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 of growth, especially however in how they react to pain or stress. 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. Pain is not the problem however. 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.
Third, the fastest, most efficient and effective way to prevent defensiveness from taking over and controlling the outcome of a situation, or your life together for that matter, is to develop your own ability to activate a sense of conscious-love presence in moments that normally trigger you, so that your own body does not unnecessarily activate your body’s survival response.
All of the above and more are evidence that, from nature’s perspective, two persons come together to form a couple relationship not because they found the “perfect” one, rather because each brings matching qualities (and wounds) that serve to draw the other to participate in healing processes for both. Genuine love is a growing capacity that is cultivated as …
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.
As captain you understand that energy is too precious to waste, and that taking the reins as captain is not a mere option, rather a prerequisite to realizing the fulfilling happy life you aspire. More specifically, this means that you now understand why you must (learn to) let go of such energy-wasting patterns as blame, denial, withdrawal, avoidance, comparing and judgments of self and others, etc., all of which were perhaps useful to ensure your physical survival in childhood, but are now simply blocking your personal growth and healing, as well as aspirations to create an emotionally fulfilling connection with your partner. Knowing this, you’re ready to do what is necessary to take command of the direction and energy flowing in your body.
Conceivably, nothing matters more to living a fulfilling life, than realizing you have access to a powerful human capacity to bring, create and express love in your life and relationships. Stop waiting …
Meditation and mindfulness are practices proven to strengthen our connection to emotions of the heart, in particular our ability to more easily and efficiently navigate the stormy seas of painful emotions, allowing us to thoughtfully respond rather than defensively run away or go into attack mode.
Based on recent findings in neuroscience, poets have been right all along: Love is the only antidote to fear, conscious love that is.
Brain research in the last decade inform us that empathy and aggression share the same brain circuitry, and that there is an inverse relationship between the two, in other words, when one goes up in intensity, the other goes down.
It takes love, a consciously empathic love for self and life at minimum, to stay present in the moment when a triggering fear shows up. Practicing empathy works to lower aggressive impulses (and, the opposite is true: a habit of aggressive reactions inhibits the capacity to respond with empathy).
The good news is that there is an array of positively charged emotions, rooted in love, ever willing and ready to refresh and strengthen us. Meditating on love-emotions of the heart empowers a uniquely insightful experience that can open up new possibilities to experience our self and life around us more fully, with our whole-heart rather than the limiting view depicted by fear (which one do you wish to be in control your imagination?). This comes in quite handy, considering that negatively charged emotions can also be great teachers, for example, telling us much about who we are and are not as human beings, what we’re capable of realizing, what we most yearn to contribute as unique individuals, and more.
Empathy is a listening and talking skill that is critical to healthy relating. It creates a love-connection, a buffer of sorts that serves to absorb some of the shock or impact of a painful experience (emotions…). Without empathy (for self and another), we are less likely to feel safe enough to prevent our body from unnecessarily activating its survival system.
We are social creatures, whether we think of ourselves in these terms or not, simply because our brain is a social organ. We naturally move in the direction of increasing our sense of mattering in relation to life in and around us, an emotional connection that frees us to engage and grow, to heal and learn how to restore inner sense of peace, balance.
In moments when we feel securely connected, we have access to our brain’s reflective processing capacity (frontal cortex), and thus are free to consider optimal choices (self-regulate). When our frontal cortex is in learning or online mode, we feel safe enough to make eye contact, to touch or be touched, to love and be loved, to accept and feel accepted for who we are, all of which are emotions communicated by looking into the eyes of another.
Yes, resolving conflict is a worthy goal, and understanding “the problem” is also important. The biggest obstacles in couple communications, however, more often have to do with unlocking the heart and imagination of each partner to want to hear or listen to what the other says, to want to understand where each is coming from, and so on.
As discussed in Part 1, what you “see” subconsciously in your mind when you think of your partner and your relationship, or your “discussions” for that matter, may just be what you get.
There are are at least five prerequisites to unlocking your hearts — and subconscious minds — to break free of images and mindsets that keep each of you locked in reactive patterns, defensive showdowns, and the like.
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.
The fear response can be a great teacher. In Part 1 we looked at three ways fear is your friend as an action activating signal. So, how do we handle fear to produce optimal results and meaningful change, when we get triggered? As an example, lets’ say the fear has to do with going after what you most want due to a fear of failure.
This article outlines a seven step approach.
1. Recognize and feel your emotions courageously, pausing to breathe deeply and notice your experience.
This first step allows you to turn within to recognize your emotions as natural responses, as key information you want to connect to — rather than fear or dismiss. Taking deep long breaths and noticing your experience is a key way to be present, and it also helps to recognize your feelings with words that identify your emotions and describe what you feel upset about, such as,
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.