How Your Brain Gets in The Way of Your Heart.

Image by Chi Tranter on Flickr.

Image by Chi Tranter on Flickr.

Your brain may be getting in the way of the love you’re trying to make. 

I’m spending the week at the Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy’s annual conference. Right now, I’m with about 200 or so of my closes colleauges, listening to Mona Fishbane share her genius with us. 

Mona’s specialty is love and relationships are best understood at their most basic ingredient, the breadcrumb of love.

When we get into distress, our amygdalae, the fight or flight parts of our brains, take over and the opportunity to de-escalate conflict at the point pretty much goes away. 

On the other hand, when we’re in the beginning of our relationships and everything is great, we’re constantly soothed by the hormones dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which are very involved with the experience of orgasm. 

So over time, as life crowds our relationships and kids take over our energies, it becomes more and more difficult to get those super warm and sexy hormones that keep us happy and glued together.

When we start to fight, not only are we deprived of those loving hormones, we’re flooded with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. 

This is overwhelming when it happens again...and again...and again.

They say things like:

She's no good for you.

He doesn't love you anymore. 

Once our hormones start talking to us, our relationships start to become very distressed. In that distress, we start making decisions about whether we want to stay or go. 

This is an incredibly stressful experience. It's also what happens when we're worried we're no longer in love with our spouses. This may be a good reason to get therapy, but it may not be a good reason to get a divorce. Why?

Because it can change.

We have so much on the line. So when we fight, we start to behave in ways we'll regret.

And it gets worse and worse. We yell louder. We fight harder. We run faster. Then, when asked to apologize, we do something new. 

We rationalize our behavior.

To our partners, this looks like a lack of responsibility; so they point that out, which of course, just makes things worse. We are the only ones who can be responsible for our own behavior.

The next time you start to rationalize your own wacky behavior, just remember what Robert A. Heinlein said, “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.” 

When we try to explain our reactive behaviors in self-righteous ways, our brains are going through complex task to try and win the argument. We’re surviving.

By winning, we’re still alive.

To our spouses or partners, it looks like selfishness. To them, we look like torturers. 

We’re all wired in different and unique ways. The great mystery of love is that those of us who protect ourselves by going inward and getting defensive usually find people who survive by trying to neutralize the distance between us. This works well when we’re not in distress, but it feels like war when it’s not going well. 

I know it sounds bleak, but it can be different. The good news is that brains are flexible. Scientists have discovered this concept in the brain called neuro-plasticity, which is basically evidence that people can change. 

If you’ve asked yourself this question, then here is your answer. 

There's hope.

Dr. Mathis Kennington

512-329-5540

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