You’ve probably seen or experienced this yourself: one person in a relationship does something dramatic to upset their harmonious balance, which prompts the other to react, which in turn triggers a reaction to the reaction. Pretty soon, a series of escalating reactions shatters the relationship into a million pieces, leaving both partners feeling helpless, misunderstood, victimized, and even bewildered. If their relationship survives and neither learns how to behave differently, they are doomed to endure lifelong drama—perpetual conflict occasionally interrupted by episodes of remorse.
Relationships survive when at least one partner understands the difference between responding and reacting. Relationships thrive when both partners learn how to take a deep breath and then respond, rather than react, to the actions of their mate.
What’s the difference between responding and reacting? Consider the following comparisons and their corresponding truths:
Response comes from a place of confidence in the Lord’s sovereignty and goodness.
Reaction fears the Lord is asleep at the switch and leaps ahead of His divine plan.
The truth: God knows what is best; we have a pitifully limited perspective.
Response prompts us to do what is right, regardless of what others do.
Reaction tries to prevent another from doing something wrong.
The truth: Any sense of control beyond self-control is an illusion.
Response waits patiently until something invites or demands our taking action.
Reaction impulsively springs into action based upon what we assume to be true.
The truth: We actually know very little compared to what we think we know.
Response considers the highest, greatest good of everyone involved.
Reaction preserves the interest of self above all.
The truth: Self-interest makes us no better than the people seeking to harm us.
Response empathizes with the pain, fear, anger, or confusion of another.
Reaction expresses one’s own suffering without regard for its effect upon others.
The truth: We accomplish far greater good when we seek to understand others before expecting them to understand us.
Response seeks to do what is right, regardless of the cost to self.
Reaction seeks the quickest end to one’s own suffering, regardless of how much it harms others.
The truth: Doing what is right frequently demands the sacrifice of comfort, popularity, prosperity, and power.
Response is an act of faith expressed as grace.
Reaction is an act of desperation for the sake of self.
The truth: We are selfish to the core, so we need divine wisdom and strength.
Response remains above reproach, even when it calls for tough action.
Reaction lowers us to the level of those who seek to harm us.
The truth: We need the help of wise counsel to examine our motives.
Response may not be tender or tolerant at all times, but it is always grace-filled.
Reaction takes the quickest, easiest path to self-comfort, and frequently appears merciful.
The truth: Sometimes love must be tough.
The next time someone you love does something hurtful, slow down, allow the initial wave of emotions to ebb, resist the urge to react, and then carefully consider your response. Do this, and your reward will be increased wisdom, decreased drama, and perhaps even a strengthened relationship.