side of the same situation. I try to be rational and my partner goes into lizard brain mode. But honestly, what do you mean "cold"? Would you prefer that he went into lizard brain mode too? Your relationship wouldn't survive if that happened. You should be thankful he's patient enough to put up with emotional "hyperreactivity" which I think is a euphemism for being a childish idiot (not to be harsh or anything... but it's pretty bad on the receiving end I'll tell you).

I can't see what's wrong with trying to be logical and rational - if you were both logical and rational think of all the drama you'd avoid. I'm obviously biased here, but you're basically admitting here that he's the sensible one and you're not. There's nothing he can do to "relate" to somebody who's in a totally irrational state.

p.s. our relationship is perfect 99.9% of the time and these incidents almost always coincide with the "lunar cycle" as it were. She knows she's being stupid and says so afterwards, I guess some people just need emotional release sometimes.
posted by moorooka at 9:56 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Moorooka, I think she's looking for way in which she and her partner can cut down on the times when their emotional reactions alienate each other and set off the other person worse. His emotional deadpan only increases her irrationality in the moment, and her irrationality only sends him deeper into that blank stare mode.

This isn't about blame, it's about fixing the problem so it's less severe next time and learning to support your partner's weaknesses.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:07 PM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

I too am on the logical end. I agree with moorooka: What do you want to come out of this? How do you want him to respond to you when you are in crazy state?
That's always what got me: I automatically try to fix the problem...but I appear "unfeeling" by doing so.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 10:11 PM on December 21, 2009

Best answer: It's good that you've recognized the pattern. Now to help you break the cycle.

I recommend you both reserve the right to call a time out when you spot the point of diminishing returns in a conversation. (You break down when you can't handle it anymore; he shuts down when he can't handle it anymore. Maybe they seem more similar when put that way?)

You'll know when to call time out when you feel yourself holding your breath or you feel your heart or throat tightening up. At least that's how I've felt it coming on... I don't know what his signs might be, but he probably will.

This time out is your chance to have an emotional outlet. Cry if you need to, or take a few deep breaths, or walk around the block. Whatever you do, use the time to focus on your emotional needs, and don't try to make that point that was on the tip of your tongue, at least for the next 10 minutes. When you come back to the conversation, you'll both be able to pick up where you left off, but without the emotional obstacles.

Just set expectations while you're calm and neither arguing nor emotional, and as long as your request is fair and equal, your partner will likely be glad to play along. It sure beats watching you suffer, I imagine.

And while you're at it, if there are other ground rules you need to set, use the same conversation. Some of our favorites are: we always have the right to change our minds, we always take each other at his/her word, we try to find the common ground and go from there, and no cheap shots.

Good luck.
posted by nadise at 10:15 PM on December 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

I think she's looking for way in which she and her partner can cut down on the times when their emotional reactions alienate each other and set off the other person worse.
By her own admission, she gets so emotional that it wouldn't matter what the other person was doing. The blame is self-assigned. Either she learns to get a grip on the lizard brain, or he just learns to weather the storm (which he probably has by now).

The next best thing is just learn to avoid situations that lead to conflict, because once you get there it's already too late.
posted by moorooka at 10:20 PM on December 21, 2009

Ugh. I'm more like you, in general, and I tend to think of how you're describing your boyfriend as being, just, how boys are. Obviously not all boys, but my father and brother and everyone I've dated tends to shut down and stare - like she's from mars! - at a crying female. So - it's not rare, anyway. I have found that the best way to have emotional real-ness (for lack of a better term at so late an hour) is to not start things when I'm upset. If there's something that needs to be addressed, it's better to sleep on it (which invariably ratchets down whatever I would have cried about) and bring it up when I'm not upset - so I don't trigger the weird shut down - and then we can both talk about it like Meyers Briggs Just People.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:20 PM on December 21, 2009

everyone I've dated tends to shut down and stare - like she's from mars! - at a crying female.

Here's your chance to inform the masculine community. What exactly should we do when words can't help, and moments prior there was yelling?

Give you a hug and offer a tissue? See, in my book, thats like trying to pet a cat that's hissed at you. When presented with an angry or threatened cat, don't do anything until you've assessed the situation and found a suitable escape route. Same goes for criers; as best I can make of it, the best least-losing move is to leave the room and drop the argument for a moment (overnight has been suggested).
posted by pwnguin at 10:43 PM on December 21, 2009

Give you a hug and offer a tissue shoulder. Let this go on for as long as it's necessary to calm the other person down enough to become un-flustered. It doesn't necessarily require a lot of time or effort. Sometimes words and the 'logical' path just won't work, but simply leaving the room and dropping the argument (or rather, postponing it) can feel like abandonment at a heightened emotional time like that.

