Responsive vs. Reactive: What’s the Difference, and Why Does It Matter in Marriage?

How you and your spouse interact with one another largely determines the health of your marriage. Whether you’re resolving conflict or simply engaging in regular communication, it’s so important for the two of you to pay close attention to how you affect each other. Knowing your effect on your spouse starts with being self-aware.

In communication, your self-awareness can help you understand whether you’re often more responsive or reactive when you communicate. Responding well to your spouse, rather than reacting to them, can make all the difference in your daily interactions, and especially during conflict resolution.

In this article, we’re breaking down some key differences between being responsive versus reactive. Then, we’ll share a bit about why this matters to your marriage. Ready to learn more? Let’s get into it.


Being responsive in your actions and communication indicates that you have a calmer state of mind. Your approach to conflict resolution is more measured. You’re able to take time to truly hear your spouse before offering a response.

Choosing to be responsive isn’t always the easiest path, and it doesn’t always feel natural. We naturally want to get our point across, and we want our spouse to understand how we feel. Reactivity is a quick way to get momentary results, but it’s not the most constructive.

Responsiveness must be practiced, and some people will embrace it more easily than others. Being responsive requires a high level of clarity, self control, and emotional intelligence. It’s far more productive to thoughtfully respond to one another than it is to be reactive.

When we take the time to respond well, we’re able to process the situation. It also allows us to empathize with our spouse and consider their point of view before speaking or acting. When we do reply, it’s more likely to be thorough, measured, and well thought-out.


The state of being reactive often leads to high emotion. When we are reactive we are often listening to reply rather than listening to understand. Reactivity can start a conflict, or it can escalate an existing one.

At its core, reactivity makes empathy difficult. That’s because we’re turning our thoughts and feelings inward. Therefore, our reactions are more centered around how we feel than how our spouse might be feeling. When that happens, it’s much harder to see their point of view.

Being reactive can look like:

  • Snapping or being short with your spouse
  • Raising your voice
  • Shouting or screaming
  • Interrupting or talking over one another
  • Criticizing
  • Stonewalling (becoming distant)
  • Inability to have a rational discussion

Reactivity often escalates conflict, making it more difficult to solve. You might find that the original conflict becomes multifaceted, or is much more complicated than it was when it started.

Responsiveness vs. Reactivity Impacts Your Marital Health

Ultimately, the choice to be constructive (responsive) or destructive (reactive) will impact your marital health. How you navigate conflict resolution has a lasting effect on your communication. In turn, your communication can be nurturing or detrimental to your marriage.

One way to become more responsive is by learning to fight a “good fight.” If you need a guidebook to help you learn more, take a look at The Good Fight. It’s a roadmap to healthier conflict resolution that could transform your relationship for the better. Take a look and get your copy here.

Are you more responsive or reactive in your communication? Share your experiences in the comments.


Leave a Reply