In moments of conflict, it’s common for couples to experience the fight-or-flight response, an instinctual reaction that can escalate arguments and hinder resolution. I’m Brent Peak, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Phoenix, Arizona;, and in this article, we’ll delve into the physical, cognitive, and emotional effects of this response and discuss why taking a moment to pause can be a game-changer in managing relationship conflicts.

The Fight-or-Flight Response in Conflict

The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. This response, while crucial for survival in dangerous situations, can be problematic in interpersonal conflicts.

Physical Effects

  • Increased Heart Rate and Adrenaline: Prepares the body for quick action.
  • Tension in Muscles: Readies the body for fight or flight.
  • Rapid Breathing: Increases oxygen flow, but can lead to lightheadedness.

Cognitive Effects:

  • Narrowed Focus: While beneficial for immediate threats, it limits the ability to see the broader picture in an argument.
  • Impaired Judgment: Reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex leads to less rational decision-making.

Emotional Effects:

  • Heightened Emotions: Emotions become more intense, often leading to reactions that are out of proportion.
  • Decreased Empathy: Makes it harder to understand or care about a partner’s perspective.

The Urgency Trap

This fight-or-flight response can create a sense of urgency, pushing couples to continue arguing even when they are not in the best condition to do so. It’s a cycle that often leads to unproductive and hurtful interactions.

The Importance of Pausing

Pausing during an argument allows time for the fight-or-flight response to subside, reducing the physical, cognitive, and emotional effects. This pause can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths, stepping away for a moment, or agreeing to revisit the discussion later.

Benefits of Pausing

  1. Restoration of Prefrontal Cortex Function: Allows for clearer thinking and better decision-making.
  2. Reduction in Physical Tension: Helps in regaining a sense of calm and control.
  3. Emotional Regulation: Provides an opportunity to approach the situation with more empathy and less reactivity.


Incorporating a pause in moments of heightened conflict is essential for couples. It’s not just about stopping the argument; it’s about resetting the mind and body to a state where constructive conversation is possible. In my practice at North Valley Therapy Services, I guide couples through this process, helping them transform their conflicts into opportunities for deeper understanding and connection.

Learn more about a 2-day intensive that can transform your relationship.

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Brent Peak Licensed Professional Counselor
Brent Peak, Licensed Professional Counselor and Trauma Recovery Specialist, is the owner of North Valley Therapy Services in Phoenix, Arizona. With a profound commitment to healing childhood trauma and aiding couples in severe crises, Brent has extensive experience and a unique ability to address trauma, poor self-esteem, and interpersonal challenges with empathy and effectiveness. Trained by Pia Mellody and endorsed by her for his work in Post Induction Therapy, Brent is not just a therapist but a trusted guide, offering hope and transformative change to those who have often felt let down by traditional therapy paths.
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