The new year invites new beginnings. And each day invites us to choose again. How do we continue creating a secure and mutual relationship with our partner over the months and years? Can I remember my best effort will bring us both comforting rewards?Stan Tatkin, PsyD., in Wired for Love, suggests we get to know who we are; our background, and how we are wired, so we can each take responsibility for our reflexes. Secondly, Tatkin says it is important for each partner to know the other; their background, how their brain works, and likely responses. So sharing what you know about yourself with one another is helpful. It works lots better to get your partner to help you through feeling attraction, rather than fear, threat or guilt. Can you learn to be in the same threatening situation with an agreement to protect each other from the environment? Perhaps you are both feeling an onslaught of judgement from relatives about a recent decision you made as a couple. Speaking why it works for each of you and acknowledging one anothers' needs will feel way better than defending and blaming the decision on the other. (To say nothing about it not being their business:) Pair bonding is to protect each other by honoring what is good for me and what is good for you. So I don’t share your private information with friends if I know that might be embarrassing to you. I would respect your fear of heights and not poke fun about your lack of interest in rock climbing. Tatkin defines mutuality as meaning we will look out for each other, which makes us feel safe when we are vulnerable. We don’t grow or change when we feel insecure.
Tatkin points to research regarding adult bonding that shows the bond between partners has the same survival mode as a mother-child one. Infants and mothers have two nervous systems to calm each other down and two nervous systems to excite one another. So this is true about partners who become a primary attachment system. Dr.Sue Johnson cites brain research that shows our mammalian brain is wired to respond and connect, and we need a few others to be responsive when we turn to them for reassurance. We are not only meant to be self-regulating. We react to separation or emotional disconnection from another with pain. When we criticize or turn our back on our partner, it can trigger panic and fear and thoughts like, “maybe I can’t count on you!” Johnson writes in Hold Me Tight that when we understand our attachment needs as normal, and request these needs be met for our comfort, we can strengthen our bond of safety and security. It’s OK to say, “I feel rejected and need your approval. I may have screwed up, but give me another chance.”
New brain science has shed light on how to build more secure and healthy relationships. As partners, we can amplify positive feelings between us, gaze into one anothers' eyes, help each other with softer and more vulnerable feelings, and in so doing, make each of us feel stronger and more confident as we navigate this complicated and beautiful world.