Rewire Your Brain for Better Relationships

Posted by in communication skills in dating, dating after divorce, dating in midlife, red flags in relationships | 0 comments

better relationshipsDr. Amy Banks studies love. More specifically, she studies relational neuroscience. She recently published a book entitled, “4 ways to click: Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships“. A former Harvard professor of psychiatry, Dr. Banks cites her major findings in the realm of love:

1. It’s not actually as important to have a strong sense of self as it is to have a significant other.

2. The woman who ALWAYS chooses the wrong guy isn’t weak. A bad relationship reprograms your neuropathways to seek out similar relationships in the future. She needs to recondition her brain – not just to take a good hard look in the mirror.

Learn more about what Dr. Banks had to say about building better relationships in the highlights of our radio interview below.

Sandy: You begin your book by saying that we need relationships, and that conventional therapy has done a disservice by making people too independent. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Amy: We are in a culture that undermines relationships. We are well separated and individuated, which creates the illusion that we can be perfect alone, and that relationships are nice but not necessary. It’s a huge myth that undermines everyone’s pathways to relationship.

Sandy: You point out that “our relationships live within us”—i.e., people enter into relationships with a long history of past relationships. If you haven’t had the healthiest past relationships, are you bound to repeat history?

Amy: No relational template determines your future relationship. Identify the qualities of a healthy relationship and the qualities in relationships that you have right now. By doing the C.A.R.E. assessment in the book, you’ll see the stamp of your relationships. If your story has been, “I can’t trust” or “I have a hard time reading people”, that’s what you’ve attracted in the past. The pathways are flexible and you can change them with the right guidance.

Sandy: You say that there are four neural pathways that are essential to developing healthy relationships. Can you briefly describe them? 

Amy: The C.A.R.E. program stands for each pathway.

C is for calm, or the smart vagus which makes you feel calm. The sympathetic or parasympathetic response. You need to build up this system to be in healthy relationships.

A is for acceptance, what makes you feel good in a group. This is the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.

R is for resonance, our ability to reflect to others that we “get them”. This is the mirror neuron system. This allows you to read another person’s feelings. It’s how we read and understand someone.

E is for Energy, the drive to be happy and close to the people we care about despite life’s hardships, from a dopamine reward system that is connected to healthy relationships.

Sandy: What are a few things people can do if they want to break a bad relationship pattern – whether it’s someone who’s caught in a toxic marriage or a friend who keeps dating the same wrong guys?

Amy: If it’s a friend of yours who’s stuck in bad relationships, name it for them. Let them know what you see. Reach out and say, “I noticed this and it’s painful to watch you get hurt over and over again. These are some resources that I have found helpful.” In my therapy practice, I tell people that they don’t know what they don’t know. If you don’t know what a healthy relationship will feel like, you need to take one step towards that.

Jean Baker Miller, M.D. believes that healthy relationships are those in which both parties feel that they matter. In these healthy relationships, all of the involved parties experience what is known as the Five Good Things.

1) a desire to move into more relationships because of how a good relational experience feels

2) a sense of zest, or energy

3) increased knowledge of oneself and the other person in the relationship

4) a desire to take action both in the growth-fostering relationship and outside of it

5) an overall increased sense of worth

Our physiology works best when we’re in healthy relationships. Unfortunately, our culture undermines this. When you hear the messages of independence, that you don’t need anyone, pay attention. You do need others. And you can use the C.A.R.E system to increase your ability to have the healthiest relationships.

To hear the entire episode on Last First Date Radio, click here.

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