Peter Pearson

Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on your marriage.

Although your partner thinks you’re responsible for most of the troubles in your relationship, it’s not you. It’s Mother Nature.



The lizard brain

Mother Nature gave each of you two brains inside your skull.

One brain developed hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is primitive. It cares only about avoiding risk, pain and threats. It wants to feel fine fast.

Among other things, this primitive brain governs four “F functions”:





This brain is so primitive that it is sometimes called the reptilian or lizard brain. When threatened it responds automatically. No training required.

Here are some things it does automatically. It gets:

















And perhaps the most insidious of all – it gets Pusillanimous.

That’s a spineless, cowardly, lily-livered, disengaged, long-term response to avoid speaking up when the circumstances demand an expression, an explanation and a defense of important values.

This response can be going dark silently or being verbally abusive. Both pusillanimous approaches avoid being compassionately transparent about things that significantly affect both of you.

Yes, indeed Mother hard-wired all these lizard reactions in one region of your brain. Nobody has to go the self-help section and get books on “How To Easily Be More Sarcastic, Withdrawn, Closed Down, Blameful And Depressed in Just 21 Days.”

Mother Nature gave us these quick-draw reactions. Ironically they are all designed to give you rapid relief from pain, fear, or a threat. The fact that they make your partner’s life more miserable and vice versa doesn’t make any difference to this lizard brain.

Literally, reptiles do not think much about cooperating in the wild. It’s basically “every man for himself.” There is no guilt, self-doubt, or compassion. It’s all about the four F functions above.

The other brain

However, Mother Nature also gave you and your partner another brain inside your skulls. One that can dream, imagine a better future, feel compassion and desire to cooperate because nothing great was ever accomplished without teamwork. This visionary brain developed later than the lizard one.

This visionary part of your brain is:










Performance oriented

Penitent (remorseful)

And Perspicuous (eloquent)

These two brains keep duking it out. As they have been for thousands of years. Sadly, in many marriages the lizard brain dominates. Shakespeare even wrote a play about the lizard brain, “The Taming of the Shrew.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Interested in winning this battle with yourself and your partner?

All it takes is teamwork. Working together in all the areas of interdependence to imagine and create a better future.

This is the first blog in a series. Click to see the second blog or the third blog.

Also check out our e-book, Initiating Calm Discussions.


Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples

Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Ellyn Bader.

Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple.

Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

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Nicole Mahieux
Nicole Mahieux
5 years ago

Very interesting and demanding a certain involvement. Courage, it is all what is needed.

Peter Pearson
Peter Pearson
5 years ago
Reply to  Nicole Mahieux

Ah yes, courage. I like the definition of courage which is deciding something is more important than our fear

5 years ago

This makes a lot of sense – great to have as a watch out the next time my partner and I have a disagreement!

Peter Pearson
Peter Pearson
5 years ago
Reply to  Shelley

Having a watch out is a great approach because pausing for a moment to think of the consequences if we just respond from the lizard brain can help calm or avoid bad discussions


[…] here to read the first blog in the series, or the second […]

5 years ago

This is a wonderful explanation of what happens when we aren’t paying attention! Any thoughts on the times when a partner’s cooperation or acknowledgment is not available?

5 years ago

Angel – show ypour partner this article and then have a discussion about how each of you respond form the lizard brain. The have a discussion about whether or not each of you are interested in changing that pattern/habit.
God luck


[…] from by Pete […]

A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.