images-871How is it we can feel so connected one moment under the influence of certain substances — to include love  — and wonder the next what were we thinking?

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.

In Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, author and developer of emotionally focused therapy, Dr. Sue Johnson notes the core issue always has to do with how two people are attempting to resolve the loss of connection they feel between them (which occurs instantly the moment one or both are triggered).

Will each partner, for example, engage actions that consciously seek to restore the sense of safety in their connection, in other words, with thoughtful responses? Or unwittingly further the distance between them, by activating the particular defensive strategies (automatic, pre-programmed emotion-command neural pathways) they’ve habitually learned to protect themselves with … most likely since childhood?

Note that, while the former approach requires conscious effort and stretching to new ground (which, by the way, is an essential prerequisite to cultivating each partners’ capacity for creating and expressing, giving and receiving love that is genuine in that it ultimately grows and nourishes health and wellbeing of both partners), the latter tempts partners to take the path of least resistance, that is, to automatically go for instant and momentary relief, unwittingly, at the cost of blocking deeper yearnings, and thus, intensifying one another’s intimacy fears, such as fear of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment, etc.

It is in the couple dance that our most gripping fears of intimacy get us out of balance: on the one hand, the possibility of being alone, and on the other, the possibility of being so close as to become a mere extension of the other.

The more desperate the actions partners take to bring the other closer (or to maintain a “safe” distance), however, the more counterproductive the results of their actions. Very simply, the purpose of protective actions is to increase safety by increasing distance (either by fighting to “eliminate” or “run away” from any thoughts or actions of partner that trigger us).

We may think we’re working hard to win our partner’s love and admiration, however, as long as we’re using punitive tactics (that our parents used to get our cooperation) by inducing them with fear, shame or guilt to get the love and security we yearn for, we’re simply spinning our wheels.

Relationships are a science in that they are governed by laws of physics. More specifically, in this case: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When we engage old defensive strategies, it merely causes more defensiveness and an increasing sense of disconnect and distance, which wear and tear away at the relationship, and yes unnecessary suffering for both partners. The pain, or suffering we feel is vital information however; our body is telling us that our approach (thoughts, beliefs, emotional states, actions, etc.) is not working.

Fear-based strategies release high levels of cortisol, thus, putting our bodies in survival mode, where we are prepared to either fight or flee from a perceived threat using “either-0r, black-and-white” thinking — and where our capacity for “real thinking” (frontal cortex) is offline (thus also our critical abilities for possibility thinking, reflection, emotion regulation and making wise choices!).

It’s a given: The farther away we are from learning effective ways of realizing health and happiness in our relationships, the more painful and intense the emotions we feel, the more difficult or impossible to get the love and connection we yearn for.

In contrast, when couples know how to restore the sense of safety in their connection, according to Dr. Johnson’s research, they can discuss just about anything.

Humans are hardwired to realize happiness and fulfillment, to matter. Nothing, no event can change these hardwired needs, akin to our physical needs for water and oxygen and nutrition to survive, we naturally seek to find fulfilling ways to live and to thrive.

When something is hardwired, it’s not only on the priority list of what the subconscious mind of our body pays attention to, it’s also not alterable. As with oxygen and water, our body automatically sends distress signals when we’re running “low” on nutrients that keep us alive and healthy physically.

We forget that our emotional health is intricately connected to our mental and physical health and wellbeing.

These emotion drives are all about relationships, and the pursuit of healthy and thus safe connection to our self and others, and world.

Emotions must be understood, ultimately, as behavior catalysts that drive, and are driven by, the firing and wiring of certain neural patterns connected to core inner drives — to do more in life than merely survive, and rather to thrive — to matter in meaningful ways in relation to self and life around us.

Life is all about balance, learning when to embrace and when to let go, and love relationships are a top notch school in which partners learn, to the extent they are willing and open, what they need to learn about growing their capacity to create and experience genuine love. In Part 3, keys to restoring safety, balance and seemingly opposing emotion-drives.