I'm a crier. I cry when I'm sad. When I'm frustrated. When I'm stressed out. When I'm happy too on occasion. I'm not a constant weeper, and I've gone months without crying, but in times of strong emotion (keyword: strong), it can come pouring right out.

In other words, it doesn't solve the problem to run away from someone who is crying and it makes them feel alienated or odd. Acting like their emotional response is invalid, scary, or otherwise undeserving of recognition IS cold.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:59 PM on December 21, 2009 [17 favorites]

What exactly should we do when words can't help, and moments prior there was yelling?

Well, I don't know about yelling. The best thing would be to ignore the crying (which isn't some kind of witchy manipulation, it's just an automatic reaction some people have to emotional stress) and continue the conversation.

But - as I said - crying freaks a lot of people out, so it's best to not engage about important issues until you can get that under control. I'm not saying it's fair (I don't think that criers are below freak-out-at-criers on some global emotional scale) but I've found that it works.
posted by moxiedoll at 11:01 PM on December 21, 2009

Both of you need to communicate much slower! Seriously, take a 5-30-however many minutes you need break. There's no point in trying to listen and be heard when you're emotionally overwhelmed to tears and he's emotionally overwhelmed to shutdown mode. When you feel things start to escalate, kindly get away from each other, think, and regroup when you feel ready. Fights should be constructive, not quickfire. There's no rush.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:02 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm an INTJ; Mr. Angie is an INFJ, so we're sort of like you folks, but I (the female) am the cold, rational person. The louder he gets, the quieter I get. When I was much younger I'd use my ability to stay rational and articulate as a weapon -- a horrible and hurtful thing to do. One scene from our marriage: at the height of an argument, my husband shouted, "Living with you is like living with Mr. Spock!!" at which I looked at him quizzically and said quietly, "Really? Neat." I'm not proud of myself for that moment.

One of our strategies was to go out for coffee and dessert at a quiet time for both of us and agree to some Ground Rules for Conflict. Some of our rules are: we can never threaten leaving/divorce; we must make a completely honest effort to stay with the current problem and not drag out things from our past; each person can call a time out for any reason, including fatigue, imminently going postal, needing to keep an appointment, etc., and it doesn't mean that call-outer doesn't love the other person any more. (As P-types, you may well be able to cope with unfinished business better than my husband and I can. We J-types like things wrapped up neat and tidy before we move on.) I've agreed never to play word games again. Our coffee meetings also helped us to realize that conflict is inevitable and even necessary for each person in the relationship to have the space needed to self-actualize.

Something that Feeling types find hard to understand is that Thinking types are often deeply sensitive and thin-skinned. The outpouring of emotion from our Feeling partners can frighten us. We Ts have emotions but often do not recognize them. In our house when my husband is feeling out of sorts for reasons that have nothing to do with me, I pick up on it and become depressed and unhappy but until recently didn't know what was going on. I'd become more and more unhappy because Feeling types are often pretty volatile. Husband would have completely got over what was causing his funk, and I'm still wallowing in emotional murk, too unaware of my emotional state to realize what's going on. Leading husband to say, "What's the matter?" and getting the inevitable, "Nothing." Not helpful.

At our best, my Feeling type husband helps me identify feelings that I can't figure out, and I help him articulate his feelings to me. And while we try to keep to the immediate issue, it's honest and helpful to try to figure out if there's an underlying issue and how it's fueling the conflict. No one really gets hurt about the toothpaste cap being left off again; it's the underlying attitude of, "I don't care about your standards and I'm not willing to take 5 seconds to do this little thing which means a lot to you." And it's also helpful to make the link that when you were a kid it seemed that no one had 5 seconds to watch you cartwheel, look at your drawing, etc., and so this seeming neglect by your partner is hurtful because it's pushing deeply installed buttons. Once you've worked together to figure this out, good things happen.

Something to remember is that you're both Es, meaning that unless you talk about it, you can't understand what's going on. This may lead to more opportunities for conflict as you work out what's going on inside yourselves by talking out loud. This might lead to saying things you regret later because that's how Es figure things out. You may need to give yourselves a 3-minute edit rule, recognizing that in the heat of the moment you may say things that are not quite what you meant to say.

