Thinking on your feet and responding immediately is not helpful to your relationship. I know many people are proud of having that ability to always have a quick comeback. I used to be one of them. But I now know that being impulsive is not smart.
Do you remember the old movie You’ve Got Mail? It was shot in my neighborhood so I have to confess I’ve seen it a lot. Meg Ryan’s character was frustrated that she could never think of the right thing to say in the heat of the moment. Tom Hanks’s character warned her it wouldn’t make her feel better is she did. When she finally did come up with a quick retort, as predicted, she felt horrible about it.
I know that was just a movie but it’s a great example of what I’m talking about. Our brain has many different centers that have different functions. The Amygdala is our emotional response center. That’s where our quick response to fear, anger, love, and sexual desire comes from. But it can’t make decisions. Our Prefrontal Cortex receives those emotions and helps us process them to make a decision.
The reason being impulsive is not smart is because your Prefrontal Cortex needs a little time to do it’s thing. Acting on impulse is driven by pure emotion. Where as if you wait a few minutes you’re capable of being more rational.
That is especially true if you’re arguing with the person you love. There absolutely is a thin line between love and hate because the object of our affection can easily push our emotional buttons—good or bad. When it’s good it’s great! But it’s bad when you act impulsively and hurt your partner. Then you have to try to make amends which isn’t always possible. You can never take back mean words or actions. Everyone has a breaking point, you may not get forgiven.
Daniel Goleman wrote a brilliant book called Emotional Intelligence (pictured left). He described the Amygdala as the low road and the Prefrontal Cortex as the high road. He wrote that by the time the high road kicks in it has to deal with fixing whatever the low road already messed up. It’s a great book that was part of my required reading at NYU.
If you want to keep your relationship happy you need to always act with compassion. Since your Amygdala doesn’t filter your emotions you need to wait and weigh the things you say or do before you screw things up. Insults and criticism are verbal abuse that come from your emotional response center. So does sexual desire. That’s how unfaithful “slips” happen. You get caught up in the heat of an exciting moment and don’t listen to your wiser Prefrontal Cortex. That’s the center of your brain that makes you feel guilty after the moment is gone.
So slow your roll as they say. Take a few deep breaths to calm your anxiety or emotion and don’t act impulsively. I know that’s easier said then done but if you keep trying you can make a new habit of being sensible. It will help you have better relationships.
Incidentally, the reason teenagers and young adults frequently act irrational is because the Prefrontal Cortex doesn’t finish developing until you’re twenty-five years old. Prior to turning twenty-five you’re just not capable of the same type of reasoning and decision making that you will be after your brain finishes growing. If you’re a parent or adult it’s helpful to keep that in mind before engaging in arguments with anyone younger than 25.