3. The Brain is Wired for Survival

In the last issue of North Bay Life, I touched on our “unconscious childhood agenda”, how it interferes with our relationship satisfaction now, and what to do about it. This article offers another reason why it is natural to become disillusioned in a relationship, which has to do with the brain itself.

The oldest part of the brain, the brain stem or “the reptilian brain”, is responsible for Fight, Flight or Freeze. If we touch something hot, our hand instantly moves away. If we see a bear, we avoid it slowly and carefully or run. The brain stem is all about our survival. Without even realizing it, we constantly scan situations for cues, “Is it Safe or is it Dangerous?”, “Is this person for me or against me?”, “Do I stay, keep quiet, or go?”

We are programmed to notice what is WRONG in any situation. This is very adaptive, but also causes us to be negative thinkers. We notice everything that is WRONG in our lives, or in our marriage. We see what is missing, or disappointing. These constant observations can make us unhappy. Since no one can ever meet all the needs of a child or adult perfectly, it can be easy to feel let down in connection with others. And we attach believable stories to our dissatisfaction.

Some of my negative stories came from my mother. I experienced her being unhappy and critical of my father, my sister, and many life situations. I was not raised to be optimistic or forgiving, and I became depressed as a teen. Then I fell in love and married at 20. I had the North American expectation of “Living Happily Ever After” like most of us do. But when I entered the second stage of relationship (The Power Struggle), I felt let down and naturally blamed my husband, like my mother blamed my father. I had no idea until many years later, that I created my own unhappiness with my impossible expectations, and my negative perceptions. This is a combination of brain, nurturing style, and societal expectations.

If this speaks to you, listen to your own inner and outer dialogue; your actual thoughts and words. Are they negative? Are they critical? Are they passive-aggressive? Are the efforts of your beloved not quite right? The dishes are a bit dirty, the towels are not folded right, the words are not as you would have said them to the kids, and the greeting after work was not quite sincere enough or fast enough or said with a smile.

The brain stem keeps our focus on what others do wrong versus what they do right. So if we constantly add to the list of shortcomings, we can become very unhappy. Our” Love Bank” becomes depleted and moves into a negative balance. In order to turn this around we need to be diligent with our brain. We need to put effort into having “new eyes”. Eyes that look for the GOOD, and override the part of the brain that scans for what is wrong.

Author and relationship expert, John Gottman, says “it takes 5 positive thoughts to make up for one negative thought”. To put deposits into our Love Bank, we need to put effort into shifting our inner dialogue away from what s/he is doing wrong to what s/he does right!

Over the years, I put great effort into turning my thinking around, to be a happier “glass half full person”, and I work to see the great things I might naturally overlook in my relationship.

Well hang on! My partner does a lot wrong, and s/he is critical of ME! How can your suggestion get me what I want in my relationship?”

I have answers for this. Stay tuned…and pick up the next issue of North Bay Life!