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How to Stop Running and Start Facing Issues: Understanding the Flight Response in Relationships

running away

What is the Flight Response and How Does it Affect Your Relationship?

Have you ever found yourself running away from arguments instead of facing them? Do you feel emotionally distant when things get tough? This is the Flight response, a natural reaction to stress or perceived danger. While this response is meant to protect us, it can cause significant challenges in relationships. In this article, we'll dive deep into understanding the Flight response, how it affects relationships, and effective strategies to manage it.

What is the Flight Response?

The Flight response is an instinctive reaction from our ancient ancestors. When faced with threats, they needed to flee to survive. This response still exists within us today and can be triggered not just by physical threats but also by emotional or psychological stress. When we feel threatened in a relationship, our body prepares to escape.

How Does the Flight Response Feel in the Body?

When the Flight response is activated, our body goes into a heightened state of alertness. Here are some physical sensations that might occur:

  • Rapid Heartbeat: The heart beats faster, signaling anxiety.

  • Short, Heavy Breathing: Breathing becomes quick and shallow to prepare the body for running away.

  • Sweaty Palms: The body produces sweat as part of the anxiety response.

  • Muscle Tension: Muscles tighten and get ready for action.

  • Goosebumps and Restlessness: Skin prickles, ready to defend or escape.

  • Sensory Overload: Senses may become less sharp or unusually acute.

  • Instability and Excessive Movement: Feeling restless and unable to stay still.

  • Muscle Aches and Physical Heaviness: The body feels physically tense.

  • Stomach Discomfort: Feeling uneasy in the digestive system.

Why Does the Flight Response Occur in Relationships?

The Flight response in relationships often stems from past traumas or difficult experiences. When someone feels threatened or emotionally overwhelmed, their natural reaction might be to withdraw. This response is deeply rooted in our biology as a way to avoid danger and protect ourselves.

How Does the Flight Response Manifest in Relationships?

The Flight response can show up during conflicts or when one partner feels emotionally overwhelmed. Instead of dealing with the issue, the person may withdraw, creating a sense of disconnection. Here are some examples of these behaviors:

  • Leaving the Room: Walking out during an argument.

  • Emotional Withdrawal: Stopping communication or avoiding conversation.

  • Prolonged Silence: Not responding to the partner’s attempts to communicate.

  • Ignoring or Avoiding: Evading direct answers or avoiding the partner altogether.

Common Complaints

- "Neither of us stays and deals with the tough issues in our relationship."
- "I take 'breaks' from the relationship now and then..."
- "Sometimes I just feel like running away from this relationship."
- "When an argument starts, I prefer to stay silent. It passes quicker that way."
- "Every time I try to talk about our issues, she just ignores me and moves on."
- "When I want to resolve things between us, she shuts down and doesn't cooperate."
- "He often spends time with friends instead of coming home."
- "He always finds excuses to leave the house instead of dealing with our problems."
- "After we argue, he stays late at work. I feel like he’s avoiding me."

How to Manage the Flight Response in Relationships

The first step is to recognize this response and understand its origins. My goal is to help each partner identify their emotional triggers and develop strategies to manage them.

Differentiation: The Key to a Healthy Relationship

Differentiation is a crucial tool for managing the Flight response. It involves developing a strong sense of self while maintaining an emotional connection with your partner. This process allows a person to manage their emotional reactions without being overly reactive to their partner's emotions.

How Does It Work in Practice?

In practice, I guide couples through exercises that promote self-awareness and emotional regulation. These exercises include:

  • Guided Imagery: To help identify and calm triggers.

  • Communication Exercises: To improve mutual understanding and responses.

  • Writing Exercises: To express thoughts and feelings.

  • Movement-Based Exercises: To release physical and emotional tension.


Understanding and managing the Flight response in relationships is critical for fostering connection and emotional security. Through techniques of differentiation and Family Constellation Therapy, you can uncover and heal deep-seated traumas, enable healthier interactions, and strengthen your relationship.

Contact me to schedule a session.


Sivan Avni provides couples therapy using Family Constellation and Differentiation techniques, available in Kiryat Tivon as well as online.


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