Is Your Brain Hijacking Your Relationship?

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When you first fell in love, everything was wine and roses.  You and your partner seemed to enjoy everything about each other.  You could almost read each others’ minds, differences were easily reconciled, and you felt as though you had known each other for a long time while also being excited by the newness of all you experienced together as a couple.


And that is when your brain began to hijack your relationship.   During this phase of your relationship, called the infatuation phase, you are likely to have experienced limerence.  Limerence can include feelings of euphoria, obsessive thoughts and fantasies you had about each other, and even physical feelings of decreased appetite and insomnia – because you were SO in love!  In your brain, lots of feel-good chemicals were being released.  As a result, the brain minimized your lover’s flaws and shortcomings and maximized his or her good qualities.  Amazing – you found the perfect match with the perfect person!!


Six months to a year after limerence begins, the distortion wears off and your brain now sees your partner and the relationship more realistically.  Hopefully, not all is lost.  By now you may have begun to form a connection that is more grounded.  You have learned to see but work through differences and have created a safe place between you where you can each be vulnerable and authentic.  Together you each can balance your own needs with those of your partner’s and no one feels lost or alone.


Until…either one or both of you starts to feel like you don’t matter to the other anymore and you begin to feel alone in the relationship.  You find it’s harder to be vulnerable, because you fear that your partner’s reaction towards you will be negative. 


As difficulties mount and distance increases, you might ask yourself, Have you learned that your partner is selfish and uncaring or has your brain hijacked your relationship yet again?  Before you throw in the towel and end the relationship, this question is worth exploring.  While our brains are amazing in so many ways, they can also create challenges. 


One of the key roles of our brains is to keep us safe.  When we are in danger or under stress, our bodies automatically react.  In these situations, you may find yourself in either a flight, fight, or freeze mode.  This response is meant to be protective and can be lifesaving in some situations.  The challenging part is that our brain also has a negativity bias.  What that means is that the brain tends to exaggerate negative circumstances and minimize positive ones.  That makes sense if you are in the jungle being chased by a mountain lion and need to react quickly to everything you sense.    


In our modern world, however, the negativity bias can make things seem worse than they really are.  The one time your partner forgot to plan a date night trumps the dozens of date nights that were planned and enjoyed.  The dirty socks on the floor feel like a breach of your household expectations, even when most chores are shared equitably and consistently.  The negativity doesn’t seem to end and you just can’t shake it.  Research shows that you are not alone.  The brain’s negativity bias not only adjusts your focus to see the negative bigger than the positive, but it also absorbs the negative immediately, while needing at least 30 seconds to absorb the positive.


Try the following two steps to balancing out the negative and the positive.  First, intentionally attend to positive moments and circumstances.  There are a number of ways you can do this.  One is to incorporate gratitude into your relationship.  You can keep a gratitude journal either daily or for a short period of time.  Or, perhaps you just start to stop and notice the things that are going well in your relationship or that are true about the positive experiences with your partner.  Another option would be to set aside a time of sharing gratitude with each other.  Perhaps before you go to bed, you each mention one thing about the other that you are grateful for as you reflect upon your day.  Or come up with your own process or ritual that works for you.


The second step is to linger on the positives.  Instead of just noticing the thing you are most grateful for during the day, stop and really think about it.  Think about the steps your partner had to take to do something or be someone you are grateful for.  Notice the feeling you get when you think of the positives in your relationship and sit with that feeing for at least 30 seconds.  Let any negativity that arises in those moments float on by and keep coming back to the positive you are focusing. 


I’m not suggesting that you ignore concerns and issues that need to be addressed in your relationship.What I am suggesting is that you make the effort to balance out the negatives and positives so that your brain gives them each equal space and status.If you find there are still issues to address, then by all means address them.Many couples find that seeing a counselor will help them to regain connection with each other.If you find you need a Houston counselor to help you with this process, feel free to contact us at