Is your brain the best tool you have to save your relationship? While we often think of love as a matter of the heart, the pattern-recognition mechanisms of the brain actually help to determine how we see, experience, and relate to others. When we don’t understand how responses to perceived patterns drive our behaviors, we can be vulnerable to triggers that sabotage our relationships. Here’s what you need to know about neurology’s role in nurturing relationships.
Our Brains Are Obsessed With Patterns
Humans are neurologically wired to recognize patterns. That’s because being able to predict outcomes has been a matter of survival for much of human history. We need to extract patterns from weather events, predator behaviors, and natural elements in the world around us in order to anticipate danger. We also use patterns to assess the behaviors and intentions of other people. While the brain’s wiring for pattern recognition is intended to keep us alive, it can actually make navigating romantic relationships difficult. Once we detect what we believe is a pattern, it can be difficult to look at the objective truth instead of relying on the connections our brains are running away with!
How Our Brains Can Make Relationships Difficult
Researchers believe that our brains store information in categories for easy reference. This system helps to conserve energy and cognitive power. Unfortunately, that means that a “trigger” that is stored in your brain can cause you to assume the worst about your partner’s intentions. Let’s run through a scenario.
A person who witnessed their parents divorce after a tumultuous period of arguments might avoid conflict at all costs because their brain has picked up on the observation that arguing causes a person to leave a relationship. Out of fear of abandonment, this person simply remains quiet whenever their partner does something that hurts them instead of risking an argument. However, this “quiet” partner grows resentful of their partner over time because they aren’t voicing their needs. They may use passive-aggressive techniques to let their partner know that they are unhappy.
When a conflict does arise, this fearful partner is convinced that an argument means that the relationship is over. They may even try to be the one to leave first in order to avoid the rejection they fear so strongly. From the perspective of the other partner, the fearful partner is blowing things out of proportion.
Not Falling Prey to Patterns
The example above is just one in a nearly endless list of potential triggers that we can experience. One of the most important aspects of outsmarting the brain’s default mode of pattern recognition is to consciously acknowledge the patterns our brains are acting on. If you find yourself having the same arguments over and over again, it may be time to focus on the feelings that precipitate the argument instead of the actual thing you’re arguing about. This brings us to the next important step in using our neurology to our advantage. Recognizing your triggers can help you to overcome the trap of trauma-based pattern recognition that often fuels feelings of stress, anxiety, and abandonment.
Thank your brain! It really is trying to keep you safe and healthy by making sense of patterns using the information it’s taking in. However, getting to a place where you can spot an automatic reaction to a trigger allows you to step into a place of introspection and awareness that can ultimately save your relationship!