Sunday, February 22, 2015

The best gift we can give our partners

Friend: Have you read this? I would like your thoughts, please.

Me: It's good enough advice -- basically, be a decent person and treat your partner with the utmost of kindness. The most important part of that root is being emotionally healthy because that staves off the everyday outside things that wear on us from affecting the relationship.

You've heard of Dr. Gottman and his research? 4 behaviors that predict divorce?

Here is the reason why being emotionally healthy is so critical: the behaviors in that original blog post are toxic. And if you talk to most people, they will agree we shouldn't do them. But yet people are doing them anyway. Why? What's breaking down between how we think we should behave vs. what we actually do?

People usually get sidetracked by intense emotions. They mean well, but when triggered or depleted (hungry, angry, lonely or tired) there's less control. That's when we're susceptible to the outburst or snide remark. But if people were in tune with how they felt, if they could sense what they needed before their logical brain "flooded," they could focus on getting those needs met rather than reacting in a way that could cause lasting damage. Research has shown that every negative experience a couple has needs to be offset by five positive experiences in order to outweigh it.

The brain is a great pattern-detection computer, constantly scanning situations. We assign meaning to our experiences. It's not always accurate -- sometimes we react to an internal trigger. "Last time that happened, I got hurt!" The brain, in the face of a perceived threat, seeks self-preservation.

It doesn't really have well-thought out strategies so it resorts to whatever it learned works; often behaviors that were effective when young.  Shutting down, yelling, etc. -- reactions are as varied and complicated as people. This happens whether or not the threat is real or even consciously known.

So good emotional health is like good physical health. Most people understand what we should do but doing actual situps is a whole lot different than simply imagining your future six-pack abs.

This is where self-care comes in.

Life can be hard. People cope. If done to an extreme, coping can distance us from ourselves, from knowing what we want and need and being able to be present to meet those needs. If we're numb or sufficiently soothed from coping, we won't take the actions we need for our own self-care.

Meditation is a great tool because it reinforces presence, tolerance, rewriting the meaning we assign to our experiences, and redirection from reaction. It's like situps for the brain. Over time, it becomes easier to connect with needs and manage emotions.

I think this is why the path to enlightenment is also the path to more fulfilling relationships. They're all tied together. The best gift we can give our partners is taking care of ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. Meditation to discover your own baseline.

    Everyday mindfulness in order to foster the constant awareness of where you are in relation to that baseline.

    Open and honest communication (with yourself and those around you) to be able to maintain a consistent state above that baseline... or be able to extricate yourself from a situation before you do something everyone will regret because you've fallen below your baseline.

    Surround yourself with the right people--ones who will pull you up and forward along with them, in one way or another--so that they can understand when you stumble at all of the above because you are, after all, still only human.

    Yep. It's all interconnected.