Saving a Relationship

Saving a Relationship. Psychology Fanatics article header image.
Saving the Relationship. Psychology Fanatic
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No matter how much I concentrate, I can’t move the coffee in my cup without physical intervention. But the physical intervention is motivated by the thought. Without lifting a finger, a thought can begin to wreck a relationship. How we think motivates the actions that determine the success or failure of a marriage. No magic trick involved; just the power of thought. Relationships generate intense emotions—both pleasant and unpleasant. Successful navigation of complex relationships requires clarity of thought. Distorted thinking, on the other hand, complicates emotions, leaving us confused, discouraged and afraid. If we first can correct the thoughts, we can effectively save the relationship.

Without foundations of clarity, intimacy remains beyond reach. Our misplaced expectations confuse evaluations, even healthy words or actions may still disappoint, firing a string of neuronal alerts that something’s wrong. During childhood learning, we construct patterns and expectations (mental maps).

“​There are also strategies you can call upon to restore the health of your partnership that’s currently struggling.”

~Jessica Estrada  | Well & Good

As we age, we may see through the chaotic parenting, knowing the relationships of our youth were amiss. But knowledge of wrongness doesn’t necessarily correct the patterns implanted in our minds.

We know harmony was missing but remain dumbfounded when confronted with creating and sustaining bonds of intimacy. So, we guess; forming expectations without the security of guiding feelings, wrongly expecting a loving relationship to naturally crystallize, shining on our lost soul, and relieving us of childhood anxieties; we wait for prince charming to magically rescue us from the evil step-sisters of our childhoods.

Thoughts and Evolution

Evolutionary advantages play a cruel game. A characteristic giving survival advantage doesn’t come free of baggage. Characteristics of thought aren’t designed for happiness—they’re not designed at all. Biological process come with blessings and curses.

​The human warning system masterfully learns, establishing patterns, and then relieves cognition of the work by creating habitual responses. This process eases cognitive load but also locks the brain into habits. Even when we correct an underlying misguided belief, the emotional warning systems may continue to fire, warning that something is wrong, needing to be addressed. Insecurities jump to action, perceiving hurt, or approaching danger, when only love exists. These faulty warnings sparked by fears embedded in our love patterns, prevent closeness. To save our relationships, we must sever the connection between love and fear.

​Our intense and defensive reactions begin to whittle away the growing connections, creating fear where trust should live.

“​If you’re facing the possibility of a breakup right now, don’t lose hope just yet. Just because you’re in hot water doesn’t necessarily mean you need to throw in the towel.”

~Kelly Gonsalves  | MBG Relationships

New Relationships

​When past relationships incited intense emotions, scars are left. Intensity creates patterns of response that continue with new connections. A new relationship doesn’t swoop down and rescue us. New habits, requiring mindful effort, must be established. We must patiently and diligently act in opposition to the emotional driving forces created from dangerous pasts.

New relationships heighten emotions rather than tame them. Even the most loving partner fails to fulfill unreasonable expectations. Many relationships are doomed before they start; the stormy ocean of thought thrashes against reality, stirring our souls, reminding of the chaos from our pasts. But the human drive for partnership continues to push us forward while our emotional limitations frustrate our efforts to bond, leaving us conflicted.

“The human warning system masterfully learns, establishing patterns, and then relieves cognition of work by creating habitual responses.”

~T. Franklin Murphy

Strong Emotions  (Anxieties)

When nothing is wrong, but our brain screams that something is, igniting emotions, our cognitive evaluations must restore order and work through the muck. We can accept the emotional signal unconditionally as legitimate, seeking outside causes that don’t exist, or accept the flooding of emotion as a glitch in the learning system and seek help to reprogram our learning.

Confusion over the cause of emotion encourages faulty attribution—blaming the partner. If we errantly blame our partner, the faulty assessment intrudes. The wrongful judgements hurt, destroying open communication. The flawed warning colors judgments, emotions, and responses. Open and effective communication can’t occur with processes we don’t understand. The lack of clarity prevents intimacy and prevents healing. Saving our relationships requires clarity of thought.

“​Relationships end for a variety of reasons. However, if your partner is leaving because of things you repeatedly do to push him/her away then it is important that you get a grip on yourself and change your pattern.”

~Don Olund  | LifeHack

The more assessments drift from the true source of discomfort (our past), the more demanding and disappointed we become.

The twisted interpretations, the repeated misunderstandings, and continued faulty attributions frustrate our attempts for closeness. The harder we try; the quicker relationships deteriorate. The repeated failures grate on self-confidence and increase relationship anxiety. Frustration gives way to unhealthy action—criticism, contempt, defensiveness and emotional shut down. The relationship is damned.

Saving Our Relationship with Cognitive Work

Untangling faulty attributions by rightfully relabeling the cause to our pasts provides needed clarity. The process is slow but possible. We can experience love even when love is foreign. But these changes require cognitive work, addressing misfiring neurons, and habitual destructive responses. The oath to recovery exposes vulnerabilities. Our weakness, our lack of skill, and our pasts need to be confronted and kindly redirected. This is scary work. We can’t rely on faulty intuitions and then conveniently externalize blame when they fail.

When automatic reactions haven’t served our purposes; they need scrutinizing and discarding. Mindful attentiveness creates necessary space for examining the overpowering emotions. Only then is insight possible. When a clear mind prevails, we can identify misguided emotions and the ensuing unhealthy habits of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and emotional shut down. To save our relationship, we must end these hurtful practices and infuse our relationship with positive relationship maintaining behaviors.

Cognitive changes actually occur in the biological framework of our brain, meaning the actual firing of neurons change. In psychology, we refer to the brains ability to change as neuroplasticity. Changes occur through a process of epigenetics which is a mix of biological givens and environmental exposures.

New repeated responses slowly become habits, then natural responses. This is a process of neuronal changes. New behaviors are difficult and forced at first, easier over time, and then unconsciously performed when new connections form in the brain.

Relationships are Imperfect

All relationships have imperfections—if signals chime something is wrong, identifying a flaw to blame is easy. But this fails to cure relationship ills. Refocusing on the positive may be difficult; but refocusing from the chaotic scrambling to assign blame to nurturing kindness creates connection and open communication.  All relationships have negatives, but most have tremendous good as well. Appreciation fuels affection, acceptance and forgiveness—the essential components for fulfilling relationships and of course, to save less fulfilling relationships.

Open your eyes, purposely direct your thoughts to the good, accept that all relationships have limitations, examine personal sources of disruption, and vigilantly and purposely identify and eliminate contempt, criticism, defensiveness and emotional shut-down.

The steps seem simple—they are not. But knowing the steps assists in implementing and eventually mastering love—kind of. These steps for connection take a lifetime to perfect but only purposeful thought to begin the action.

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