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He Doesn't Hear Me

He's in his own world, what's a gal to do?

"My birthday is coming up this Friday. You always forget it, and it's a big one, my fiftieth." Beth stretched out on the couch.

Looking down at his smart phone, Steve remarked "The stock market is plummeting."

Sitting up straight, Beth's voice rose "I'm talking to you. Why are you looking at your phone?"

"I hear you, but I'm nervous about money." Steve shut the phone off.

"Today it's the stock market, yesterday you were too tired, too worn out to talk. You don't pay attention to me at all. It's like I'm alone." She said sadly.

I then asked, "How does that feel Beth?"

"I feel unimportant, invisible. He doesn't get me."

"Steve, how do you feel now?" I asked.

With a forlorn look, Steve said, "Terrible. I love Beth, but she's critical and a nag and she doesn't get me. I'm so worried about business. I have a $10,000 nut to crack every month and I'm not making it. Have a heart Beth."

Disregarding his plea, Beth asked, "What's that got to do with my birthday?"

One question begat another question, as Steve asked, "When is your birthday anyway?"

Here is a couple who not only do not hear each other, they don't get each other. The incredible love they felt for each other twelve years ago has since eroded. No longer lovers, they coexist in a sexless, unhappy marriage.

Beth is fed up with Steve's lack of attention and has turned to another man who does give her the attention she needs. Her affair creates a deep wedge in the marriage. Steve, on the other hand, has created his own wedge. He is preoccupied with his business, which is his mistress, and tunes Beth out. All of this and more are on the table.

Here is what is going on under the table, in their brains.

When Beth and Steve first fell in love, they were so into each other, so madly in love, on cloud nine. Chemistry was so strong that they couldn't keep their hands off each other. That was when their mirror neurons ─ miniscule brain cells located behind the eye sockets─ connected them at an internal level. They mirrored each other's actions and feelings of attraction, romance, love, lust, good memories, and happy times. To ensure that these heady experiences occur, their brain triggered the release of love-inducing chemicals such as oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine, testosterone, natural opioids along with mood enhancing neurotransmitters, serotonin, and GABA. And so the chemistry they felt was real and had scientific explanation. Indeed, the brain is the seat of love and mirror neurons its beating pulse.

Unfortunately problems, such as the ones above and others do arise. When problems are not resolved, like in the case of Beth and Steve, mirror neurons connect you and your partner in resentments, disappointments, and a waning of passion and sexual desire. Hurtful interactions are repeated over and over and get lodged in the brain. Love inducing chemicals are on hold and it seems like the end of love and passion.

It needn't be the end of love, though. Here are some reasons to give you hope. Linked by mirror neurons, once you change, your partner can't help but change also. Not only that but our brains are plastic, so they when we change our interactions, our brains can change also.

Here are the interventions we made to rewire the brains of Beth and Steve and to bring love back. Because strong women and men make better lovers, we worked on empowering each person individually. We then visited their past in order to disentangle themselves from old noxious family scripts and rewrite them with new healthy scripts.

We then worked on communication skills that you and your partner can practice.

A. Listen to what your partner says without interrupting or defending yourself.
B. When your partner has finished, paraphrase what he has said. Then ask if that is what he meant.
C. If you did not understand, let your partner explain it further. Do not defend or attack him, simply listen.
D. Paraphrase once more to be sure you got him. When he agrees, it your turn to respond.
E. Go back to the first step, but now it is your turn to express yourself, your feelings, and your emotional needs. Your partner may not interrupt or defend himself. He will listen and paraphrase till he gets it right.

Try putting yourself in your partner's shoes and experiencing and feeling what he or she experiences and feels. This kind of emotional empathy is the basis of getting each other. In my new book The New Science of Love: How Understanding Your Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011) you will learn about empathy, forgiveness and ways to bring back the thrill and satisfaction of sexual desire.

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