We celebrated our 30th anniversary this past summer. Good luck on your journey.
posted by angiep at 11:15 PM on December 21, 2009 [27 favorites]

Response by poster: By her own admission, she gets so emotional that it wouldn't matter what the other person was doing.

moorooka, I never said that. I specifically said I want resources to help us cope in this situation; clearly, I think there is definitely the potential for a difference in duration and intensity of this emotional drain. It seems to me that you feel superior to us lesser, emotional beings, but that doesn't answer my question. I am learning to get a grip on lizard brain, he is learning to reach out to me; he asserts (so this isn't just my crazy brain talking) that the blame rests on both of us.

His stoicness exacerbates my defensiveness, because I feel like I'm being vulnerable & he's protected & the dynamic is intrinsically unfair. Once I've gathered myself & am ready to try to pat everything back into shape, he's still behind his wall of retreat, which only makes me more frustrated, which sets me off again.

moxiedoll, I don't think this is necessarily how boys are. I wouldn't even suggest that it's due to the paradigm of masculinity. This is the first time I've been involved with anyone whose emotional shutdown was so impenetrable that it caused me distress.

pwnguin (love the username, by the way), think about it: Crying isn't useful or acceptable in a lot of situations according to society's terms. I know that when I end up crying, I feel inferior (because other people can deal with this without crying), useless (because I've negated the next few minutes' worth of conversation) and lonely (because I've become emotionally isolated). I understand that your "angry cat" has possibly wronged you, but chances are you are not an innocent party, either. cmgonzalez has good advice, but I understand how feeling superior to the angry cat can make a person unwilling to compromise in that situation; my partner expresses similar feelings.
posted by opossumnus at 11:27 PM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your issue may be that your boyfriend is "stonewalling" you, which is not the same as remaining sane and logical during an argument. It can be extremely detrimental to a relationship. I don't know a lot about specific resources for this problem, but I think that's the specific term you are going to want to use when looking for books to deal with it.
posted by whoaali at 11:54 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I disagree with feeling "superior", just different. My benchmark for crying is pretty much Bambi's mother dying, or pain. Indeed, if someone is crying I imagine someone did something terribly wrong; and that's kind of the mismatch. It's easy to assume people think and operate like yourself, and when they don't you, start replaying the scene in your head for some alternative interpretation of events.

So if someone's crying during an argument, I admit I'd be confused. Perhaps my household is dysfunctional, but the escalation of yelling is throwing or hitting. If I tried the hug approach, I assume the response would be an adversarial "Don't touch me!" This is what I mean by angry cat; a neighbor friend of mine had a black cat, not declawed and very territorial. Just walking into the same room as it would sometimes provoke an arched back. Sometimes it would let you pet it, but it's not advisable. As long as I'm an enemy, I'm not sure what can be done.

Anyways, the solution is probably patience on behalf of your partner. Resolving conflict, especially after such events, is good, but you can't think or talk yourself calm. Asking you to 'power through' it ain't gonna work. Probably you could tell him to do anything unrelated to the argument at that point and he'd do it.

However, even without a feeling of superiority, it does feel unfair that I should compromise to placate a person's feelings because they are more intense, especially when by your own admission they are hyperreactions and it's certainly impossible to verify. I'd also feel a bit manipulated, by having sympathy evoked. Maybe this provides some insights. Or maybe I accidentally stoked the flames?
posted by pwnguin at 12:38 AM on December 22, 2009

> I, on the other hand, feel like I lose much of my ability to rationalize when I'm in a heightened emotional state; the lizard brain takes over

Try two simple steps:

1. Before you discuss your feelings about something, make a mental image of what is upsetting you. Then make the image much smaller and dimmer, as though you are pushing the image away. If you *do this with your imagination*-- that is, take the specific mental action of visualizing the image growing "smaller" and "further"-- you will probably be better able to keep your emotions from going into overdrive. This, in turn, will help you to explain what is upsetting you, and what you would like him to do differently.

2. In a similar vein, notice that when you do go into runaway mode, you're probably thinking of several different problems and possible negative outcomes at once. In that case, slow down your own thoughts, and visually separate the different threats that are triggering your emotions. Put an image of Problem X to your left, an image of Problem Y to your right, an image of Possible Negative Consequence Z out in the distance ahead of you. Visually separating the threats can help you to see that they are not all, in fact, happening at once, that they are not inextricably intertwined, and that they are not insurmountable-- they are separate factors, that can, with calm and clarity and communication, be seen as the little things they are.

