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 Nobody has to go the self-help section and get books on “How To Easily Be More Sarcastic, Withdrawn, Closed Down, Blameful And Depressed in Just 21 Days.”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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  1. Pingback: The Lizard Brain in Relationships Newtown & Faulconbridge - Vivian Baruch

  2. 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

  3. 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?

  4. Pingback: He could have told a lie, but he didn’t. - Couples Institute Couples Institute

    • 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

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