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The Neuroscience of Conscious-Love Relationships

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Why are some interactions between you and your partner so intense? And why do you say and do things, at times, that knowingly make matters worse?

You’ve heard it before. Many of these reactive patterns were learned in early childhood, and literally, helped you survive the formative years when you were most vulnerable emotionally. Though these no longer serve you, most originated out of necessity to lower your fears, and thus for your physical survival.

Mere survival is never enough in terms of healthy human development. As a human being, you are wired to meaningfully connect to life in and around you.

A universal drive to meaningfully connect to self!

The reason you do and say certain things is that, subconsciously, for the most part, you have “trained” your brain to think that you ‘need’ to use certain “reactions” or strategies.

It’s a universal principle. Unless you make a conscious choice to not do so, your subconscious mind stays with the familiar, that you are happiest, and feel safer, less anxious, when you do what is familiar.

The “love and safety” hormone, oxytocin, indisputably reinforces this principle. It releases into the bloodstream when you feel both safe and loved. A familiar response, even one you do not want, feels safer and more secure, and thus makes you feel good in the moment, or at least makes you feel better than taking a risk trying something new.

Your brain continues to activate old tested-and-proven strategies that “have worked” to lower your stress levels and keep you alive. It still treats matters like this as threats to your survival.

In practical terms, you are wired to feel good about yourself and life. Your subconscious mind formed these conclusions as protective patterns automatically lower the intensity of fear, or make you feel better about yourself and life, at least, momentarily.

What does it mean to connect to your inner sense of self and life?

A meaningful connection to yourself is a yearning to realize a sense of self as agent and choice maker, a sense of adequacy in engaging in processes of growth and being present to learn and grow, to build your inner confidence, to trust in your ability to think, to make choices, to grow from mistakes, to adapt, to face challenges and allow them to stretch you out of old comfort zones, to maintain the essence of who you are both a universal being, and uniquely you, with inner drives to expand your compassion, explore your world with curiosity, and seek to meaningfully connect and contribute to life around, to grow from challenges and learn to not give in to despair, resentment or bitterness.

Unless you have healthy ways to make yourself feel good, especially after an upset or disappointment, your subconscious triggers habitual ways that are temporary, quick-fixes. And quick-fix ways of feeling good lead are bad news; primarily because they are highly addictive.

For many, these habitual patterns may not feel like ‘strategies’ or learned neural patterns. Indeed, since they’ve been around a long time, the patterns may feel like ‘who you are’ (or ‘who others are’) in which case, to break free, your first step is to remain open to grow your awareness, that is, to ‘see’ and observe how these responses operate automatically as strategies that the subconscious mind of your body has learned to use to automatically protect you.

You do no have to agree; however, the fact is that relationships are critical to you, and the most important relationships of all — by virtue of the fact that it is the only one that you can choose to act upon — is the one with yourself! Whether you agree, your subconscious mind has a primary directive to solely focus and care about, 24/7, what promotes your health and happiness!

A universal drive to meaningfully connect to others!

How you relate to others is connected to how your relate to yourself. Perhaps the most important contribution of studies neuroscience and relationships, in the last decade, is proving poets and sages have been right all along.

You may have already noticed that your mind and body work best when your key relationships feel balanced. This means how you respond emotionally, mentally and physically in terms of what primary emotions — love or fear — are activated, has a direct impact upon the internal balance of important dynamic processes inside your body.

Most of this early learned programming has been subconscious, yet when it is associated with your body’s survival response, it can dramatically affect both the direction and intensity of:

Your brain chemistry.

Your feelings and emotions.

Your thoughts and actions.

Love makes the world go around.  It is love, more so than survival instinct, that drives human behaviors, and shapes our lives, from the first breath to the last.

Relationships are vital to our individual growth and well being. We are social by nature, and feel happiest when meaningfully connected in ways that contribute to others, as well as ourselves. As a result we feel vulnerable and anxious in response to loss or distress in our key relationships, and thus, must learn to regulate our fears to transform them into assets, such as courage and strength.

No learning is as vital as learning to relate to self and others in ways that bring out the best, and optimize our lives. Learning how to “do” relationships is a process more creative and complex than writing a symphony or running a government or solving a social issue. The human emotional drive to relate, to learn the essentials of how to meaningfully connect, emotionally and socially, is a learned and cultivated skill.

What does it mean to meaningfully connect to others?

A meaningful connection to others is a realization of self as inherently connected to others and life, a member of a larger symphony, each uniquely seeking to meaningfully connect to themselves and others, and like you, learn to sing their own song of life, to celebrate their own, as well as others, capacity for engaging in creative processes and transformation.

In the process of learning what “works” and “what doesn’t,” ideally, you develop a “wise-self,” one oriented to making choices rooted in accrued wisdom. These drives, safe to say, do not merely serve the survival of the species, they rather transform the evolution of the human mind and being as most complex phenomenon or wonder in all of existence.

The power of thoughts and beliefs in shaping relationships!

How you relate to yourself (and others, life, etc) has everything to do with how you relate, moment by moment, to your thoughts, feelings, sensations, wants, dreams, and so on.

Your life and behaviors, your emotions, and so on, are quite literally shaped, consciously and subconsciously, by key beliefs you hold. Beliefs that have the most life directing power are the ones that have to do with what you believe about yourself, life and others, and what you believe is possible for you, and so on. For example, what it means to you to be a woman/man, wife/husband, daughter/son, and so on, in relationship to one another.

