I have had two sessions this week that are staying with me. Both have some common themes: Reactions are so intense it is hard for partners to respond to each other without doing more damage to the relationship and yet love is professed with passion. How is that when it is so critical not to make things worse it is the very thing that people in fact do?
Anxiety, hurt, anger and fear send a plethera of stress chemicals through the blood stream and lead to a heightened reactions that are hard to control. A fight or flight sequence is set off and there seems to be no going back. What a contrast to what happens when falling in love. When we fall in love the ventral tegmental region of the brain sends dopamine to the system responsible for focus, energy elation and motivation. It feels good and gives us what we need to find a partner. Compare that for a minute to what happens when we feel rejected. There is activity in the tegmental region of the brain and there is also activity in the nucleus accumbens...the same region that becomes active when you are addicted to coccaine. What follows? Cravings! Craving the person who rejected us. No wonder it is so hard to keep our emotions in check and to think before we react. How hard to choose words carefully when cravings for closeness have been heightened. Add to this the basic human need for love and attachment and it can be a recipe for disaster.
What can you do to turn the craving for closeness into an action that is helpful and will not further damage the relationship? First of all commit yourself to find a new way to handle things and to react. Set your intentions firmly in this direction. Set blame aside. Without this commitment it is next to impossible to make a change given the physical response your brain and overall system has set in motion. Try the following Excersize and see what happens. Notice some times this week when you are faced with a situation that was challenging; where you felt the connection with your partner was weak, you were hurt, afraid or angry. Pay attention to what you body was doing. Were your teeth clenching? Your shoulders rising? Your stomach churning? Your handscurled up into fists? Everybody is different so get to know yourelf. Next, go back and get in touch with what you were thinking. The thoughts that run through your mind are the keys to finding a new way so, reflect carefully on the types of things you were saying to yourself. Next, what were you feeling? People get thoughts and feelings mixed up sometimes. Feelings are sad, happy, afraid, angry, furious. If you are saying to yourself " I felt like he was unfair"..this is a thought, the feeling may have been disappointment, anger, frustration, let down or sadness for example. Now what did you do..what action did you take? Did you yell back, explain, walk away, strick out or verbally lash out?
Write it down. Jot down three situations you experienced this week that were troubling. Wriete down how your body responded, as well as your thoughts, feelings and actions. This a a great place to start. Now you know yourself just a little better. Next time you are faced with a similar situation, you can decide to do at least one thing differently. Perhaps you will unclench your teeth, take three deep breaths, tell yourself to stop, to slow down, to hear. It takes practice and patience to find a new way of being in a relationship. It is worth the effort becaseu after all love is a verb.
You can see us at 249 McLeod Street in Ottawa or 300 March Rd in Kanata on the 4th floor. This is directly across from the museum of Natural History. We have a facebook page called Relationship Solutions that you can check out as well. There will be tips, hints and hot topics relevant to your love life and personal hopes and dreams.