It seems unfair. Of the many couples that get married each year, hoping to find lifelong companionship, lasting joy, friendship and fulfillment, only about 50% will stay married, and of those that do, the vast majority, about 70%, devolve into arrangements that are unsatisfying at best, and dysfunctional or even destructive at worst.
Cheer up, however. These trends are not necessarily bad news, at least not if you think of them as information regarding what works — and doesn’t — to create healthy, vibrant couple relationships! They speak to key elements that relationships need — must have — to stay alive and thrive; and they also point to unrealistic yet prevailing expectations that need to be identified, let go of and replaced. Why? Expectations are life shaping agents. If they form thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that limit the capacity of men and women to nourish and strengthen their love relationship, they are set ups for failure.
The permission to fully love and embrace your self and life with wonder, a compassionate love and acceptance is no small matter. Paradoxically, you need your own love and acceptance to fully and genuinely love your partner (and vice versa..).
Several reasons. For one, it is impossible to be in a love relationship and not hurt each other. It is par for the course. You are two different persons. You each bring unique strengths, gifts, intelligences and energy to the relationship. Each also brings past wounds, hurts and painful experiences in addition to a “new” build up of unresolved hurts between you. Each yearns to feel valued for their strengths, and yet at some point each tends to get stuck focusing on partner’s faults, weaknesses, lack of understanding, appreciation, etc.
Second, nature seems to love to bring together two persons in a couple relationship that have seemingly opposing approaches in several areas, especially when it comes to how they react to pain or stress. Pain is not the problem however. Pain is part of growth, learning, and stretching out of old comfort zones to realize new possibilities. The cliche “no pain, no gain” is more than a guideline; it is law of physics. The real problem has to do with how each partner reacts (defensively) when dealing with pain, i.e., extremes of either wallowing or detaching from pain.
Whereas genuine love fosters a mutually empathic connection between two persons, one that nourishes the mental, physical and emotional growth and capacity for compassion and self-actualization of each, the neurochemistry of love relationships can morph into a dangerous mix of drugs more difficult to part with than alcohol, cocaine or heroine.
Notably, we use many of the same words to describe the personality shift observed in those (our self included) we experience to be “in love” and those with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, such as: impulsive, foolhardy, dependent, obsessive, compulsive, heedless, cavalier, negligent, reckless, irresponsible, and so on.
A meta-analysis study by researchers at Syracuse University revealed for example that the state of “falling in love” takes only about a fifth of a second to occur, and is potent enough to impair the higher thinking areas of the brain. Its potency lies in its ability to elicit the same euphoric feeling as cocaine.
In a word, the wiring of our sensory brain and body — when not modulated by our ability for conscious-mind awareness to influence decision making — can leave us susceptible to falling in love with the state of “falling in love” itself. It has to do with the power that certain sensory cravings have to switch off the frontal cortex (ability to consciously think and make optimal choices). This explains why an addiction can be such a controlling factor in a person’s life (and relationships).
Biologically, the human body is wired to gravitate toward what produces comfortable, feel-good sensations in us — and correspondingly to avoid what produces pain and discomfort. Conceivably, the highest purpose of this design feature is to prompt us to stay on track (to both survive and thrive). Ideally, our body reminds us, on the one hand, to avoid what is unhealthy, harmful or a threat to our survival, and on the other hand, to keep reaching to fulfill core drives to matter and live meaningful lives.
In the state of falling in love, these sensory signals consist of a potent mix of chemicals, which have the power to relegate our otherwise amazing human brain and body — a sophisticated communication system like no other — into a slave driver that steals our ability to make healthy choices (consider costs) with vehement and …
When it comes to healing your couple communications and relationship, there are at least five prerequisite shifts in perception that are critical to help you unlock your imagination, and galvanize the energy you need to take action — to break out of stuck places and let go of old comfort zones (thus making it more likely your partner will do the same).
Continuing from Part 2, the third prerequisite shift in perception allows you to take 100% responsibility for how you respond to life events, and thus who you become (and what you create) as a result of your responses.
3. See your self as fully equipped and capable captain of your life (thus own body’s relaxation response).
This is a choice you make to see your self as capable of creating a fulfilling life — i.e., making good decisions, learning from them, thoughtfully connecting to your wants and needs, handling emotions along the way (triggering ones in particular), etc.
