Have you felt misunderstood, disconnected, and not attuned in your relationships? Or have you ever wondered why your partner thinks the way they do? What can help you to feel understood, connected and attuned in your relationship? This episode will discuss how you can rewire your brain for better connections and help you improve your relationships. Special guest speaker, Audrey Schoen, is a marriage and family therapist based in California, who specializes in working with relationships. She helps first responders and spouses of first responders in their relationships to keep couples feeling calm, connected and content. She does wonderful online counseling through video allowing her to serve clients all over California.
Firstly, it is important to remember we have different preset wiring in our brain with attachment issues, causing us to react in certain ways in our relationships. From birth, humans are wired to connect, its simply how we survive. Audrey focuses on taking conflicts and identifying patterns within relationships and each person that is contributing to the conflict. She then explores where those patterns came from and how their early childhood life contributes to these patterns brought into these relationships. Your brain is wired by those early childhood life experiences, which can impact you in a not so great way or a great way. But have no fear, we can rewire our brains to help us have a better relationship with our significant other!
All relationships have conflict and disagreements. Instead of trying to solve all the problems, Schoen stresses that its more beneficial to learn to manage and navigate them. Doing so, will help you use conflicts as more of a bonding experience instead of a disconnecting one. It is important to remember that there are some things you just simply will not agree on. You are going to see things from two completely different perspectives since your brain and its personality is wired so differently. The foundation of perception in relationships is especially dependent on early relationships, setting patterns of attachment in your life and brain before you have a choice to even understand them.
Ever wonder why we sometimes react on impulse? Interestingly enough, the subconscious automatic response part of our brain reacts 100 times faster than the thinking portion of our brain! Which, in turn can make us react sometimes before we even know why. The amygdala is considered the center of the brain and houses those early attachment memories. The amygdala reacts before the conscious part of your brain does. This can cause you to feel the fear of rejection and loneliness before we recognize why we feel weird or why what someone said might have hit you in the wrong way. When you make those connections and try to understand why we reacted the way we did and see what our brain is trying to tell us, things will start to become a safer place for us. Partners can have unconscious attachment patterns in their relationship. If you had nonoptimal attachment styles or patterns, you could tend to reenact them in relationships, making you feel like you are not able to trust people and therefore have unsafe and unhealthy relationships. This can lead to that emotional fight or flight response, causing you to either retract or attack. If you feel safe in relationships, your amygdala will feel calm and reinforce the fact that relationships can be safe, and you can trust people. Since these patterns and fears can be self-reinforcing, its important to open ourselves up to patterns and fears and take that self-conscious step.
The brain is beautifully malleable, and it can be rewired! We can be able to address what is happening in our life and change it for the better. Audrey helps partners be able to individually recognize interaction patterns and change them when needed. She helps them see that they are not the problem but tries to identify the cycle of the problem, so they can work together to break the cycle. Taking breaks and self-soothing when feeling overwhelmed or your heart rate goes up, is super important. If you are anxious to talk about something, tell your partner. Doing so, will help prepare them and put the other person in a place to receive you better and be more empathetic. Preparing them mentally works in a beautiful way. Men’s brains want to help and be the savior. So, if you are having difficulty talking about something, telling them you need help will help them feel even more open to what you are going to say. Before speaking, ask yourself, “Will what I say make things better or worse?” or “If someone says what I am going to say, will I feel better or worse?” Try to be self-aware. Tuning into your own brain processes internally will strengthen the function of your prefrontal cortex. Being mindful and practical, will improve how your prefrontal cortex operates. Practicing being self-attuned, will help you be more attuned to others and really strengthen your relationship with them.
Audrey specializes in first responder couples, spouses of first responders. Their dynamics and circumstances in their relationships are different than average relationships. First responders deal with intense things and usually need to turn off their attuned part of their brain while they are at work. When they get home from work, it can be hard to be in a place of attunement and connection with their partner which can tend to make their partner feel on their own or shut off. Since first responders usually have a hard time sharing details about their day, she helps them figure out how to comfortably share things without laying it all out. Schoen helps them be able to be curious, instead of defensive, therefore encouraging openness and good communication. While most women can talk about emotions with a fair amount of ease, men are not always able to express or explain how they are feeling as easily since their brain is wired differently.
We all want to be heard and understood, so remembering that others want that to, will help us listen and try to hear them and their experience and what they have to say. Their version of what is true and right is just as much as true as ours is to us. Your experience is valid, but so is theirs. If you want them to be understanding of you, really try to be understanding of them as well. When communicating, try to think “receiver”, not “sender.” This will help them see you are trying to understand where they are coming from. Remember, you can repair brain rewiring by being heard, understood, and feeling attuned with your partner and therefore have better relationships!
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Written by Rebecca Younger | Staff blog writer