Note that in order to have the calm and groundedness you need to do 2., you'll probably need to do 1.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:42 AM on December 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth, one basic strategy to keep in mind when conflicts arise is, as much as possible, to take some comfort in all the qualities, etc., that you both in fact share. Assuming your self-classification is accurate, both you and SO are pretty odd ducks, as far as the general population goes. "N"s are so far out numbered by Sensors that if you two were in other relationships, odds are the issues of communication and, more importantly, compassion would be even bigger problems. As it stands, you've both got a lot in common, and at times when things get dicey, that's something to come back to, beyond whatever other reactions or frustrations you feel.

Having said that, when these conflicts happen, it's definitely annoying. Since we're on the MBTI theme, one place to also look might be with the "E" part. As a pretty hardcore "I" myself, I'll mention that some "E"s I've known have a tendency to talk matters to death and hence blow all manner of issues way out of proportion by articulating what seems like every little thing the moment it comes to mind, whether it's constructive or not (again, it's all about perspective). Instead, there may be some benefit in reflecting a bit more up front and filtering some of the reactions that arise in a given situation before jumping immediately into sharing/communicating. Some "I"s actually write out their reactions before broaching the face-to-face conversation on an issue, and while this might be too far out of character for many "E"s, it's at least worth considering how to maintain focus when discussing issues that can bring out less constructive reactions among partners.

Again, though, it appears you both have a lot of compatibility to draw upon, and that's a big thing for any relationship to have.
posted by 5Q7 at 1:23 AM on December 22, 2009

He typically shuts down when we start fighting & tries to be logical, rational, & expedient. When he does this, I feel like he's retreating emotionally & ceasing to be invested in our discussion.

Sometimes when I am really upset, my emotions just shut down completely -- like a fuse blowing. This is also a type of stress response, and I can't help it any more than you can help crying. If he is shutting down, it doesn't necessarily mean that he's not invested or that he doesn't care. He just reacts differently.

For example, a few years ago I saw my mother collapse suddenly right in front of me (possibly of a mild heart attack) and immediately I turned into Spock. I love my mom to pieces, but for those few minutes it was like something went 'pop!' inside my head, and I was watching myself deal with the situation as if it were routine paperwork. Only when she regained consciousness and was apparently fine did I feel my emotions slowly reattaching.

His stoicness exacerbates my defensiveness, because I feel like I'm being vulnerable & he's protected & the dynamic is intrinsically unfair. Once I've gathered myself & am ready to try to pat everything back into shape, he's still behind his wall of retreat, which only makes me more frustrated, which sets me off again.

Don't feel bad about crying and don't make assumptions about his emotional state. If you need to cry it out, or go a few rounds with a punching bag first, do it. If he needs to sit around staring at a blank wall, or eat something, or surf the internet for a while, let him do it. Judging your respective responses to stress won't help. The two of you just each need to go do whatever it is that will make you ready to have a productive talk about the issue.
posted by emeiji at 1:37 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: when I start crying, he'll ...try to prod me to continue what I was saying, regardless of my capacity for coherent speech.

This is a problem. Your emotional reactions are valid, but you can't go to pieces and communicate clearly at the same time. Look for ways to deescalate the situation -- this may be taking a break, getting a kind word, cracking a joke, making a funny face, or some sort of physical touch; talk about the things that do and don't work for each of you, and then practice using them. Help each other calm down, and allow yourselves to calm down, before trying to talk about whatever issue seems to be at the heart of the disagreement. Whenever one of you is too troubled to talk sensibly or listen with compassion, back off and work on calming down instead of relentlessly pursuing the topic at hand. Put the cultivation of a long-term sense of safety and trust ahead of any short-term annoyance.

It's probably worth mentioning that I believe it's basically your own responsibility to only pursue conversations when you're able to converse. Your BF is making a mistake by prodding you to talk when you aren't in a state that's conducive to talking, but it's ultimately your responsibility to draw that line for him and insist on getting whatever you need. If you respond to his prodding and blab a bunch of hurtful nonsense at him because you're 'emotional,' that's all on you. You have no reason to be ashamed of your needs, but you need to take responsibility for them. It's nice when your partner's kindnesses can make it easier to get through difficult conversations, but you can't demand those kindnesses or manipulate the BF into providing them and expect to maintain a good relationship.