You know that repeated actions form habits, or emotion-command neural pathways, that are automatically activated by the subconscious mind as “default” options. Old habitual responses must be unlearned, retrained or replaced by new optimal ones.
It cannot be said too often to couples: choose words (and nonverbals) carefully in sensitive discussions, more specifically, to opt for ones that energize optimal emotional states. This can mean letting go of triggering words or actions, and breaking old habits is not easy. What if the life and health of your relationship depended on it however?
The fact is, words produce images in your mind. Images produce emotions, and emotions shape behaviors.
Doing so is usually counterproductive however and likely to intensify fear instead, perhaps to the point of activating defense strategies, and other stuck, harmful patterns. When thoughts intensify fears to levels that flood the mind and body with cortisol, fear can virtually shut down most normal processes of the body to include higher-thinking brain functions.
At best, this can leave us feeling powerless, perhaps losing our sense of hope.
There are more effective, and proven successful ways to handle fears, to learn and benefit from them, perhaps even support loved ones to do the same by modeling healthy responses. Before outlining some steps, there are several things to consider about fear:
Speaking of breaking free of the criticizing habit, a step discussed in Part 2, it’s a lot easier to achieve when you also shift your focus to wanting to understand what you each want, then actively giving or supporting each other to realize your wants and yearnings etc. — at minimum with the energy you bring. These two remaining steps strengthen your relationship, and are the subject of this post.
Step 4: Know What You Each Want — and Why
Step four consists of two parts: clearly understanding what you (really, really) want and why, and also what your partner wants and why.
Knowing what you want makes it more likely you will: (1) be heard and understood ; (2) say and express what you want in ways your partner can “listen” (not get triggered); (3) stay on topic focused on what is most relevant; and (4) eventually come to a mutually satisfying resolution.
Like it or not, you are the one constant in your couple relationship. If your couple relationship is on the rocks and you’re wondering why you seem to “attract” certain issues or partners, here’s a sobering thought (and potentially uplifting): What you bring to your relationship shapes you and your life. If you’re not consciously choosing what you bring, i.e., in terms of your intentions, thoughts, actions etc., you’re sitting on pure power, waiting to go to work for you.
In Part 1 we looked at the first two steps to shift “how you “argue” in ways that create an authentic connection between you and your partner. Here is step 3:
Based on decades of research, marketing strategists know what few consumers come to realize, and that is: (1) beliefs are the most powerful catalyst for shaping human behaviors — and (2) beliefs can be altered subconsciously, without consent or knowledge.
How does it work? By associating carefully crafted ideas that spark emotions of pleasure or fear (or both), accordingly, with preexisting human emotion-drives (hardwired value system), and repeating these ideas over and over.
Sociologically speaking, when it comes to shaping cultural values, this means mass media has been a formidable force, a top competitor for the hearts and minds of children and adults alike — once primarily socialized by family and in varying degree other key institutions such as education and church.
Arguably the game-changing mass media to ever enter the equation of what socializes and shapes men and women’s thoughts, beliefs and behaviors, truth be told, for the worse, has to be the porn industry.
The inside knowledge of how human beings learn and change per se can be beneficial.
In a recent study of predictors of infidelity in couple relationships, the findings overall indicated men and women overall seem to follow the stereotypes. The focus on sex, performance, variety and frequency tends to be driven by men, while the focus on emotional connection and nonsexual affection by women.
Drs. Mark, Janssen and Milhausen found no significant differences in rates of infidelity of men, with 23 percent for men and 19 percent for women, however, what predicted infidelity differed for men and women. Predictors for men in the study had more to do with personality traits, such as performance anxiety, a propensity for getting sexually excited by triggers, and so on, whereas relationship factors, such as emotional intimacy, partnership, feeling ignored, craving closeness or affection, etc., carried significantly more weight for women.
The reasons women cheat seem more related to unfulfilled expectations or failure, their own or partner’s, with regard to developing a deeper emotional connection. In contrast, author and sex addiction expert Robert Weiss states in an article on why men cheat that when it comes to sex, “men tend to be most aroused by a visual succession of body parts and sexual acts” where as women are “aroused by sexualized and romanticized emotional connections between people more than body parts.”