I love you! I love you! I love you!

Energy follows attention. What you focus on, is what you get. That universal law applies to our relationships as it applies to anything else.

In the past, there was a theory that it is good to get your negative feelings out. Unfortunately, venting at our partner leaves him or her with bad memories. Over time, our brain responds with apprehension to high energy interactions. In fact, our brain starts to associate our partner with negative situations and with danger instead of with feelings of safety. Our brain goes on alert because we remember the hurt and emotional pain. Instead of triggering endorphins (feel good chemicals), the stress hormone cortisol is triggered. Our main job in our relationship is to be a source of safety for our partner, instead of another source of stress.

Our brain has, as Rick Hansen calls it, “a negativity bias”. We remember negative events more easily than positive ones. For our ancestors that negativity bias was important for survival. Drs. John and Julie Gottman state that five positive exchanges or comments are required to override one negative one. If we hear more critical comments than affirmations or appreciations, we are often left feeling defensive and uneasy with our partner.

Another reason why venting is not beneficial is that whatever you express, you also experience. Whatever you do to others, you do to yourself. When you yell at your partner, it is as if you are yelling at yourself. Your brain reacts to your own negative yelling in the same way your partner reacts. It triggers danger cues and the release of cortisol.

What would happen if we flooded each other with positive emotions and we were able to connect intensity with positive exchanges? Hendrix and Hunt suggest the following couple’s exercise.

3 Minute Exercise That Re-Patterns Our Brain

In preparation for the exercise, make a list of

  1. your partner’s physical characteristics which you like
  2. their personality traits which you admire
  3. some of their recent behaviours you appreciate, and
  4. come up with a global affirmation, e.g. they are terrific, thoughtful, fantastic, amazing, wonderful etc.

positive flooding

One partner sits in a chair and the other one circles him or her and floods the partner with positive adjectives. The first minute is focused on the physical characteristics. The circling partner identifies and appreciates all of the physical features of their partner in a normal tone or volume, e.g. I love your smile. I really like your silky hair. I love your soft hands.

During the second minute, the circling partner focuses on appreciating traits in a more excited tone, while raising the volume of their voice, e.g. I appreciate your warmth. I appreciate your kindness. I appreciate your intelligence.

During the last minute, the circling partner values and affirms behaviours the partner has displayed. This time they are raising their voice even more, e.g. I appreciate that you picked the kids up from school yesterday. I am thankful for your advice in regards to my boss. I am so grateful for you sending Aunt Edna a gift.

At the end, the circling partner comes around and stands in front of the sitting partner. He or she yells, “I can’t believe I am in a relationship with (married to) a person as amazing as you. I love you! I love you! I love you! You are wonderful/amazing/fantastic” etc.

Then both partners stand and give each other a full minute long hug to calm down.

 

The rationales behind this exercise are

  1. This interaction exercises, first, the sympathetic nervous system, and during the hug at the end, the parasympathetic nervous system. It activates the bonding hormone oxitocin.
  2. It creates new safe memories of our partner. Intensity is now connected to positive memories.
  3. It also takes us out of the resentful part of our brain where we have kept a list of the things our partner has done to frustrate or hurt us. It moves us into the part of the brain that wakes us up to how wonderful our partner is. Our perpetual issues or relationship problems have, of course, not disappeared. However, the shift into our prefrontal neo-cortex opens up the option to deal with them in a more civilized and calm manner than our primitive brain is capable of. From that part of our brain, we can be more curious about why our partner is the way they are, instead of being judgmental with each other.

 

If you are hesitant to try this dynamic exercise, consider cutting out negativity and shifting into appreciation with a different ritual. Drs. Gottman for example suggest a weekly “State of the Union Meeting”. The couple sets aside one hour a week to reconnect. The State of the Union meeting begins with giving each other affirmations and appreciations. Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt propose to end each day by sharing three things we appreciate about our partner and vice versa. This conscious practice of appreciation requires us to pay attention to what we enjoy about each other.

positive flooding - joy

Re-patterning our brain, as well as other activities of shifting into appreciation, give us the opportunity to revive the love we have for each other. Gratitude and appreciation foster a secure bond and allow us to continually build a sound relationship house.

Contact

Belief Change and Relationship Coach Angelika,

905-286-9466,

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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Turtles and Hailstorms

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Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt call the template or idealized image of positive and negative qualities of our primary caregivers our “Imago”. Through our subconscious programs, we are drawn to somebody who matches this template.