Also, I'm skeptical of the usefulness of the MB profiles here. I'm an INFP, my wife is an INTJ, and our typical dynamic is pretty much opposite the one that angiep described upthread. I suspect that the way we react in the context of intimate relationships is often quite different from how we react in other situations.
posted by jon1270 at 4:26 AM on December 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sorry, I haven't read the whole thread. Will do, later.

Well, opossumnus, you are my ex-girlfriend and I am your boyfriend. Thank you for the insight. We broke up in part because of things like you describe. In most part because of the classic incompatible directions in life. We are quite good friends and care about each other very much.

In my view, our relation to each other improved very much by ...

1) Her adding more calm, reasonable, humane logic to arguments. I am so thankful to her for coming to see this point of view and be willing to work at being more reasonable. It can be done, and IMO you will find it worth it.

2) Me increasing spontaneity, emotional reactance, volatility and lowering emotional restraint IN OTHER AREAS! NOT in arguments!

(Yes, maybe a little bit of heat is OK in arguments. Venting steam is actually a good condiment for the argument. It should not be a main dish. Never worked for me, at least.)
posted by krilli at 4:28 AM on December 22, 2009

Three ideas:

1. Can you try and be pro-active in avoiding this situation in the first place? So, both of you try and raise little niggles you have, before they turn into big issues. You could even schedule a regular chat about how the relationship is going, what you both expect, what you love in one another, what annoys you, and so on. This way you can work on the relationship when nobody is angry or upset or trying to win an argument.

2. Practice speaking more T or F language (respectively) when there isn't an argument going on. When you're just a TINY bit bothered by something (preferably not your boyfriend), get in the habit of explaining yourself logically. When he's a tiny bit bothered, he can get in the habit of explaining what he feels about it. When you're upset is not the first time to try this! Make a game out of it if you like.

3. When either of you are cross for any reason, first ask yourself: Am I tired? Am I hungry? If so, try having a cup of tea or a sandwich or a sleep before hashing out the issue.
posted by emilyw at 7:58 AM on December 22, 2009

So, one thing that you can work on, OP, is your fear about his withdrawal. I've occasionally experienced this same dynamic in my relationship, and the emotional withdrawal left me in this terrified place where I felt bad and, because I saw him getting further and further away, I couldn't see how things would get better. I'm not talking about long-term predictions here -- I'm talking about being upset, perhaps crying, and not being able to imagine a path in the next 10 minutes which would lead from my current state to my feeling OK. Because when I panic, see, I turn to my partner -- he's the one that makes me feel better in life! -- and in this case that's not working, he's actually making me feel worse, and I'm getting more upset and he's withdrawing and I can't see how to stop this.

So, what has helped me? Well, just a couple of times, I was able to deal with my emotions in a way that worked for me. I was able to physically lift myself up, go into the bedroom, pick up a book, and start reading. Even though my brain was screaming at me that it wouldn't work, that our issue was still unresolved, that he was still shutting me out, that I would not be able to feel better -- you know what? Ten minutes later, I felt better.

Now, here's the key: I noticed this. I focused on writing these few episodes to memory. Now, when I start to get that panicky feeling, and my brain is telling me "there's no way from here to happy!", I am able to say "brain, you are wrong. If you remove yourself from the situation, you will feel better -- I have evidence to prove it!"

And, gosh darn it if this doesn't help. Either it gives me the impetus to remove myself, and sooner than I would have otherwise, or it lets me stay calmer than I would have otherwise so that the situation doesn't get out of control in the first place.

Good luck!
posted by wyzewoman at 9:40 AM on December 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

Also, I'm skeptical of the usefulness of the MB profiles here. I'm an INFP, my wife is an INTJ, and our typical dynamic is pretty much opposite the one that angiep described upthread. I suspect that the way we react in the context of intimate relationships is often quite different from how we react in other situations.

I somewhat agree with this. Prior to my current relationship, I was rarely emotional in situations. In fact, I didn't know how to handle people crying at all, it made me extremely uncomfortable.

In my relationship however, I weep every other week, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not sure why.
posted by frozenyogurt at 11:19 AM on December 22, 2009

One thing that I would caution is to not put too much weight into the MBTI profiles, the assessment is not the most psychometrically sound personality instrument out there.

Second, I strongly suggest you take the time to listen to this episode of the program Radiolab (namely, the first 14:30 minutes). I think that having a sense of the way your physiology is affecting your emotional state may help you self-monitor where you are and where you may be going.

