Stimulus 2, Response 10

I asked Alek what his favorite Karen’s lessons were and he said “Oh, one would definitely be Stimulus 2, Response 10.”

See, in our previous relationships, Alek and I were with screamers. Alek is not a screamer. I’m not a screamer. My parent’s didn’t yell or scream at each other. I can’t really think of a reason to ever scream at anyone, except for maybe “Hey! Look out or you’re going to get hit by that bus!”

I can’t remember the first time My X screamed at me, but it was always there, and it was always frightening. I didn’t realize until after, how much time and energy I spent trying to prevent him from screaming, whether it was at me or not. I just wanted peaceful calm. Peaceful, peaceful calm.

One day, towards the end, My X screamed at me for so long and with such vitriol that it made me throw up.


There are few things in life that I truly hate, and screaming is one of them. But I digress…the point is: Stimulus 2, Response 10.

Essentially, Stimulus 2, Response 10 is when something happens that is a Stimulus 2 and the Response you get from your partner is at a 10. A complete over-reaction. Totally out of proportion to the thing that happened.

I’ll give you an example. One time I was at In-N-Out Buger with My X. He went to use the bathroom. We were pretty much done eating so I cleaned up our table. When he came back out of the bathroom he saw that I had thrown everything away, including the remainder of his french fries. Instead of saying “Oh, bummer, I wanted to finish those,” (or as Alek would probably say, with a laugh,  “Easy there, Cleany-McGee!!”) he totally and completely flipped out. Yelled and screamed at me in the parking lot for what seemed like an eternity. And he didn’t drop it…for like three years.

So how do you keep stuff from blowing out of proportion?

1. Remember that 99% of the time, it’s not about you. This is another of Karen’s phrases that you should remember. But really, when your partner is upset, quiet, stressed, or angry, (or conversely, when your partner is happy or excited), it’s really not about you. Sorry. But it’s not. So try to find out what is REALLY going on so that it doesn’t escalate. Or don’t. Because it’s not about you anyway.

2. Address things when they are small. The first time that My X screamed like that, which was a few weeks into our relationship, I should have said “I don’t like it when you scream at me like that. It makes me feel frightened. It’s not acceptable to me.” I don’t know if ever said anything like that to him ever. I didn’t know how. I thought that being assertive was being “bitchy.” I had to completely re-learn how to communicate after my divorce.

Fast forward.

Alek and his friends love to smack things out of each other’s hands. It doesn’t matter what it is – keys, a bucket of popcorn, a plate of waffles, whatever. They like to tell tales of the smacking of things out of each other’s hands and they all think it is hilarious and they laugh and laugh. When we were first dating, I’d hear these stories and I’d laugh and think “Oh man, I’m SO not playful like that.”

We went on a trip to San Francisco a couple of months after we started dating. As we were waiting on the curb for KK to pick us up, Alek smacked my book out of my hand, not knowing that my iPhone was also there and the phone went crashing onto the pavement. This was the first time he’d ever smacked anything out of my hands and he felt really bad because he thought it was just the book and he wouldn’t have done it if he’d known the phone was there too.

And I really wasn’t angry or even that upset, but I said (the operative word being said, not screamed) “You know, I don’t know if I’m really on board with the whole smacking of stuff out of other people’s hands. You know?” And he totally knew what I was saying. And we had a big hug and a kiss right there on the curb, and that was that. Nothing has been smacked out of my hands since.

Now what if I had let this go on for the last couple of years? Each time something got smacked out of my hands I would get more and more upset about it until one day, I over-reacted.

It’s a pretty simple concept really. Stimulus 2. Response 10.

One response to Stimulus 2, Response 10

  1. The part about you throwing up made me want to inflict harm on The X, but the story about Alek knocking your phone out of your hand is one of my favorites! You guys are the best! I’m lovin’ the updates!

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