Things that happen are interpreted in ways which cause harm resulting in some personal effects. Then there is a more or less overt response. The response can be silence or shutting the other person out as well. The response often becomes the focus of the battle or therapy. This is the other common intervention point requested by contentious individuals, in addition to making things happen differently or not at all that problematic relationships tend to focus on. The relationship and each individual may have already tried innumerable different responses without any success. They will usually ask the therapist for a new response- some therapeutic magical solution- to somehow, make one or another to change strongly habitual responses. The therapist may be drawn to this sometimes, fruitless process, distracting therapy and individuals from examining various dynamics in the relationship. In some cases, however individuals may be available to changing their responses. Responses can also often be culturally predetermined. Does the individual have to respond in a particular culturally predetermined or family determined manner? If not, then change can happen more readily. This can be difficult because of some behaviors' strong habitual quality and also because of underlying issues. For example, the therapist should be aware of defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms serve to avoid anxiety that would otherwise be overwhelming. If the therapist sees any the classic defense mechanisms: denial, projection, introjection, displacement, repression, reaction formation, or sublimation, then he or she should address underlying anxiety. The anxiety may be about the relationship and/or from other life experiences. Rather than responding to the response per se, the therapist directs therapy and the individual to validate and support the anxious person.
The therapist should also be familiar with responses that build stress rather than reduce stress personally and for the couple. For example, denial of importance, of urgency of threat, of emotional responses, or of vulnerability exacerbates any negativity personally and in the relationship. Another problematic response is intensification. Intensification takes an initial response or activity that has failed to achieve desired results, and intensifies the behavior by repeating it over and over with more energy than before. Workaholism, obsessive rumination and doubting, fantasy preoccupation, and faith in unrealistic views would be examples of intensification behavior or responses that the therapist may want to interrupt. Avoidance behavior is another dysfunctional response including compulsive action to avoid thought, avoiding people, telephone avoidance, and avoiding uncomfortable topics. The therapist should also be aware of hypervigilant, passive-aggressive, and co-dependent behavior. When such responses become dysfunctional patterns, they should be challenged and individuals, couples, and families directed to pro-active behavior. The strategic therapist offers many straight directives for the clients to change behaviors. Since the individual, couple, or family's pattern is cyclical with responses feeding later interpretation of the things that happen (the response becomes the disturbing thing that happens), a change in response can also serve to break the cycle.