Thanks to advances in research methodology and neuroscience, relationships are now a science. The science of love relationships has identified several specific behavior patterns of partners that succeed in creating healthy, mutually enriching couple relationships. Partners who think and act in certain ways nearly guarantee themselves love relationships in which they feel fulfilled, loved and appreciated.
First, the good news is both you and your partner are wired for love, your body’s health depends on it.
Second, you are wired to release a certain love hormone, Oxytocin, the chemical known as the “cuddle hormone,” in response to certain behaviors.
Feeling loved and secure has everything to do with knowing how to create an Oxytocin response that makes you and your partner feel loved and secure.
Okay, the details may be different, but overall do you get into a scripted dialogue in which you can guess what your partner is going to say or do in reaction to something you say?
(Most likely, by the way, your partner likely feels the same way too.)
The stuck feelings seem all too familiar to couples in a relationship. Like others, both of you likely wonder, at times, whether there’s a chance of ever getting the love, understanding, acceptance, appreciation, romance, etc., you want. You know, the feelings you had at the start of your relationship. It seems you’ve tried everything. Is it too much to ask to feel valued, important — and connected — in your relationship?
Gratitude is an emotion we use to express appreciation and thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift. It’s much more, however.
A powerful agent, gratitude can propel us with unstoppable momentum to find ways to express, exclaim and proclaim it to the world, or another person, perhaps shouting from the rooftops!
Words may not suffice to express gratitude, but this cannot stop us from trying.
In Part 1, we considered three areas of the brain that work together to produce feel-good chemicals, and that, depending on the circumstances, can literally alter our emotional states of body and mind to the point of putting our ability to make choices (personal power) out of reach. The automatic release of this chemical mix can lead us to making poor and potentially dangerous decisions, and even worse, form an addictive habit or pattern.
To retain our choice making capacity, it helps to understand that a key underlying issue in relationships, based on decades of research on attachment and intimacy, is the connection.
Human beings get unhinged about a lot of things, yet nothing seems to compare to the actions of desperation, and the emotional roller coasters in the dance of romance.
Where in life are we suddenly in the most intimate of circumstances, contemplating dramatic shifts to our lives and future plans, with someone who was a total stranger a relatively short time ago?
A new sort of infidelity has been on the rise for decades, and it’s one of the biggest threats to marriage: ‘emotional affairs.’ Today’s workplace has become the new danger zone of opportunities for ‘emotional affairs,’ surpassed only by the Internet.
A relationship without sex can be just as intense, or more so than a sexual one. Not surprisingly, in most cases, approximately 80% according to Dr. Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity, the dynamics of these platonic liaisons crosses over into sexual love sooner or later.
Why the crisis?
To understand the intensity of emotional infidelity, it helps to see the dynamics as an addiction, a form of addictive love. That’s because it’s easier to let go of a toxic pattern when you depersonalize the experience.
A toxic relationship is one that is out of balance, in many ways, a reflection of its impact on the inner world of each partner. It is kept off balance, paradoxically, by the attempts each partner makes – in triggering moments – to increase their own sense of safety in relation to the other.
In Part 1, we explored five toxic interaction patterns in which partners inadvertently collude with one another, getting stuck in scripted roles that mutually trigger one another’s protective-responses.
In this post, we look at the neuroscience beneath these toxic protective-response strategies, as emotional command circuits in ready position to activate, and how these scripted patterns destabilize partner’s inner sense of emotional safety in the relationship, setting them up to fail in their attempt to realize personal and relational fulfillment.
Current advances in neuroscience allow us to identify patterns of activation and function of the brain and body’s central nervous system in ways that were only theoretical for psychological thinkers of the 20th century.
Love that turns toxic is neither healthy nor genuine, though the intentions of each partner are often well-meaning.
A couple relationship can be described as toxic when, due to intense emotional reactivity and defensive interaction patterns, it no longer promotes, and instead harms the individual mental, emotional, and physical, well-being and growth of each partner. The relationship is increasingly off balance, a factor that is affected by, and directly affects the individual inner sense of balance, health and safety of each partner.
In contrast, genuine love is an empathic connection that recognizes the authentic other and self as separate and unique beings, even encouraging the individuality of each as essential to the formation of healthy intimacy in a relationship.
Neurological findings in the last decades show that we are wired for certain early protective behaviors in life, and that these become habitual responses automatically activated throughout life, often without conscious awareness. Intense emotional experiences in childhood can alter the structure of the brain and have enduring effects in adulthood.
The eroticization of male dominance and female passivity in couple relations is a game in which there are no winners, a luring trap that blocks what makes human relationships human — an empathic connection — a hardwired drive to mutually know and compassionately understand one another that is rooted in our nature to matter as meaning-seeking relational beings.
This capacity remains dormant, however, unless developed. It is a learned ability that requires such skills as being open and vulnerable to one another, an essential aspect of growing the courage we need to love with our whole heart. (To love with our whole heart, in a nutshell, means to develop our capacity to remain empathically connected to self and other, in moments when core fears, such as inadequacy or rejection, get triggered.)
In a cultural context that relegates empathy, vulnerability and emotional closeness as weakness or “girly,” and emotions of pain, hurt or fear as signs of inferiority or defect, especially for men (to women who want to be “accepted” as “equals” in this milieu), is it any wonder why so many couples get tripped up in their attempts to create vibrant, mutually enriching relationships?
It has to do with the dehumanizing nature of these cultural norms.
For this and other reasons, looking more closely at the negative impact of these cultural stories opens up possibilities for men and women to see one another anew, and, rather than compete, to honor the intrinsic dignity and value of each in relation to the other, first and foremost, as human beings, with an amazing potential to work cooperatively as partners in forming a healthy relationship and an enriching context for one another to grow and self-actualize as uniquely contributing individuals.
Its initial stages have been compared, in studies, to the most potent of addictive drugs, dumping a mixture of hormones in the bloodstream that can drive otherwise ‘normal’ people to do crazy things.
The anniversary of your relationship, with each passing year, deserves a beautiful celebration. Of course, there are the traditional flowers, dinner, candlelight, reciting or renewing your wedding vows, or exciting getaways.
To connect to the heart of what brings meaning, consider adding one or more of the following five ways to celebrate, alongside your favorites:
1. Bring to mind the first steps …
… of your life together. Life consists of a series of milestones. There are fresh starts around every corner. Ponder the firsts. The first meeting. When you first ‘knew’ your partner was ‘the one.’ Putting together a home. Becoming parents. Replay these memories.