After talking about sex hormones, in tips #25-28, I thought it would make a lot of sense to discuss how relationships can impact your brain health and growth. Tip #31 is about creating a social neuronal network!
You may have thought, when I first announced I would be sharing 101 Things to Build Your Brain, that the focus would be on the right foods to eat or the right games to play. You probably weren’t thinking you’d be getting information on relationship rescue! But the fact is, when you are in a good love relationship with another person, not only do you live longer, but you also stay healthy longer.
For a committed relationship to help build the brain and keep you lucid longer, five principles apply. One of the main reasons these principles work is because they lower stress and anxiety. As you’ve learned, chronic stress kills brain cells! Ensuring your relationship is on and even keel, allows you to develop skills in coping with another person and encourages change, compromise and learning.
Principle #1- We think, process, and listen better when we aren’t stressed!
Create the right atmosphere before having an important conversation with your loved one. If you head in to a conversation or interaction hot headed and ready to rumble, more than likely you’ll end the discussion in fisty cuffs. And nothing is as stressful as a bad argument with a partner.
When we start a conversation with the right attitude, all our problem-solving skills work better, because we’re less stressed. Less stress is better for our brain and our relationship.
Here’s the bonus. The problem solving skills you use with your relationship, ie creating the positive environment, will spill over into other interactions, like those at work or school. All of which works towards creating a well-worn neural pathway to better communication and brain power.
Principle #2-Practice and need create new neurological bundles.
There’s a saying, “Necessity is the mother of all invention”. When there is a need, humanity kicks into high gear to create solutions. Need creates the initial spark but practice grows that spark into a flame.
When it comes to your relationship, the need for better communication and interactions is an imperative. After all, who wants to grow old with a partner they barely tolerate? As you creatively work toward a better relationship you create new neuronal associations. Practice makes the pathways to those associations stronger.
Want to build a better brain? Build a better relationship!
Principle #3-Create new ways of dealing with old issues.
How many times have you been in the heat of an argument with your partner when they’ve started rehashing every wrong you have ever perpetrated on them? It almost makes you want to shut down and ignore them.
Well that isn’t far from what happens in your brain. When we argue or discuss the same old issues, our brain will stop processing the information. You could say it’s like selective thinking. The brain already knows the ritual around the issue so it starts blanking out. Over time, negative, unfulfilled emotions get imprinted along with the topic of the argument. So every time that issue reappears the well-worn neural pathway kicks in and sends your brain in to autopilot!
To break the pattern, instead of repeating yourself over and over with the same dialogue, stop the conversation and take a different tack. Move it toward a more solution-based conversation by using, as an example, the effective, “I feel frustrated about ‘x’, what can I do to change it?”
Principle #4- Learn to recognize when growth opportunities present themselves and use them to move yourself forward.
Part of the maturing process involves recognizing lessons in events, both good and bad. In a relationship, there are plenty of both. Instead of looking at relational tribulations as a ball and chain you have to put up with, view them as potential sources of personal growth.
1. We are social creatures who thrive in a community setting. When we listen to our partner we create an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperative community. Women are natural listeners but even we can learn from listening to our male partners or rather, learn how to listen to our male partners!
For Women-Men want to fix things. They don’t always understand our need to work through an issue by talking about it. They just want to jump in and solve it. They will sift through everything you say for information pertaining to the issue. Once they have all the points lined up, they’ll leap in, like the hero they want to be, with a way to improve or fix it. Tell them in advance whether that is what you want or not! If you want them to sit back and listen, tell them. If you want a hero, let them know that too!
When your male partner does begin sharing and opening up to you, listen with all your senses, not just your ears. Guys will talk as plainly as they know how. But if you really listen they can also speak volumes through tone of voice, body posture, breathing pace and hand movements. All of which, if you allow it, can trigger your female intuition to kick in and ‘hear’ between the lines.
For Men-Okay guys, women like to talk. Period. All we ask is that you listen. Not to the TV blaring in the background, or with half an eye on the paper, but with your whole mind and body. Ask questions throughout our chatter, to clarify a point, or to help us dig deeper into what it is we’re trying to say. Be frank, within reason, be kind, always. It’s really that simple.
2. If men and women simply listened better to each other, relational stress would drop dramatically. The outfall of that would be healthier bodies and healthier minds. The other side effect of listening to each other is the opportunity to learn how to be a better individual and community member. When you improve your communication skills, it automatically follows that you grow your brain. It’s all about integrating what you’ve learned from listening! Any learning builds stronger, more fluid neuronal associations. When your partner makes note of an area open to improvement, instead of taking offense, consider how that fits into your plans for personal growth. One of the most important aspects of a relationship is giving and receiving support. Part of what that looks like is in helping each other improve and grow. But remember, what trumps it all is the importance of nurturing and respecting each other. Your relationship needs to be honoured and as such, requires great love and understanding in all communications. This is where the most growth potential lies, especially in growing your brain. Positive emotions, like love stimulate the release of neurotransmitters, creating strong associations and memories.
Principle #5-Neuronal pathways are changeable and can be improved.
Relationships teach us how to be better people and provide a powerful incentive for living a healthy life. In fact, men who are in a long-term relationship live longer. Relationships provide great pleasure to the individuals involved, both physically and emotionally. As we age, the pleasure we receive from each other mellows and deepens, changes from the passionate, steamy romance, to an enduring unconditional love. It doesn’t happen overnight, it develops as each partner chooses to give and receive. Anytime an aspect of a relationship is changed and improved upon old neuronal pathways are rewired and rerouted to more positive ones. The cascade effect from this is that the ability to create positive, uplifting pathways gets easier. In other words, the positive aspects of your relationship teach your brain how to be happy and then make it easier to feel happy! Bonus!
Relationships aren’t easy, but they are brain building and healing. If you and your partner are struggling in your relationship I encourage you to consider the above suggestions or investigate ways to improve it. I’ve included a couple of books John and I have found very useful.
Several years ago, we attended the Imago Intensive at Hollyhock Retreat on Cortez Island. It was an eye opening experience. I’m sure both of us left there with bigger brains! If you are able to attend one of Harville Hendrix workshops I encourage you to do so, his Imago protocol really works!
Relationship Rescue by Dr. Phil McGraw
Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
Copyright 2011 @ Beth Hendry-Yim and Meza Health Systems, Inc.