Beliefs can either boost or limit your capacity to realize a meaningful connection with the world in and around you. They activate the strategies, or behavioral patterns, you habitually use to cope with situations that trigger your core-universal fears, such as inadequacy, rejection, abandonment, and so on.

Believe it or not, you have more power than you think to create a happy, fulfilling relationship with yourself and life, others around you. Happiness is an inside job, your power to do so largely rests on the extent to which you understand the direct link between what you believe about yourself and life and how you respond to events moment by moment. For example, whether you respond thoughtfully or reactively produces dramatically different outcomes.

When you leave this process to your subconscious mind, you’re not in control as the agent of your life. Your past influences are in control. And your subconscious mind has no capability of making choices based on possibility thinking. It depends on you to do so, and follows your lead. It’s your devoted genie, and gives you only what it thinks you most want!

How does it know? It directs every cell of your body to listen to your self-talk, 24/7!

Setting an intention to develop your awareness — and shift — the “command” language you give your subconscious mind when you think and speak is the first step to learning to consciously love yourself and life, and empower you to take the reins of the direction of your life and relationships. The more  you clearly articulate what you most want, the faster your subconscious mind will take you seriously and make changes.

An intent to connect to life with conscious-love.

Conscious love is a judicial love. It’s not merely a feeling.

And it most definitely is not allowing yourself to be controlled by, for example, what you or the other “feel” like doing or not doing! Countless times each day, truth be told, the optimal choice is often “not giving in” to what you “feel” like doing or not doing!

Test this yourself. In any area of life you experience success, you’ve likely mastered the ability to not merely do or not do what you feel!

It is a choice at any given time to optimally respond in ways that serve what is in the highest interest of your relationship with your self. (And vice versa.) More often and not, what is in your highest interest best serves the highest interest of the other, and your relationship!  In a family, the highest interest of one benefits all involved.

As human beings, you and your partner are wired to have emotional drives that propel you to meaningfully connect with yourself as a uniquely capable human being, on the one hand, and on the other, to meaningfully connect with the amazing potential of others, not to mention life around you.

You are relationship beings. Period. Everything about you is a relationship. Your intellectual, emotional and physical growth, health and development, and so on, are directly affected by the quality of your relationships.

Many partners have “Ah-ha” moments when they first consciously recognize that the feelings they feel in response to one another’s learned neural-patterns, and the way their minds and bodies are biologically hardwired. These are universal drives, such as the drive to matter, to be seen and valued for who you are, in relation life around you and those you most care about. Your emotion-drives are the great equalizer! Let’s say 99%! What you universally share is far greater. Any  differences, unique traits and attributes, beliefs, past experiences, and so on, are minimal in comparison to the powerful universal drives that connect you to life and one another.

A conscious-love way of responding to your own inner promptings allows you to more consistently respond in thoughtful ways to those in your life that matter the most to you. An out of balance “love” that is focused on responding first to the inner emotional states of distress or misery the other feels, will spiral into a toxic relationship. Period.

To your subconscious mind, you are the only one to save and support to thrive! This is why it always backfires to focus on saving or being saved by others! This cannot be said enough. To your subconscious mind, you are the Universe.

An awareness of your power to choose your emotional state of mind and body.

To maintain an overall inner state of emotional balance, it’s necessary to practice conscious ways of being in charge of the direction of your responses to what triggers you. To hold the reins of your emotional and physical state of mind and body, means you have the ability to self-activate your body’s relaxation response, and thus, prevent your autonomic nervous system from automatically activating your body’s survival response unnecessarily.

There are two basic directions based upon how your autonomic nervous system is wired. These two directions are directed by your emotions, which can be categorized overall as either love-based emotions (pleasant) or fear-based emotions (unpleasant).

Serotonin is an essential brain chemical that acts as a natural anti-depressant and that also helps temper impulsive feelings. Endorphins and Dopamine are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

Problematic behavior patterns, though they likely produce negative outcomes, have good, and quite honorable intentions. Because they release feel-good hormones in your bloodstream, they automatically lower painful emotions – at least, temporarily. They are quick fixes, which makes them addictive in nature.

The receptor sites for these hormones are located in the same areas of the brain that deal with emotion.

Thus, you might say that, hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin best explain why you feel so shaky and panicky in certain situations in which your core fears get triggered.  Core fears, such as rejection, inadequacy, abandonment, loss of control, etc., are powerful shapers of behavior. They are connected to hardwired emotional drives to find and realize what most matters to you, as a human being: to matter in two primary ways, one, in relation to yourself and, another, in relation to others or those that most matter to you.

Conscious-love is a mindful way of responding in the moment to your inner feelings in a way that is aligned with your nature, as a human being. It’s a way of connecting to your wisdom in the moment. It disallows your body from unnecessarily firing your autonomic survival response.

This is wise because when you’re in survival mode, your frontal cortex or thinking part of your brain is offline. What feels to you like “thinking” is merely an old program of automatically repeating old learned responses, for example, you may be repeating what one or both of your parents said or did!

Unless you make conscious changes to subconscious neural patterns stored in memory cells of your brain and body, the best predictor of your future actions is how you’ve behaved in the past. Your best intentions will not suffice.

Learning how to relate to one another in conscious-love ways is likely the most challenging and complex learning endeavor of human beings. It is also a lifelong endeavor, ideally, a labor of love. 



The Neuroscience of Conscious-Love Relationships

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2020). The Neuroscience of Conscious-Love Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Sep 2020
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