relationship couples counseling

Science of Love can Mend your Relationship

Maybe you’ve noticed there’s information available on the new science of love. Maybe you’re thinking, what new science?

Well, most of us grew up believing (and experiencing) love as a great mystery, a wild intangible, a strange tangle of feelings and odd mating ritual.

Okay. Not in my house. There was no visible evidence of mating ritual going on that I could detect. There was not a huge expression of feeling either. About anything. And believe me, I’ve always been a curious sort, so I watched! Still, my parents did manage to bring eleven humans into the world so mating happened and I’m pretty sure they had feelings for one another; I just missed the rest of that mystery. But I digress!

I’ll give you a couple tips from research before I wind up this post and go see my next couple, so keep reading (or scroll down. I know you do that sometimes too.)

“New” science of love exists for many reasons.

We’ve actually studied it closely from a scientific behavior/observation stance for decades now. Sure, such study was on “attachment,” on “bonding,” later on “pair bonding and monogamy,” on “conflict resolution” and “communication.” Notice how none of these call it LOVE, but it really IS! These days, we’re not so shy about calling it what it is.

Then, along came the capability to actually study the brain in action. Yay, neuroscience! We can now see the brain with an FMRI machine (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and watch how different areas respond to different realities: thinking of the lover, responding to betrayal, being comforted by the lover, reliving a loss.

We can even pre- and post-test couples who engage Couples Counseling!

I wish I owned an FMRI machine and had scads of money to pay the neuroscientists. That stuff costs oodles of cash! It would be so cool if you came in for your first session talking about the issues at hand and we got a scientific reading of just what’s going on in your brain.

Would you say I could read your mind?

Fortunately, I don’t have to. We all reveal ourselves. Sometimes we just need someone to actually pay attention, recognize and know what they see, then be able to put into words the experience.

Good couples counseling does that for you.

It will also move you into a state of better functioning, relating, and connecting.

We actually know how secure, functional pair bonding happens, what it looks like, and what your experiences and interactions mean. Most importantly, good couples counselors know how to help you correct what’s actually hurting you so you and your partner both get the love you really want.

All the things people find troubling in relationship occur for very good reason.  It’s almost always a perfectly normal and reasonable response to challenging circumstances. (And when it’s not i.e. there’s an underlying brain chemistry imbalance, well, good couples counselors can spot that too and they know what to do about it.)

And yes, it’s true: early attachment, childhood experiences, family of origin systems, birth order, communication styles, personality, previous relationship history, your overall health: body, mind, emotions… all of these things play into the sweet cocktail which becomes YOUR unique mix of relationship.  Inevitably, eventually, invariably, one plus one equals conflict.

Do you really want to figure all that on your own?

Have you been reading all the “self-help” and “personal growth” books possible? It can be stimulus overload. If you do the wrong thing with the information, it has no positive effect on the relationship anyway.

It can even hurt or make things worse.

That’s why people decide to trust a specialist. I certainly recommend this. (You knew I would, right?)

You want someone with the knowledge and expertise to spot what is TRULY going on (not just what one or the other of you is experiencing.) Then you want someone able to fashion an approach that fits you and will solve problems, get you somewhere, and give you skills that will last.

We all want good love. Period. You deserve it.

Back to the Science of Love

John Gottman identified four indicators of major distress that, when left unchecked in any marriage, can lead to divorce within five years (or less!) Do you know what they are, how to spot them, and what to do about them?

He also identified seven principles that function in lasting, satisfying relationships. Gottman measured the ratio of positive versus negative interactions that sustain people and their connections. He and his wife, Julie, designed a whole approach to therapy that has helped thousands and trained thousands of therapists.

Other experts took early research on attachment theory and built an effective methodology for treating couples. Terry Real and his Relational Life Therapy effectively treats high conflict couples on the brink of divorce in a last effort to answer the question “can this marriage be saved?”

Sue Johnson developed Emotional Focused Therapy, an approach combining the tenets of Person-Centered Therapy with emotional regulation and intelligence between two people. This stuff is awesome, people!

Stan Tatkin’s Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) heavily relies on science to move couples from their patterned responses into a secure, bonded, safe haven of connection. And it’s measurable!

Wouldn’t it be nice to DO RELATIONSHIP and enjoy it?

You don’t have to know all the science! Yes, you can go read their stuff. It’s great, let me tell you. Maybe you ARE a relationship geek like me and you LOVE all the science behind it. Have at it!

But if you want to save yourself that investment of time and energy and get answers as well as know HOW to apply the information, you deserve to go see a real relationship specialist who can fully see what is going on for you and your partner.

Obviously, you want someone who knows a lot and has a flexible approach to meet you where you are.

You want someone who can help you through the tough parts of making sense of what you learn and knowing how to do something different in your relationship. It’s not enough to know on paper what to do; it has to work for YOU.

Here are a couple researched tips.

1. Research indicates that the mere presence of a cell phone anywhere near your person, or your partner, elevates cortisol levels by 30-40%. In case you didn’t know, cortisol is a stress hormone. It being high is not a good thing. This was true even if the phone was “ringer off, face down.”

You can do something about that.

Leave it across the room in a designated area. Carve out time away from it. Make mealtime cell-phone free. Choose to forgo surfing on it while the television is on. Ever heard the advice to do one thing at at time. Well, do one screen at a time.

Does that sound like a tough thing to do? Try it. If it’s a real struggle, let’s talk about that!

2. Gottman’s research revealed the magic relationship ratio is 5:1. For every negative interaction, happy couples engage 5 positive ones when they are having a conflict or solving a problem.

On the opposite side, unhappy couples actually resist engaging positive interactions under some mistaken idea that the positive interaction will dilute the negative.

It will! This is a good thing. And yet, they resist doing it. They avoid doing it. They dig in their heels instead, hunker down and go to war.

No good can come of that.

Having trouble being positive while having a conflict?

Next time there’s a conflict, see if you can infuse humor or make a reassuring statement. Try starting by outlining all the things your partner is doing right. List things you’re grateful for at the same time you’re bringing up something annoying.

Maybe in addition, you’re having trouble feeling heard, getting through to your partner, or feeling truly cared for. Get help with that. It matters.

You deserve to have a happy, satisfying, and lasting love relationship. Let the “new” science of love help you get there.

Got questions? Ask me. I love to help.

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