In other words, our partner carries some of our shadows. He or she displays to us what we are struggling with and are working on. They are a mirror of what we have learned to identify with or disown during childhood. They might not superficially appear to be like our primary caregiver but we will inevitably end up feeling the same feelings we did as a child. Partially, those could be positive feelings of belonging, being accepted, safe and loved. But the relationship also brings up painful feelings due to our more traumatic experiences, and activates our childhood hurts. Unconsciously, we seek out a partner with whom we can heal each other’s childhood wounds.

If you had a mother who abandoned you, you might unconsciously expect to be abandoned again while seeking out a partner who is like your mother in some ways, to relive and heal the old experience. If you had a father who never stood up for you, you might unconsciously seek a partner who is also afraid to stand up and protect you, in the unconscious hopes that somebody will finally stand-up for you.

Partnerships are meant to resurface feelings and experiences from our childhood. “About 90 percent of the frustrations your partner has with you are really about their issues from childhood.” (LaKelly Hunt) Even if we have convinced ourselves consciously that the person we are attracted to is a good match and not at all like our parents or caregivers, our subconscious meanwhile as a completely different agenda. It has already figured out early on who we can relive our childhood traumas with, hoping for a happier ending this time.

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If you are wondering whether your partner echoes shadows from the past for you and what they are, you can do the following exercise. Make a list of frustrations, problems and unmet needs in regards to your primary care giver(s), for example “she never listened to me and that made me feel…” or he “never had time for me and that made me feel…”. Once you have completed that list, make a list of issues you have with your partner and how they make you feel. Compare the lists and notice any similarities. Talk to your partner about the similarities. Once he or she understands that he or she triggers your childhood emotions, the work to keep each other safe and meet each others needs can begin.

You and your partner may have a lot in common but Hendrix and LaKelly Hunt have found that couples are often incompatible in how they handle stress and conflict. When it comes to handling stress and conflicts, people’s reactions fall into two categories: minimizers or maximizers. When minimizers are anxious, they contain their energy and go inside. Like a turtle, they retreat into their shell. When maximizers are anxious, they tend to express themselves loudly. Hendrix and LaKelly Hunt call this person a hailstorm. Their energy flows outward and they prefer to process their feelings with others.

Turtles process slowly and inwardly. From the outside, it looks like not much is happening and as if the person is avoiding rather than addressing the issue. However, the turtle processes his or her feelings and thoughts quietly on the inside, reflecting carefully before responding. Hailstorms visibly get things done; they usually have a to-do list and love being able to cross things off their list.

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When the Turtle feels flooded and becomes overloaded, he or she needs to withdraw. To the Hailstorm, it can feel like the Turtle disappeared. That makes the Hailstorm more anxious and he or she will start hailing to get the partner’s attention.

Both partners need to learn to accommodate each others differences in processing. The Hailstorm can learn to give the Turtle a little shell time and make them feel safe to come out again soon by letting them know how much they are appreciated and valued.

To coax out the turtle you can

  1. Ask them what they need right now. Sometimes they are not sure, but be curious about why they are hiding.
  2. Don’t do anything; give them space.
  3. Write a short note of appreciation and leave it somewhere for them to find.

turtle-hiding-in-shell

And the Turtle can learn to be more courageous when he or she sees the storm clouds gathering. “Hailstorms hail because they are overwhelmed. They often feel like they’re holding the weight of the world. And when you retreat, the Hailstorm feels even more alone. So the minute you hear a rumble, give them your full attention. Offer kindness and support.” (Hendrix) The fastest way to get the storm to stop is to assure the Hailstorm that you have got their back. Once they realize they rely on you and you will do your part to keep them safe, the sun will shine once again.

To calm the hailstorm

  1. Respond! Let them know you are not retreating. Respond with facial expressions, a kind note, a service or gesture that shows them you care how they feel.
  2. Listen and repeat back how the Hailstorm is feeling. They don’t feel heard. Show them you hear and understand.
  3. Ask “Is there something I can do for you?” They need to know you have their back.

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Partners can learn to not judge the other for how they are. As Hal and Sidra Stone point out, “what we judge in others is actually the medicine we need”.

Turtles and hailstorms can teach each other what they are each missing to become more whole. “Turtles need to learn how to push their energy out and how to ‘show up’. This means expressing themselves out loudly and clearly, like the Hailstorm does. And hailstorms need to learn the turtle’s wisdom of stepping back and containing their energy.” (Hendrix)

Ironically, both partners need to learn how to be more like each other. When we embrace the shadow sides which we have disowned, we take a step towards each other. “As the Turtle becomes more storm-like, and the Hailstorm becomes more turtle-like, balance is restored” (Hendrix) within the relationship, but also within ourselves. We have reclaimed a disowned part of ourselves.

Belief Change Coaching, Relationship Coaching and Workshops on various topics

Angelika, 905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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