Healthy relationships can actually heal your heart.
“Honey, you are beautiful even when you have curlers in your hair,” my husband says to me. My brain wants to say, “No way,” but my whole body softens to this complement and I feel good all over.
Complements have been in short supply for me in my early life. My husband was micro-managed by his mom and resented it. I make sure he decides where we go and what we do at least half the time. He likes it, and grows more assertive. I like it, too. One of the wonderful things about my relationship with the love of my life is how the way we are with each other has allowed us to fill in or heal the parts of us that felt hurt or neglected by relationships earlier in our lives.
1. A Healthy Love Changes Your “Love Brain”
Discoveries about how the brain first develops loving responses can help to understand what you can do about creating positive change in your own and your partner’s “love brain.” When you were an infant (birth to 18 months) important things happened in your brain. You learned to “read” faces and voices to know whether your caretakers were dependable and loving or distant and distracted. You may have been “securely attached” and able to move away from Mom and then be glad to see her when she came back. If you did not experience her as dependable you may have pretended she was there all along and not seemed to notice her reappearance, or her reappearance may have even been met with anger. Researchers observed babies and their moms together and followed them as they grew up to learn about how these experiences between babe and mom impacted their later lives.
2. Daily Positive Interactions Will Heal Your Pain
So what does that have to do with adults in love? What if you didn’t have the perfect childhood? Few of us do. These early patterns of reaction grow up with us. But they are capable of change throughout our lives depending on the quality of relationships we experience. The hundreds of interactions that take place daily in an intimate partnership are the best source of healing we have. Relationships give us the chance to “re-parent” one another — a wonderful opportunity.
The challenge is to know yourself and partner well. You can also trigger fear or rejection in one another. That may happen often. Or you can make a choice to respond to your partner in a soothing way. That way you can heal the part that is expecting rejection or disconnection. We talk of “pushing each other’s buttons” in a negative way. Instead, we can create healing moments.
3. You Can (And Will) Learn How To Accept Love
This requires learning to accept positive moves as well as giving them. It’s not as easy as it sounds! My first reaction to my partner’s compliment was to push it away. I had to learn that his compliment was his and what I needed to do was open up to it and accept it. My husband’s first reaction to me asking him his opinion about what he wanted to do was, “What would you like to do?” He had to learn that I really wanted him to decide this time.
What an opportunity we have as partners! As one man put it, “My wife knows what bothers me and how to soothe me. She does this for me, and I do it for her.”
When I am tired and crabby my husband responds with a comforting touch and sympathetic “How can I help?” rather than matching my bad mood. His gentle touch and empathy allows the unhappy little girl in me to grow up a little, and I can act like the loving adult I want to be. Then I love him even more.
When he is upset he often gets quiet and distant. I can feel it in the air. I go to him and say, “Honey, you seem far away. Is something bothering you? Can we talk about it?” After a moment he responds, especially if I touch him affectionately. If he is not ready to talk he says, “I want to but not now. How about in an hour?” That’s okay because I know we will talk, and it will be fine when we do. We know each other well enough to give what heals and keeps our romance alive and thriving.
To learn more about your relationship see Fishing By Moonlight, The Art Of Enhancing Intimate Relationships, and for information about teaching the course inspired by the book, see the website, www.betterrelationshipcourse.com. I would be happy to talk with you at [email protected] or 916 294-0836
—Colene Sawyer Schlaepfer, MFT, PhD
This article originally appeared on YourTango.
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