Short Sample from my book
Here is a short sample from my recent book “A 5-Step Connection Guide To Your Dream Marriage.
This is Chapter 3.
Step 1: Slow Down
Shortly after my husband (then boyfriend) and I moved in together, he had decided to treat me to a home cooked dinner. Sounds like such a sweet idea, right? Except his cooking skills were pretty much nonexistent.
You see, neither his parents nor his pharmacy school roommates during the 6 years they’ve lived together ever cooked. But my husband could be very stubborn and resourceful when he wanted something, so the lack of knowledge and experience didn’t stop him. My panic, however, when I accidentally saw him taking the FROZEN ground beef out of the freezer and putting it in the frying pan while trying to use a spatula to break the meat apart.
I was shocked to see that the person I have just committed to taking our relationship to the next level, didn’t know that you first needed to defrost meat before cooking it. I rolled my eyes so freaking hard, my forehead hurt.
My brain literally went from:
“Oh dinner would be so nice, baby” to “Are you fu***ing stupid? Did you learn nothing in life? Did your parents teach you nothing at all?”
I felt this sudden and intense soup of anger, frustration, and sadness washing all over my body. After making those extremely mean comments, I ran to the bedroom, locked the door, and just started crying.
So what the hell happened to me? I am a therapist, so I should know better, right?
What happened is that I managed to accomplish three out of four “most detrimental to marriage” behaviors during my 5 minutes of panic. According to John Gottman, one of the leading experts on relationships, these behaviors lead not only to divorce but to also all kinds of infectious illnesses (such as colds, the flu, etc.).
Gottman and his team termed these disturbing behaviors “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.” They include:
Criticism (“Did you learn nothing in life?”)
Contempt (Ridicule-“Are you f** ing stupid?” and rolling my eyes)
Stonewalling (Ran to the bedroom, thus withdrawing from interaction)
Defensiveness (didn’t happen in our case because I didn’t even give my husband a chance to open his mouth and explain anything).
By the way, the only reason I am sharing this story with you is that I want you to understand that if your brain works similarly to mine and goes from 1 to 100 in a matter of seconds, you are not crazy. Sometimes, especially when it comes to romantic relationships, we get over flooded with emotions (because you love your partner and there is a lot at stake for you), and you need to learn how to slow down.
This emotional flooding, which basically means you are experiencing a lot of emotions all at once, is always accompanied by several stress hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline) being pumped into your body when there is a perceived threat (like me thinking “Is this person going to be able to take care of me when I get sick if he doesn’t even know how to cook stupid ground beef?”).
One of my clients described this feeling as “almost feeling like you are drunk” (on these stress hormones) because you can’t think straight and you literally feel dumb, and she is right!
Researchers have found that there are two distinct parts of the brain, the back part, and the prefrontal cortex. The back of the brain is responsible for all the first actions, like sensory perceptions, muscle movement and so on. This part is often called our animal brain because it’s very similar to the brains of animals.
The prefrontal cortex, however, is what makes uniquely human. We could call it the CEO of the brain. This is where the sense of self, impulse control, and higher planning takes place. Animals don’t have this part, which is why you will never see a cow packing a suitcase and planning a holiday. Under stressful situations, this very frontal part of the brain shuts down. It literally stops working, making you act more impulsively without thinking things through and “feel dumb” as my client described it.
Remember that the human danger response does not require actual physical danger for the limbic system (our emotional center) to be activated; it merely requires the perception of danger as discussed by Margaret Blaustein, Ph.D. and Kristine Kinniburgh, LICSW in Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents.
So, when my brain, in a matter of milliseconds, realized that:
“I might have made a huge mistake by committing to this guy who doesn’t even know how to cook. So when we get married and am sick he won’t be able to take care of me (go figure where all these ridiculous thoughts even come from), I perceived this information as a threat (to my future and wellbeing) and went nuts (AKA my limbic system got activated).
So what does all this mean for you? It means that if you do not learn how to slow your brain down when it gets overwhelmed with emotions and stress hormones (during arguments and fights), it will negatively impact, or even worse, slowly (or pretty rapidly in some cases) destroy your relationships.
Some of the things that you can do to slow down are taking a few deep breaths in and out, counting to 10 or 50 (doesn’t really matter as long as you feel better at the end), saying something like “I am feeling really overwhelmed now, and I need a minute” (instead of pushing these thoughts away and pretending they are not happening), going to the bathroom and splashing some water on your face, and taking a short walk outside. Writing their thoughts down on paper is something that helps a lot of my clients. It doesn’t have to be neat, long, or in any particular way.
There is no right or wrong way of doing it. Just take a piece of paper, and start writing. It can be three minutes or thirty minutes. It doesn’t matter. What matters, though, is that journaling helps you to externalize your thoughts and bring them to paper instead of letting them keep brewing in your head. Journaling is awesome and cathartic. It also helps to organize your thoughts.
Some clients express feeling “lighter” afterwards. If you’ve never tried any of these suggestions, you need to start experimenting with what works for you.
Don’t overthink it, just pick one, and see whether it helps you.
You might hate it at first, which is normal. Remember that slowing down is not a linear process, but more of a moving target. You might feel better/relaxed one moment and then feel charged with emotions the next moment. That’s okay too, Keep doing it. Give it at least 30 consistent days.
You see, our brain likes to create stories about everything that happens to us because this is how it processes and filters information. It’s like a huge meaning-making machine. Our brain also likes to hang on to those negative thoughts because this is how it was designed evolutionary. It was designed to help us survive, and not so much to make us happy. Seriously? I know, it’s a bummer. So, if you feel like you can remember negative experiences much better than all your positive memories, you are normal and not alone. So we need to help our brain out, we need to retrain it.
Remember, it takes a few minutes (between 10-12 minutes on average) for the emotion to run its course, so there is not much you can do during this time other than shifting your attention to something else to distract yourself. And the more you will practice slowing down, the easier it will get to communicate your needs to your partner in an assertive, yet respectful way. Where everyone feels in control of their emotions and a small disagreement does not turn into a big fight. Where you learn to agree to disagree.
How many of you know that according to research 69% of relationship problems is “perpetual,” meaning that they never get resolved because they are based on personality differences between partners? Here is how John Gottman explains it in “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” A Practical Guide: “Once you understand this, you will be ready to accept one of the most surprising truths about marriage: Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind, but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.”
A lot of my couples feel relieved hearing this because they can fight for hours or days without resolution, thinking they are probably crazy and the only ones. So, together we learn that there is no need for them to prove each other’s point anymore and agree to disagree.
I eventually looked it up, and it’s actually okay to cook frozen meat. No one recommends it, but you are not going to die from it. Can you believe that? I feel like such a jerk!
I hope this information helps you to better understand how to choose a couples therapist or a marriage counselor in Wake Forest, North Carolina. If you are still feeling stuck, feel free to call me at (703) 347-3200 for a free 15-minute phone consultation. I’d be happy to hear about what is happening and help direct you to the right person.
If you are looking for help with your relationships or marriage, you can read more about how I can help here. Please do not wait several years before you seek couples counseling. You deserve to be happy today!