Self-help books are often incredibly light reads, maybe too light for me honestly, as they are so, sort of, surface level that they don't really challenge me or cause me to really pause and think. The goal becomes more about getting through the book so we can feel accomplished in having read another book, crossing another task off our list of productivity. If you're honest, this is true, right? It's the books that we have to put down and think on that really inspire, the books you carry around in your purse so you can take nuggets from it over weeks because there is just so much to digest. It's the books you can't seem to get through sometimes that really resonate the most.
Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Hendrix and Hunt is a book that makes you sneak into the tub with it so you can have quiet space to really digest its message. It will make you write in the column and question if you're overusing your highlighter like a freshman in college. There is a lot to unpack.
Yesterday our book club gathered to chit chat about this book, and wow, what an incredible read. If you have a partner, want a partner, had a partner, or really, want to feel loved or maintain that love, this book is a necessary read. Let me first say though, I am not a therapist and do not pretend to play one in my professional role. Here's the thing though, many of my clients enduring chronic inflammation and dis-ease are those who are really struggling with toxic relationships, chronic traumas, and ultimately have yet to process those really tough emotions. This is the work we must do sometimes to heal our bodies.
Psychology of Relationships
If you've been in #therapy in the past few years, at least with a good therapist, you have learned something about the evolution of neuroplasticity. We have the ability to overcome and heal our past traumas and really evolve our behaviors and insights. Our brain is not cement; it evolves (unless you are a #narcissist, then science offers little hope). We must first, however, become self-aware and we absolutely must calm our nervous systems. Funny thing is this is also how we heal from chronic disease; we have to first, start to notice, then, we start to heal.
When we evaluate our relationships, authors Hendrix and Hunt share that the underlying cause of most couples' discontent lies buried beneath the surface. We argue about many superficial things, carry a baseline of frustration regarding the other, but mostly beyond our awareness is an unwritten agenda that was formed early in life, and it is there that we need to connect to really feel alive and joyful in our connections.
Maybe you come from a very abusive background like myself? You want anything but that type of life? Here's the thing though, normal is often more comfortable than what feels safe and healthy. In fact, healthy often feels boring, without connection. We seek to experience the same sensations we experienced with our caretakers, even if that is so we can resolve those unmet needs.
Most of us underestimate the scope of our unconscious mind. Consider too that we don't really enter relationships because we have a desire to serve another person, and meet their needs, but rather because we have unmet needs that we hope another person can take responsibility and ultimately satisfy us. What we can do then, is sort of invest heavily in this person initially, offering our best self and at some point we start to relax, often when some level of commitment is offered, such as moving in with your partner or especially marriage. Then we relax, settle in and await the bounty of our investment. When this doesn't come, we begin to pull back and become resentful. We abandon the needs of our partner and sabotage these relationships.
The authors take the first chapter to really get into the truths of our wondrous brain. A great deal has been learned in the past decade about neuroplasticity, even the past three years about how we can create new pathways, new behaviors, and heal from past traumas. We don't even often recognize these wounds in ourselves. Potentially, the authors argue, our marriages are an unconscious effort to finish the work of our childhood. First though, we must create a safe relationship, one in which we can talk about sensitive issues, and convert our frustrations into a request, and then this request into a doable behavior. Removing criticism embedded in a frustration keeps the space safe.
Trust me, I roll my eyes too everytime a therapist wants to go there with regards to my today struggles. I've moved on. My childhood was a lifetime ago. Here's the thing though. Our childhood is where our normal was established, our comfort, even if it was unsafe. Even if our parents were safe, but had traits we don't particularly like, this became our norm and ultimately embedded into our brains without our becoming aware, as well as our response to those behaviors. We then write a narrative about this, good or bad. We create a reality we can handle. I did it for years in my marriage. Every time I as hurt, abandoned, or betrayed I would remind myself and everyone around me, "But he is a good man." What was my option otherwise? Sometimes however, our narratives become self-sabotaging and self-destructive.
Understanding these aspects of our early years helps us better identify how these realities shaped our attraction to today's partner and how those traits can also trigger our wounds, even if at first they provided us great bliss. If I am vulnerable, I'll admit that one of my great attractions to Jeremy is that he is thoughtful and patient when we are having a disagreement or I share discontent in some way. He takes time to think on his perspective before responding to me, which I found very mature and I was so incredibly grateful he didn't respond out of anger, creating unrepairable wounds with harsh words. I had experienced previous relationships where there was a great deal of screaming, name calling, shaming and belittling. Tempers would escalate and I would have to seek shelter or would get thrown into the street. Feeling safe during an argument was important to me and Jeremy did exude this.
Over time though, this lack of engagement from Jeremy, when I was hurt, made me feel abandoned and unimportant. This was another wound of mine from yet another relationship, or two. Where we don't pick these qualities in our partners, we can project them or even provoke them. I've done this in spades. Where we work hard to avoid those traits we don't want in a partner, when we become insecure or a memory is triggered, we can then quickly write a new narrative by projecting those old wounds onto our partner, and even push them to behave in the ways we truly fear because this is where our comfort lies, for better or worse. When I voice that something hurt my feelings and he seeks his thoughtful place, retreating from me, I feel all the memories of abandonment flooding back, and I panic.
Relationships stir up our repressed behaviors and feelings. Once we feel secure, our old brain is triggered and the desires of our inner child awaken, even without our own awareness. The complementary aspects of our partners, those traits we first adored, now stir up feelings in us that were previously taboo or hurtful. What was sexy before is now a threat. The opposite is also true. Those qualities we initially denied become better into focus. We suddenly recognize their drinking is more a problem than it is fun. You recognize their carefree life is more a lack of responsibility. Your blissful love affair, filled with wonder and joyful connection, is turning dismal, even fearful.
Deeply Satisfying Love
The truths continue throughout the book, an unfolding of yourself, your responses, your coping, and your perceptions of reality are truly eye opening, and this only reviews the first five chapters! From here, from our unconscious behaviors as a partner, the authors then dive into discussion about who we are consciously and how that plays out in our relationship. Ultimately, the last third of the book works through eighteen exercises for working towards a truly healthy relationship, one that is deeply satisfying.
We are working on these ourselves, digging in and as always, encouraging each of you to dig in too as you work through optimizing your health and wellness. Relationships are an integral aspect of our overall wellness and vitality. Join us for our next book club, in January, and stay afterward for yoga! We dig in emotionally and then let it go on our mat. January's book is How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past, & Create Your Self by Dr. Nicole LePera, a holistic psychologist. She has a hugely popular instagram account @the.holistic.psychologist where she offers tools for transforming yourself.