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Orange text over a white background that reads "Relationships - What’s Your Brain Got to Do With Them?" to the left of a photo of a man and a woman in a room in front of a large window. They are both standing up and drinking a beverage from a mug. | Lone Tree Colorado Marriage Counselor

Relationships – What’s Your Brain Got to Do With Them?  

Improve your relationship by learning about your brain!

Relationship and your brain

Can understanding your brain and your partner’s brain help you have a better relationship? Can working on your relationship grow and strengthen your brain (and physical health)?

The answers are yes!

Your amazing, changing brain

We now know that neurons are developed and connected in the first twelve months of life. BUT, we also know that new neurons can grow in adults every time they learn something new! How exciting is that?

Dr. Frank Amthor, author of Neuroscience for Dummies, said that if we are not rewiring and allowing our brains to continue to grow, we can get stuck doing what we know how to do and not more.

Our daily routines can become automatic and unconscious like brushing teeth or riding a bike.

In other words, you can start to have really bad habits in your relationship when you stop working on it.

New neurons only grow in your brain by changing up your routines, learning something new, or doing something differently.

Couples therapy can change your brain???

If you choose Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), you will likely have experiences that stimulate your brains while you create a better relationship and improve your communication skills.

EFT therapists do that by encouraging couples to step into new, challenging experiences with each other. For example, you will likely uncover and share vulnerable feelings that you may not usually talk about.

Instead of the frustrated or angry response you typically have when your partner does something that doesn’t feel good, your EFT therapist will help you find and share the other feelings that you likely have, such as sadness, loneliness, hurt or fear.

As you share more of those vulnerable feelings, your partner’s brain also will begin to have a deeper understanding of you and their brain will also create new neural pathways.

Using brain science to help you have a great relationship

Not only does EFT couples therapy grow your brain, you can learn about your brain to help you have a better relationship.

You know those incredibly frustrating arguments you keep getting into with your partner? In EFT couples therapy, you will uncover the real reasons behind your relationship problems:  negative patterns or cycles that you get stuck in together.

Making sense of your arguments and disconnection through the lens of a negative cycle (versus blaming each other), shifts you and your brains from a blaming, defensive, or fighting stance to understanding that both contribute to the negative pattern.

Instead of him complaining, “she doesn’t want to have sex as much as I do” or her blaming him for “never listening to her,” couples begin to see the connection between her not feeling heard, his missing their sexual intimacy and his defensive feelings with her complaints.

In the recent posts on Withdrawers and Pursuers, you can read more about how you can change your thinking about your partner, and, therefore, exercise your brain cells.

What’s happening in your brain when you aren’t getting along?

We can also use the understanding of the fear that happens for partners when their relationship isn’t going well. This fear can result in you responding in ways that actually make the problem worse.

In your good moments, you can remember the loving times, or all the ways your partner shows you they care. In the really rough moments, your brain can take over, going into what has been called a “primal panic;” or fight, flight or freeze when you lose the sense of security with your partner.

What’s amazing is that through the EFT research, we have learned how to help couples reach out to each other in softer, more vulnerable ways.

The result is that your partner will respond better to you and you to him. You will help each other calm your brains. Over time, as you strengthen your ability to repair after disagreements and get more quickly back to feeling strong and secure as a couple, your brain will cease to go into primal panic.

The latest research on brains and relationships

To complete our Neuroscience and Relationships lesson, there is the new and fascinating research that shows how EFT therapy impacts our brains.

In Jim Coan’s study at the University of Virginia, married women were put into an fMRI machine. They randomly received an electric shock on their ankles. After each shock, they rated how much it hurt. The women were tested both before and after experiencing Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy.

The results were interesting. When these women were alone, their brains lit up in multiple areas signifying a lot of anxiety while anticipating the electric shock. They also rated the shock as very painful. When a stranger was holding their hands, women’s brain still did show activity, but they reported feeling slightly less pain.

When husbands of these women gripped their hand, their brain barely responded, and the shock was rated as uncomfortable. The results confirmed that a healthy and strong marriage is what helps us find equilibrium, and helps us deal with life obstacles. The same study was done pre and post EFT treatment.

This extremely exciting research shows that EFT couples therapy works. We can rewire your brains by teaching you how to respond to your partner differently. We help you shape new experiences in your relationship that also create new neural connections in your brains.

Can you recognize moments in your relationship where your brain or your partner’s might be shaping your interactions?

What can you do differently with your spouse so that you don’t fall into that automatic and unconscious way of responding?

For Greenwood Village Couples Therapy appointments, call 303-513-8975, X1, or visit our Thrive scheduling system here: Schedule Appointment

This guest post was written by Marta Kem, LMFT of Vibrant Couples & Family Counseling in Westminster, CO. Marta uses Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) and can be reached at 303.898.6140.

Don’t miss any of our blog posts on improving your relationship. 

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