In the last post I introduced the basics of the Stress Response. This post goes into greater depth, reviewing some of the factors relevant to your situation that cause stress.

    General Adaptation Syndrome

  1. Emergency Response (Alarm)
    • Fight-or-Flight OR Tend-and-Befriend
  2. Prolonged Stress Response (Resistance)
    Adaptation to the new normal

    • Panic & Anxiety
    • Shock
  3. Exhaustion

Stress Response Cont’d

Learned Helplessness
The less predictability and control, the more likely a person will lose the ability to cope, instead learning helplessness. Some people are already vulnerable at Bomb Drop, having had a history of greater stressors throughout life. This person will give up more easily and may come to a sense of hopelessness faster than others who are less vulnerable. Learned helplessness is related to decreased focus or attentiveness and thus such a person is less likely to recognize positive responses or changes even when they result from their own coping actions. Perhaps you think this is just a pessimistic attitude, someone may notice a positive event or action but lack trust that any changes are genuine. Lacking trust in MLC is understandable, but it is not only about a pessimistic lack of trust. Learned helplessness distracts a person from noticing situational changes that go against their own attitude of negativity—birds of a feather, when it rains it pours… It prevents a person from recognizing success and their ability to control or influence change.
Without an outlet for your frustration, you will continue to Exhaustion. Effective outlets provide…

  • a personally positive experience
  • a distraction from the stressor
  • social support
    Psychological Factors that Increase Stress1

  • Loss of outlets
    Someone without social support, effective means of distraction or positive reinforcements will not have ways to relieve their stress. In a marriage, the spouse is the main social support.
  • Unpredictability
    Are you waiting for the other shoe to drop? Is there another Bomb coming? When? What will it be? In this case it is not the bad news you are anticipating but the anticipation itself that is adding to your stress. If you knew what was coming or that your fear was not coming, you could relax and get through it.
  • Lack of control
    Your MLCer is calling all the shots—so they have said. They are not giving you a say in staying together and repairing your marriage. They did not consult you before having an affair. They gave you no choices. It feels like everything is being done to you rather than by you or even for you.
  • Thinking a situation is getting worse
    If you keep analyzing your MLCer’s behaviour and interpreting it as worse, you will worry more, anticipate more bad news, more bomb drops, more cycling. But if you think a situation is improving you give yourself permission to relax, take a deep breath and catch up on Self-healing.

Wow, it’s no wonder you are stressed out. The initial shock, panic and anxiety that result from Bomb Drop typically lasts from 6 weeks to 6 months. That is a long time to saturate in adrenaline and glucocorticoids.
Let’s break down the Bomb Drop.

  • You have experienced a trauma, Bomb Drop.
  • Your initial reaction was likely shock and panic.
  • But Bomb Drop was no typical marital argument.
    • You spouse may have moved out immediately or has announced such an intention.
    • Infidelity may be present or is imminent.
    • Everything bad is your fault.
    • I love you but I’m not in-love with you.

That covers the general Bomb Drop basics.
Since Bomb Drop was no typical argument, there was no resolution, instead the negative situation escalated. Your initial shock and panic are now making you anxious. You anticipate arguments and Monster behaviour either randomly or with every interaction with your spouse. You are now maintaining a heightened state of fear. Your body has activated a state of emergency and is temporarily shutting down non-essential systems. Sure, for survival you need to be able to digest your food, but you can do without it for the few minutes in fight-or-flight. Oh wait, that few minutes is up. It was up 17 weeks ago. But because you remain in a heightened state of stress, you have lost both weight and sleep. You may have been sick due to a decrease in immune responses. When you are panicking and anxious, you are creating within yourself…

  • Negative self-talk
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • Resistance to change
  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Instability and insecurity

Your MLCer is exacerbating what you create, supporting and agreeing with your negative self-talk and telling you there is no hope, the next day there is hope and a change of mind, the next another change of mind. Are you dizzy yet?


  1. Sapolsky, Robert M., Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (3rd ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman, 2004, Ch 8.

I will continue to review the Stress Response in the next post, objectively breaking down your experience so you can see that what you are experiencing is traumatic and thus your body’s responses are normal.

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