Third, there is an implicit statement being made when you use the phrase "lizard brain". I'd say that you would benefit from not assigning his experience, thoughts, feelings, or reactions along a such a continuum. He responds differently, that is enough.

Fourth, how to cope. The key here is recognizing the limits of what is possible. If he believes that this is a problem as well, the two of you may benefit from the type of education that would teach each other how to recognize the cues that lead to these situations and how to de-escalate. If he doesn't believe this is a problem, then you are either:
a. going to have to do the work all by yourself, or
b. confront this repeatedly without anyone changing.

If you are taking option a. then I'd suggest some kind of CBT-type approach that makes you cognizant of your emotions and what you can do to control them. Option b. requires no suggestions.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 5:39 PM on December 22, 2009

Response by poster: Since a few comments mentioned it, I just want to make the quick point that the only function the MB profiles had for me was use as a tool to quickly & concisely get the point across; I don't put much stock in the profiling (but enfps 4 lyfe lol).

there is an implicit statement being made when you use the phrase "lizard brain". I'd say that you would benefit from not assigning his experience, thoughts, feelings, or reactions along a such a continuum. He responds differently, that is enough.

I wasn't talking about my partner, I was talking about myself. Fortunately I feel free to characterize my thoughts, feelings, and reactions however I choose to. "Lizard brain" is a shorthand phrase (derived from the triune brain theory of MacLean) to indicate the mammalian hindbrain. The cortex isn't as capable of processing during times of stress and it is basically left to the hind- and mid-brain to pick up the slack. The hindbrain produces the fight-or-flight response, the midbrain controls the limbic system, & both of them work in tandem to turn me into a scary mess. Obviously the triune brain theory is not a perfectly accurate model, but it's good enough for laymen's work.
posted by opossumnus at 7:02 PM on December 22, 2009

Hmmm...I have been in this dynamic somewhat, but with a different outcome. When we have a difficulty with one another, my bf is usually much more logical/emotionally stable than I am. But if I get really upset (crying, etc.) which happens rather frequently... he will hold me tight and calm me down, which makes me feel safe and more emotionally balanced, regardless of whether we've yet resolved our argument. It seems like you might like something similar from your partner, maybe that is something you could talk to him about? Explain that when you are upset you would like comfort from him, before you continue talking about the problem at hand. Because it seems like him persisting in the argument when you are upset just heightens your distress, fuels the flame so to speak, instead of alleviating it. I know when I am in an very emotional state (limbic system arousal, reptilian brain, whatever you want to call it) physical comfort and security is the only thing that calms me down quickly. When I am calm then the discussion can proceed again, and usually we are able to reach some kind of agreement. So having different styles of being is not an insurmountable situation, it just requires some mutual appreciation of each others specific needs.
posted by amileighs at 12:09 AM on December 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm definitely coming at this from the perspective of the "cold, rational male" in the situation. Oh, dear Lord. You have no idea.

I started writing a long thing, but it really boils down to this: tell him what you want him to do when you bring a problem to him. He wants to help, but he doesn't know what you want him to do.

He's not going into cool, rational mode as some kind of defensive maneuver or power play; he's doing it because that's how a thinker engages a problem. It's the exact opposite of shutting down. It sounds like he's trying to get you to partner with him in his quest for a solution ("prodding", as you put it), but it just gets you more upset. No wonder he backs away slooowly and watches you detachedly. His best efforts to solve the problem (stepping back and making a calm survey of the situation) only make it worse, so the only remaining option is to pull back and stay out of harm's way until the storm blows over.

But you obviously aren't looking for logical solutions, and therein lies the problem. The two of you are working toward different goals in the conversation, and don't even realize it. He's trying to understand the dynamics of the problem, and identify options for solving it. You're trying to achieve—something else. Catharsis? Validation? I can't even begin to guess what motivates feelers in these situations. But if someone I loved took the time to explain it kindly to my poor, emotionally stunted brain, I'd give it my best shot.

Figure out what you're looking for from these interactions, and then tell him what that is.

Don't tell him when you're in the middle of an argument. Tell him sometime when you're enjoying each other's company. Don't frame it as a problem with him ("you're not meeting my needs"); frame it as something you'd like him to do for you ("I know you're just trying to solve the problem, but sometimes I really just want X").

Lastly, times when you're in a "heightened emotional state" aren't the times you want to be discussing problems. Unless you really are just looking to blow off steam and/or create drama.
posted by ixohoxi at 10:54 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

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