The discovery and understanding of how neural patterns operate subconsciously and recent findings on intimate relationships have greatly increased not only our understanding of what causes these problematic patterns for many couples, but also what they can do about it.
Quite honestly, the “real” issues are not what partners argue about.
Even when partners know what works to promote their love, they resist change. That’s right. Partners verbally or tacitly oppose doing what they know works. They make excuses, for example, and employ their defenses to prove their point instead. Why?
It’s that word again: Fear.
The bottom line is that, when you are in reactive or defensive mode, you’re really not in your “right” mind! And, that summarizes the problem.
Limiting beliefs cause your subconscious mind to misperceive situations that are uncomfortable or painful as “threats” to your survival. These core beliefs have the power to shape your behaviors (and emotions) simply because, well, you believe them.
This reactivity is not caused by events themselves, and rather by your perception of events. The “fight or flee” response works fine when the imminent danger is a tiger, however, when it is merely a criticism from your partner, one of your partner’s habits, or your partner’s “unwillingness” to schedule a “date” night, it can stir huge problems in your relationship.
Limiting beliefs cause reactivity.
But, you may say, that can’t be! You “know” your partner cares about you and is not a “threat” to your survival! This stems from your logic, however, and logic does not shape your behaviors! Emotion does.
As an operating system, your subconscious mind does no original thinking of its own. If one of your beliefs interprets something your partner does or doesn’t do as meaning you are not loved or valued, this automatically causes feelings of anxiety or fear inside. Guess what gets activated?
That’s right, your body’s “fight or flee” response activates the particular defense strategies you’re brain is conditioned to use — set neural patterns that come to your rescue to ensure your survival.
An example of the power of limited beliefs?
Let’s say, for example, that you want to have a fun evening out with your partner. You, however, hold a belief that says, in order for you to enjoy a fun evening, that is, to feel good enough inside (love and valued by your partner) to want to be and have fun with him or her, you must absolutely hold your partner to certain conditions, such as the following:
What makes these beliefs limiting (apart from the obvious)?
First, note how these beliefs cluster together as a “system” of interrelated beliefs. Whether as a cluster or individually, however, they are all limiting for the following reasons:
By releasing chemicals such as Cortisol, the stress hormone, into the bloodsteam, these fear-inducing thoughts, images and emotions produce physiological changes in your body. Ouch! Your brain increasingly associates anxiety and other negative feelings with your partner. This means that, even before you approach your partner to bring up your idea for an evening out, you have already “lived” the rejection, the hurt, the disappointment over and over in your mind – and body.
Thus, what you bring to your “discussion” is a felt sense of knowing that your partner is going to resist or reject your idea.
Thus, what you bring emo-physiologically to your “discussion” is a felt sense of knowing that your partner is going to resist or reject your influence.
Guess what? You were right!
Your partner reacted just as you thought. Predictably, your conversation quickly turned into a heated argument.
What really happened, however? The real story lies in the emotional undercurrents beneath your interaction, and not in the content of what was said.
Here’s the scoop. Your partner’s subconscious mind picked up your physio-emotional “defense mode” signals – even without your being aware of them. Before you even spoke one word, your body’s non-verbal communication system, i.e., your breathing, the tiny muscles on your face, your eyes, your posture, your voice, all conveyed emotional signals that prepared your body to be on alert.
Guess what else happened? Your emotional transmissions were picked up by your partner’s nonverbal communication system, and interpreted as imminent “attack” signals, loud and clear, and prepared his or her body to be on alert for danger. In other words, even before you began conversing, your subconscious minds were engaged in a face-off!
Yet, neither of you wanted this to happen!
Is there anything you could have done to produce positive outcomes?
In Part 2, I’ll share three tools and guidelines you can use, in similar situations, to help you calm your emotions, and keep yourself in position to choose the optimal emotional states – love, joy, friendship — you want to create inside you and your partner.
In the meantime, choose to enjoy one another – just because – and watch what happens!
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Last reviewed: 9 Apr 2011