Tools for Couples Happiness — 15 May 2011
Hope for relationships regardless of early models

Many people feel discouraged by the love relationship models they had. They state, “I never saw a happy marriage, so how can I know how to create one for myself?” This is a logical concern that can now be positively dispelled with scientific and clinical support.

Developments in neuroscience research have confirmed what psychologists and therapists have clinically known. They observed their clients’ capacity for remarkable changes through talk therapy. The value of psychotherapy that had been previously questioned due to insufficient scientific support is now explained through the neuroscience of the brain.

Daniel Siegel explains, “The most amazing thing we are learning is that the brain is continually sculpted by experiences, certainly in childhood but also in adolescence and adulthood. Experiences that we have shape the way the brain is structured through the connections between neurons in the brain. Those connections have a lot to do with how we think, how we feel, how we relate to ourselves and others.”

Neuroplasticity of the brain means that areas of the brain can grow new connections and reorganize themselves based on new experiences. The existence of neuroplasticity frees us from the discouraging notion that life trauma or learned experiences from unsatisfactory models are unchangeable because they are ingrained in our brains. Yes, they are there – but they can be altered through volitional inhibition and the reintroduction and repetition of new healthier reactions.

Individual and couple therapy is a valuable resource for facilitating new connections in the brain helpful in overcoming older patterns and creating new ones toward the relationship you desire.

Most people marvel at their ability to change their perspective once they have a new awareness or insight. As one woman said: “I always thought that my husband was disinterested in new experiences until his mother told me that he had always been a fearful child. Now I know how to make our adventures safer and his interest has been sparked.”

Paying attention to our inner dialogue increases awareness and understanding that leads to positive change. They say that older people are wise. Indeed, they have had many more days of observation and insight. Some new information may be hard to process, but most of it is freeing. Once we know, feel, sense and care more deeply about anything, we can cope with it better and even develop greater compassion for it. This approach is most applicable to your relationship.

To counter unsatisfactory relationship models or ideas:

• Question any well-ingrained negative ideas/ beliefs you hold about yourself, others or your relationship.
• Trade rehearsing negative beliefs for positive ideas, “Some people do have a happy marriage. I, too, can learn to create it.”
• Identify your behaviors that are similar to those in unsuccessful relationships you know. Commit to changing these habits and practicing your new way every day. Repetition creates change.
• Seek psychotherapy if you need help in making these adjustments.
• You can have the relationship you crave!

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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