Thanksgiving has just ended and the (American) holiday season is getting into full swing. This is typically the time of year when we count our blessings and give thanks for them.
If you're in the midst of a troubled relationship, however, you may be thinking, "What blessings? What do I have to be thankful for?"
If this is how you feel, I've got good news for you. You're human.
It's hard enough dealing with a troubled relationship/marriage, a potential separation, or even divorce in a "normal" week. Throw the holidays on top and you've got a recipe for disaster!
Why is it so hard to stay positive and focused during the holidays? Why are we so easily tripped into overreacting, lashing out, or arguing over the smallest things? It’s all about your brain.
A Little (Neuro)Science >>>>>>>>
Did you know that an emotional threat or attack is processed by the brain in the same way it processes a physical threat? That is, your brain perceives an emotional attack as if you’re life is actually in physical danger. Crazy, huh?!
Here’s what is happening. As soon as the brain perceives a threat, it kicks off a limbic system response, which disengages the thinking (prefrontal cortex) part of your brain and engages your amygdala (or animal brain). The limbic system generates a host of physical and chemical changes in the body that allow you to respond to the threat: your heart rate increases, your metabolism speeds up, adrenaline is released, blood is sent to your muscles —in essence, you are physically primed to meet the threat head-on or get as far away from the threat as possible. This is Fight or Flight in action. This is helpful when you need to run away from a tiger or fend off an attacker.
So how does this apply to an argument with your partner?
She yells at you or says you forgot to do something again or calls you an idiot. That’s the threat. Your brain, sensing something is wrong and wanting to protect you, automatically begins the reaction phase. This happens in milliseconds. You have two options:
1) You can unconsciously allow this stage to kick in and react “instinctively” (you yell back, you tell her she’s wrong, you call her a bigger idiot, you withdraw…) or
2) You can regain control of your brain and your body and “veto” the automatic signals being sent by the brain and replace them with a different signal.
How do I do that?
Refocus or Reframe
Instead of allowing the Fight or Flight response to run its course, shift your focus to a bigger vision you have set for yourself. Typically, this is born out a set of values you have or a goal you have created for your part in the relationship (short- and long-term). After all, you can’t control your partner.
"But I don’t have a set of values or a goal yet,” you say.
Instead of dreading or avoiding the holidays, identify your values, set a vision, and use it when things go off-track. You’ll be happy you did.
And a little bit thankful, too.
Ciao for now,
The Divorce Coach 4 Men
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