What is this thing called ‘love’? Plato labeled love an ‘irrational desire,” and song titles such as “The Things We Do For Love,” as well as lyrics of songs such as “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” convey the befuddling impact love relationships can have on human brains. For human beings, men and women alike, there is perhaps no bigger fascination or obsession for the senses, heart and mind, body and spirit.
The good news from fields of neuroscience and intimacy (known as social neuroscience, attachment, affective neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience) is that up-close studies of the brain mechanisms underlying behavior in social relationships have taken much of the mystery out of our quest to understand couple relationships.
As Dr. Sue Johnson states in a recent book, Hold Me Tight, quite the contrary, love relationships seem to be governed by an “exquisite logic” that follows rather precise algorithms. Bonding behaviors, it turns out, are less of a mystery and more a science.
We now understand, for example, there are neurochemical reasons why we tend to make poor decisions in certain relational contexts.
In successful relationships, partners take the basics seriously, and handle the yearnings of each to feel heard and understood as unique beings as really, really important; in short, they treat one another with dignity, recognizing their own and one another’s personal power.
As top trial lawyer Gerry Spence notes, what we face when we interact with one another, is what we most fear in our relationships, and that is: the power of the other as an agent of their choices.
The other has the power, for example, to choose to say no, to deny some need, want or yearning, and so on, and because this directly challenges our own sense of personal power (to realize dreams, wants and needs), it touches our deepest intimacy fears, such as fear of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment.
Not surprisingly, this dynamic is particularly intense in couple relationships.
This post lists the last 6 of 12 science-backed wedding vows, and is a continuation of Part 1. They are
7. “I vow to disallow my past to negatively influence our present and future together as individuals and a couple.
This vow stems from research on couple communications and forgiveness. Consciously or not, early experiences in interactions with primary caregivers can subconsciously shape our lives, particularly events that were emotionally intense. Many or most core beliefs about who we are, what we are capable of, how we want life to be, and so on, originate in formative years of childhood. Some affect us in positive ways, giving us stamina to overcome challenges, while others block or limit our growth and happiness.
Often the impact of negative (and positive) childhood experiences remains dormant until problems in an intimate relationship surface, making it imperative that we take a fresh look at some deeply painful aspect of ourselves or lives, perhaps ones we’ve disowned or kept well hidden deep inside.
With this in mind, let’s explore what defensive patterns in your couple relationship are saying to you and your partner. To be sure, your brains and emotions, thoughts and feelings, are doing what they’re designed to do whenever you or your partner perceive a threat, in this case, a threat to meeting a core attachment or intimacy (love) need.
What does reactivity say about what’s going on beneath the surface of your couple relationship?
You and your body are one vast interconnected communication system that operates nonstop.
Both you (thoughts and beliefs) and your body (physio-emotion responses) are sending signals to each other around the clock.
You’re at a slight disadvantage, however, as discussed in Part 1. Unlike you, your body’s mind or subconscious, comes pre-wired with the knowledge of how to interpret your thoughts (akin to your computer’s operating system).
In contrast, unless your caregivers in early childhood were tuned into their inner world enough so that they could be tuned into you, you’ll need to “work” at understanding how to interpret your body’s signals (emotion signals), as well as discovering the rules your body follows to to interpret your signals (thoughts)
In contrast to codependency tendencies, described in a previous article as a rigid pattern of relating to key others (and self) with little or no sense of own wants and needs as valuable, significant or even viable, those with indicators for narcissism have a rigid pattern of relating to others as extension of themselves, wants, drives, desires, and so on. When it comes to feeling others’ feelings, those with narcissistic personality disorder seem to relate from a place that is as lifeless and cold as an ice sculpture.
It is perhaps no surprise that the codependent and narcissist often find themselves in an irresistible yet toxic dance together in life. Whereas the codependent enters a relationship with little or no sense of self, the narcissist enters with little or no ability to empathize, “see” or treat others as separate persons with feelings and vantage points of their own. Perhaps even more significantly, they have no desire to do so. If you consider their key traits, why would they?
Thoughts are much more than airy pieces of information that enter our minds and then disappear. The words and ideas we think, and the accompanying feelings they spark, subconsciously shape our lives.
They can literally activate chemical processes that affect us at every level, emotional, physical, mental, and thus can drive us in the direction of overall success and happiness — or failure and distress.
Thoughts are energy. Emotions are energy. Physical feelings are energy. Together, they energize us to action accordingly, and even have the power to immobilize us. How you think (and thus feel) can have a profound effect on your ability to recognize an opportunity, perform to the best of your ability, or achieve the outcome of the goals that you’ve set for yourself.
Findings show that thoughts are powerful activators of life transforming inner processes. They activate neurochemical signals that accordingly generate emotions and actions, learning and change, to include the formation of behavioral patterns or habits.
Subconscious learning in itself is a powerful and efficient built-in capacity. When what we learn is aligned by chance to our goals and highest interests for personal and relational health and well being, it can support us to grow in positive directions and to realize amazing and creative outcomes and passions. What if it doesn’t however? Limiting beliefs or toxic thinking patterns can harm our health, keep us stuck in life-draining addictive behavior patterns, and at best place limits on our happiness.
Empathic listeners are relationship builders. They have a cultivated ability for being present, empathically connected. How do you cultivate empathy however? It starts with set intentions, at least four of them.
For human beings, empathy may be one of the greatest gifts to give or to receive, and perhaps one of our deepest yearnings. It is a form of love, an aspect of love that is expressed through the act of listening to understand from the eyes and heart of another (or self). This is what makes empathy an essential ability to cultivate, and thoughtfully give.
When someone we love disappoints us in some way, this can automatically trigger painful emotions inside.
And when we are in pain, for example, feeling hurt, angry, or disappointed, often one of our greatest yearnings is for empathy, that is, an understanding love from another human being that affirms, in a moment of need, that we are valued. We want to know that our feelings and life matter. And thus a common human undertaking is to look for evidence that another loves us enough to want to understand us from our own perspective, to want us to have what we want (even when not possible), to want to see us happy and fulfilled, personally as well as in our relationship, and so on.
Communication is the life tool with which we may create and strengthen our relationships, and relationships are all about emotional safety and meaningful connections.
Communication is a tool like no other. Whether verbal or nonverbal, it is to your emotional and mental health, and relationships, what food and water are to your body. You may be wondering, if talking is such a “loving” activity why do you experience so much pain in your communications with one of the most important persons in your life, your partner?