ERP 095: How Your Beliefs Can Destroy Your Relationship
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In podcast episode 94, “4 Reasons Why Creating Lasting Love Is So Difficult” I offered four reasons why partners will give-up on or break-up a relationship.
Today, we are exploring the mechanisms behind our belief systems in relationship. This will be a two-part series.
(Please listen to the podcast episode or read the transcript to hear more explanations, stories and examples.)
How come my partner seems so different from when we first started dating?
A challenge we are faced with along the path of developing long-term intimacy is learning how to deal with our protective mechanisms. This is an unexpected challenge, as we do not anticipate needing to protect ourselves against our significant other.
During the initial stages of love, we emphasize all the positive qualities of the relationship and connection. In some ways, we imagine how great we are for one another (since we don’t really know).
When the romance settles a bit, we may enter into a deeper level of commitment, and we begin to see our differences emerge. Seeing these differences might be surprising (different from what we imagined) and challenging….especially when we do not know how to deal with conflict well.
This dynamic gets even more confusing and complicated because we have essentially moved from a position of hope and optimism to one of caution and protection.
Why do I feel so protective with my partner?
If you have listened to my podcast before, you may have heard me talk about the fact that evolutionarily, we are wired up to protect ourselves and to survive. The very primal part of our brain…namely the amygdala let’s us know when there is a threat. This part of the brain has been storing and cataloging all the painful experiences up to date, so that it can be prepared and ready to protect and take care in the event a similar situation should occur again.
This protective systems main goal is to keep you safe. It is quick to respond and does not decipher, discern, or differentiate well. When a threat is detected, our fight, flight, or freeze response kicks into gear. Our brain does not take the time to distinguish between “a bear is chasing us” and “our partner is slighting us.” All threats feel similar within our nervous system, whether it is a physical or an emotional threat.
When we feel threaten in relationship, our early experiences with connection are getting brought up to the surface.
Our Connection Imprint
When we enter into a deeper level of commitment through marriage or life partnership, the romantic bond activates a deep part of our being called the attachment system. This attachment system is more or less an early imprint of connection. This imprint of connection reflects how we were cared for or not cared for by our parents/caregivers, as well as how we learned to respond through our thinking, feeling, and physiology.
In a secure connection, we learned to believe that our needs would be met and that the world is a safe place. We felt loved and felt confident about our ability to receive comfort and affection. Our body and nervous system was relaxed, calm, and functioning well.
As babies, we needed our parents/primary caretakers to survive. While we do not need our partners for survival the emotional bond activates the very same system. Our romantic connections hold the same level of intensity, stakes, and vulnerability.
If you are interested in learn more about what insecure attachment looks like, check out this episode or this research paper (wrote many years ago).
With any level of insecurity, pain, hurt, or injury in the past, your brain has kept very good track of this experience, so that it can protect you in the future.
Yet, this protective mechanism works too well in many cases, as the system responds to any PERCEIVED threat…anything that looks, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels similar to the previous painful experience.
Often, this happens so quickly we aren’t even aware of it until we are already in the flight, flight, or freeze mode.
The benefit of this protective system is that it works hard to keep you safe, and it does a good job. With any sign of threat, you will be on guard. The draw back is there may be many opportunities for false alarms.
In relationship, our interactions are happening so quickly, and we rarely take the time to flush everything out. Deciphering interactions and perceived threats are especially confusing, when we have don’t trust and are cautious with our partner.
Higher Skills are not accessible
When we feel protective, defensive, and threatened, the more evolved parts of our brain are off-line. All of our energy and resources are going towards getting ready to fight or flee. Therefore, we do not have access to our higher levels of thinking and processing, like regulating emotions, perceiving emotions in others, executive thinking, and decision-making.
Excerpt from “Wired for Love” by Stan Tatkin, PsyD:
(Please listen to the podcast episode or read the transcript for the excerpt)
By understanding these protective mechanisms more, we can see how it is possible to move from hope and optimism to caution and defensiveness in relationship. Basically, we go from anticipating the best to anticipating the worst in relationship. Anticipating the worst in your partner or relationship can have grave effects on love and lasting relationship.
Stay tuned for the next episode, as we will explore how this plays out with more specifics and examples.
If you are interested in learning how to manage your reactions and regulate your nervous system, so that you can engage a more progressive and productive process please sign-up for my Connect Couples Program, which will give you step-by-step support and guidance…stay tuned for details.
In the meantime, check out this free ebook “7 Ways Relationships Fail (And what you can do to save yours)”
Click on this link to access the transcript for this episode: ERP 095: How Your Beliefs Can Destroy Your Relationship [Transcript]
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If you are interested in developing new skills to overcome relationship challenges, please consider taking the Empowered Relationship Course or doing relationship coaching work with me.