I see a lot of couples and individuals who seek help with their romantic relationships, marriages, and intimate partner relationships. The most common issue they bring involves some kind of change they would like to make in the way they communicate. This can mean a variety of things.
“We have problems with communication,” can mean that one partner wants the other to have mind-reading capabilities (which often results in resentment), difficulty taking responsibility (defensiveness and blame), unaddressed or unmanaged insecurities, frequent criticism by one or both partners, or shutting the other out. Often, all of these are present. This can be exhausting and discouraging. When this difficulty in “communication” has gone unmanaged long enough, people begin to wonder if it means a break-up is imminent. I hear the phrases “fresh start” and “clean slate” more than I can count. Often, people feel as if relief cannot be achieved fast enough.
A small background on humans and our emotions (and emotion management):
There are two brains that are responsible for our emotional life, the prefrontal cortex (logic) and the limbic system (emotion). The prefrontal cortex is in charge of our executive functioning. Because of our prefrontal cortex we can make decisions, calculations, and reason.
Our limbic system is our emotion center, the pain and pleasure centers, where our fight or flight responses originate. When activated, the limbic system releases adrenaline. Adrenaline interferes with/prohibits the prefrontal cortex from reasoning. If the limbic system is incredibly triggered, it releases a lot of adrenaline. If it is only slightly triggered, it releases less.
This system works great when we need to act without thinking. If in danger, we can quickly get to safety. The same system is less ideal when we need to think before we do or say something (which is most of the time). When we legitimately need immediate relief, it is an efficient interaction. When we feel like we need immediate relief (and are not actually in danger), we have our work cut out for us.
In short, when our lives are not in danger, our limbic system makes us stupid.
It’s common for people to experience stress involving the two brains in other aspects of their lives, too, not only in relationship. We look for a “fresh start” in many places- jobs, places of residence, careers, and groups for instance. It’s just as common for those who have begun a fresh start to find that they’ve made a mistake or that the problem has followed them. This can bring about feelings of anger, grief, confusion, desperation, and hopelessness.
We ask ourselves, “Should I stay or should I go?” (Because we like to simplify things, and we want to feel better yesterday.) It would benefit us to shift our thinking a bit and ask ourselves,
“What am I looking for? What would have to be true for me to have the experience I want?” This pattern of thinking sets the scene for a more curious, thoughtful mindset. Instead of piling reaction on top of reaction, we have the chance to clearly navigate our situations with intention and care.
I encourage you to do just that; ask yourself what you’re after and what would have to be true for this to be experienced. Give yourself time and space for thought and curiosity. To quote the adage- “Don’t just do something. Sit there.”
If you would like to find out more about strategies to manage your emotions, read my older entries, stay tuned for newer entries, or give me a call. Whatever you do, be patient and compassionate with yourself so that you can figure out what will work for you. You would probably rather have lasting relief over immediate (and usually short-lived) relief.
Love and Be Loved,