When you left that marriage behind, did you think the problems you left were also behind you?
Now that you’re in a new relationship, are old challenges and patterns beginning to resurface? Did you work hard on your “stuff” in therapy only to find that familiar, early struggles remain?
New relationship, same problems? The culprit could be your brain.
Your brain?? So, what IS going on in that head of yours?
To answer that question, it helps first to understand how your brain operates.
YOUR OLD BRAIN. The oldest, most primitive part of your brain is the brain stem and the limbic system. It’s subconscious and in charge of looking after your self-preservation. The limbic system’s job is to produce vivid emotions. This “reptilian brain” is programmed and determines most of your automatic reactions.
Ever on the lookout, your old brain is continually asking, “Is it safe?” With a vague awareness of the outside world, it interprets information from images, and thoughts produced by your new brain.
YOUR NEW BRAIN. The newer, conscious and alert part of your brain, the cerebral cortex, controls your ability to reason. It’s very logical, analytical, and curious and is the part you think of as being “you.” It plans, organizes, observes, creates and anticipates.
How does the old brain come into play in your love relationships?
YOUR OLD BRAIN MAKES ITSELF KNOWN DURING CONFLICT AND STRUGGLE. CONSIDER THIS:
New relationship = new & old problems (x conflict) / childhood wounds > emotional triggers > old brain > conditioned responses
A new love relationship will bring some new and old problems to the equation. When conflict arises, your childhood wounds may trigger intense emotions that signal your old brain to offer a “conditioned response,” or reaction.
Born from unhealed childhood wounds, your emotional triggers are embedded in your psyche and behavioral patterns. These triggers prompt automatic responses from the old, animal-like part of your brain.
Because your old brain is subconscious and concerned with your safety and survival, it’ll go into fight or flight mode when it senses you are emotionally or physically unsafe.
Your old brain might be derailing healing and connection in your relationship.
Let’s imagine a romantic partner is being critical and rolling their eyes at you. That criticism and gesture tap into an old childhood wound of yours, causing you to feel anxious. Your old brain interprets that you are in danger, and goes into fight or flight mode. As a result, you may respond by yelling, saying hurtful things, shutting down, or leaving the room.
This subconscious instinct to protect and defend during normal, interpersonal conflict can do more harm than good. It can close down communication, confuse the issue, and create more distance between you and your partner.
SO HOW CAN YOU PREVENT YOUR OLD BRAIN FROM SABOTAGING YOUR NEW RELATIONSHIP?
You can create a CONSCIOUS PARTNERSHIP.
By using the conscious part of your brain to recognize and understand the behavior of your old brain, you can start to affect a change in your relationship. A conscious partnership operates from an enlightened perspective of the underlying dynamics in your love relationship.
Developed by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and detailed in his book, “Getting the Love You Want,” the characteristics of a conscious partnership are:
1. YOU REALIZE THAT YOUR LOVE RELATIONSHIP HAS A HIDDEN PURPOSE – THE HEALING OF CHILDHOOD WOUNDS. Instead of focusing on surface needs and desires, you become able to recognize the unresolved childhood issues underneath them.
I love this quote by Harville Hendrix:
We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship.
2. YOU CREATE A MORE ACCURATE IMAGE OF YOUR PARTNER. As you move toward a conscious partnership, you let go of illusions and see your partner not as your savior, but as another wounded person, struggling to be healed.
3. YOU TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR COMMUNICATING YOUR NEEDS AND DESIRES TO YOUR PARTNER. In an unconscious partnership, you hold on to the childhood belief that your partner instinctively knows what you need. In a conscious partnership, you accept that to understand each other, you have to create open channels of communication.
4. YOU BECOME MORE INTENTIONAL IN YOUR INTERACTIONS. In an unconscious partnership, you often react without thinking. You let the primitive response of your old brain control your behavior. Therefore, in a conscious partnership, you can train yourself to operate more constructively.
5. YOU LEARN TO VALUE YOUR PARTNER’S NEEDS AND WISHES AS HIGHLY AS YOU VALUE YOUR OWN. In an unconscious partnership, you assume your lover’s role in life is to take care of your needs magically. In a conscious partnership, you let go of this narcissistic view and put more energy to meeting the needs of your partner.
6. YOU EMBRACE THE DARK SIDE OF YOUR PERSONALITY. In a conscious partnership, you freely acknowledge that you, like everyone else, have negative traits.
7. YOU LEARN NEW TECHNIQUES TO SATISFY YOUR BASIC NEEDS AND DESIRES. During a power struggle, you may tease, harass and blame in an attempt to manipulate your partner into meeting your needs. In a conscious partnership, you view your partner as a resource for you – once you let go of your self-defeating tactics.
8. YOU SEARCH WITHIN YOURSELF FOR THE STRENGTHS AND ABILITIES YOU ARE LACKING. One of the reasons you are drawn to your partner is that he or she has strengths and abilities that you lack. Being with them gives you a false sense of wholeness. In a conscious partnership, you understand the only way you can be whole is to develop these hidden traits within yourself.
9. YOU BECOME MORE AWARE OF YOUR DRIVE TO BE LOVING AND WHOLE AND UNITED WITH THE UNIVERSE. You were born with the ability to love unconditionally and to experience unity with the world around you. Social conditioning and imperfect parenting made you lose touch with these qualities. In a conscious partnership, you rediscover your original nature.
10. YOU ACCEPT THE DIFFICULTY OF CREATING A LASTING LOVE RELATIONSHIP. In an unconscious partnership, you believe the way to have a good relationship is to pick the right partner. In a conscious partnership, you understand that YOU have to be the right partner. You realize that a good relationship requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change.
In conclusion, your romantic relationship may become center stage for the healing of your childhood wounds. As a result, learning to develop a conscious partnership will dramatically improve your relationship and its chances for success. You’ll be more compassionate toward yourself and your partner as you begin to see your struggles in a new way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hi, my name is Jamie Daniel-Farrell. I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a practice in Westlake Village, CA. If you are interested in developing a conscious partnership, I would be happy to help!
Please feel free to call or text me at 805-444-4968