Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Men and Women Need: Hormones and Relationship

Next time your male partner sits on the sofa and proceeds to veg out in front of the tv, rather than complaining, say "thank you." By relaxing on the sofa, his body can literally let down from the stress of the day and generate more testosterone to bring to you in the bedroom or bring to the world as he works diligently by day.

And the next time your female partner needs to talk when she is emotionally upset, realize she is trying to take care of her physical health as well as her psychological health, so she can be closer to you. The part of the brain that regulates emotional response in women under stress is 2 1/2 times greater than in men. A woman needs to talk to destress.

The most recent work of relationship expert John Gray shows how what men and women really need has a lot to do with their hormones. Understanding our most basic and primal wiring is key to appreciating what will make us happy.

As society has changed, roles for men and women have also changed. And with the change in roles have come changes in what men and women need to feel loved and understood. Women have moved out of the need for security that was present decades or centuries ago. To find fulfillment in today's world, women need to focus on their needs for intimacy, romance and connection.

Women are becoming more stressed in our testosterone driven culture. In fact, John Gray notes that women's happiness levels are steady declining. Women need to be seen, heard, touched, felt, and need to feel connected, not alone, and supported at an emotional level. As the stress level goes up for women, these needs increase.

Women are designed to be emotionally activated under stress. This leads to feelings and a need to talk about what she is feeling. Being able to speak and be heard releases her stress. Giving also reduces stress for a woman. Women need to practice self-care and find ways that nurture them, and not just look to men to get their needs met.

When a man is under stress, he is wired to do something (fight) or forget it (flight). Men are moved to do, fix, or act. Men have an off switch where they can go blank, in contrast to a a woman's brain that speeds up under stress. For men to engage in decompression activities where they get to use their "off switch" is key to destressing and rejuvenating.

These hormonal differences suggest some important coaching tips so men and women can love and support each other more effectively and both genders can get primal needs met.

If a woman is stressed out and lets her male partner know that by listening to her for 10 - 15 minutes will make her feel better, then he can "do" something that will "fix" her "problem." If she then thanks him for listening and letting her know how much she appreciates it, that will help the man feel good about the interaction. Men like to make women happy. If a woman can learn to ask for what she needs in a frame that lets the man succeed at this task, it is a super win-win.

Likewise, if a man needs to chill out in front of the tv, if he can let his female partner know he needs to decompress for a bit, and invite her to sit next to him, he can enjoy her company, and also have the space to decompress. Being able to sit quietly for a period of time may be as nurturing for the man as being able to talk or vent for a period of time is for his woman partner.

While none of us are linear gender stereotypes, and both men and women have both male and female energy, these coaching tips for our primal roots can still be helpful as we navigate a world of changing gender roles.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why Incompatibility Is A Crucible For Love

When people leave relationships, often they speak of "incompatibilities." Incompatibility does not need to mean deal breaker, And even more so, relationship experts Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt note that ALL right relationships have incompatibilities. It is the nature of relationship and the nature of the deepening of intimacy and love.

When people first fall in love, they feel a connection with their partner, and often focus on the sameness and the feeling of connection. The sameness and feeling of connection are real, however, as intimacy deepens, there is more under the surface that is not as cozy and comfortable as the sameness and connection in the new relationship energy stage.

Hendrix and Hunt believe the purpose of relationship is unconscious. The unconscious purpose is to heal the wounds of childhood and grow up and become whole. That is why we go from "falling in love," to what I call "the shadow lands." Rather than fighting or competing for scarce resources like wounded children, we need to become co-healers. Hendrix and Hunt reflect that because there was an emotional or physical absence of a caretaker at critical moments in our developmental experience, we experienced the wounds of "ruptured connection" or "missing connection."

Connection in the present with a beloved partner repairs the ruptured connection that is still alive in the memory from our childhoods. Hendrix and Hunt assert that incompatibility is not only the NORM for relationships, but also it is the GROUND of intimate partnership. When we fall in love with someone, as intimacy deeper, painful memories are triggered and emerge to heal. We blame our partners, which leads them to put up their defenses. We get used to living with a defended partner. If we can learn to provide enough safety for our partner to let down their defenses, a new vulnerable person emerges.

We fantasize that a compatible person is someone just like us so there is no conflict or tension. This is not reality. It is not how nature works, according to Hendrix and Hunt. We require the tension of opposites to heal and grow. The nature of relationship is the person you are deeply attracted to WILL have incompatibilities. And this is the opportunity of the relationship. . If you do not recognize this, it will lead to ruptures in the relationship, and if people are truly not conscious about this pattern, they may leave someone they really love.

Hendrix and Hunt note that in any couple the two people polarize into two roles: the "turtle" and the "hail storm." When stress comes, the turtle withdraws. When stress comes, the hailstorm needs to talk, analyze and figure things out. There is a precious gift in the polarization, even if it feels uncomfortable. The hail storm needs someone to slow them down and ground them. The turtle needs someone to pull them out of their shell. No matter how uncomfortable this tension is, it is very necessary. The hail storm needs to become more like the turtle and slow down, and the turtle needs to become more like the hail storm and speak up.

Rather than withdraw, the turtle needs to mirror the hailstorm and show they hear and understand what the hailstorm is saying. If the hailstorm is first mirrored and then is asked, "is there anything I can do to support you right now?" the hailstorm will calm right down. The hail storm needs to honor the turtle's process and give them space. If the hail storm tells the turtle, "I am available for connection if you and and when you are," the turtle will know they can take their space and then reach out. Both polarities need to learn to regulate their energy.

The bottom line is that incompatibility is normal and healthy. We need to develop skills to work with and grow from incompatibility. Hendrix and Hunt suggest three things to transform incompatibilities:

1. Create safety: Don't speak for your partner and tell them how they are. Don't judge them, blame them or criticize them. Talk about your own experience without judgment or blame.

2. Commit to healing each other's wounds: Your partner is not a monster taking all the emotional oxygen out of the relationship. Recognize they were wounded in childhood and need to heal. Learn what they need and give it to them. Hendrix and Hunt call this "stretching into your partner's need system."

3. Learn to sit in the tension of conflict or incompatibility until a new, third possibility emerges: Instead of using your lower brain to analyze what's wrong, move your energy to higher cerebral functioning to create win-win solutions. Do creative problem solving. Sit in the tension until a new solution emerges that includes both apparently incompatible polarities.

Rather than say you are in the wrong relationship, if you really love your partner, know you are in the right relationship. This resonance, if you stay connected to it, gives you the emotional bond to sustain the relationship when, as Hendrix says, "the dream becomes a nightmare." This takes consciousness, care, commitment and a real value for the love.

Note: The content for this blog entry came from an interview with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt as part of the Love Summit.