Improving romantic relationships means becoming a self-responsible partner. Becoming a self-responsible partner involves developing new interpersonal skills by becoming an expert user of your own brain. One of the most important expert-user skills is learning to inhibit negative emotions - training your dragon, if you will.
So, exactly how do you go about training your dragon or inhibiting negative emotions?
First, abandon the conventional wisdom (popularized during the disco era) that there is something unhealthy about "holding in" or "stuffing" negative emotions. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Decades of research on the so-called Type A personality, for example, have shown that hostility - venting of anger/rage - is the only personality factor that positively correlates with heart disease. In other words, subjects who vented anger were more prone to heart attacks.
Next, adopt the self-responsible spouse's attitude about negative emotions - your partner is not to blame for your anger, jealousy, bitterness, or disenchantment. That's right. Even if your partner behaves in ways that disappoint and provoke you, you are responsible to manage your negative emotions. Exception: Tolerating abusive behavior is not self-responsible.
After you abandon conventional wisdom, stop blaming your partner, and accept responsibility for your negative emotions, then what? Become an expert user of your own brain! To get started, think along these conveniently oversimplified lines.
The brain is, first and foremost, an organ of self-preservation. Everything you sense or perceive is routed first to the limbic system (deep down in the brain's center) and then to the right hemisphere for a preliminary threat-rating. Louis Cozolino, Ph.D., refers to this as starting "down right." 1 If input is "rated" as threatening rather than non-threatening, your brain sounds the alarm and your thoughts continue looping around "down right," escalating your sense of urgency. Urging you to "fight or run." Or vent.
One of the secrets to becoming an expert user of your brain is to consciously route your thought stream up into the frontal lobe and the left hemisphere. Dr. Cozolino refers to this as going "up left." 2 This is where your brain inhibits negative emotions and generates rational thoughts. This allows you to examine the legitimacy of expectations, de-escalate threat-ratings, and choose self-responsible reactions. To, metaphorically, train your dragon.
More in future posts about what to do instead of venting and how to consciously route your thought stream "up left."
For more on the book, go to www.everybodymarriesthewrongperson.com
1. Louis Cozolino, Ph.D., The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Building and Rebuilding the Human Brain (NY: W.W.Norton & Co., 2002, 28-31.)