Saving a Relationship
The Power of a Thought
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | June 2018
Thoughts Proceed Action
It starts with a little thought, breaking free into a word and then an action. We must catch the thought early to divert the flow before we damage the relationships we cherish.
No matter how much I concentrate, I can’t move the coffee in my cup without physical intervention. But the physical intervention is motivated by the thought. Without lifting a finger, a thought encouraging a word can begin to wreck a relationship. How we think motivates the actions that determine the success or failure of a marriage. No magic trick involved; just the power of thought. Relationships generate intense emotions—both pleasant and unpleasant. Successful navigation of complex relationships requires clarity of thought. Distorted thinking, on the other hand, complicates emotions, leaving us confused, discouraged and afraid.
Without foundations of clarity, intimacy remains beyond reach. Our misplaced expectations confuse evaluations, even healthy words or actions may still disappoint, firing a string of neuronal alerts that something’s wrong. During childhood learning, we construct patterns and expectations (mental maps). As we age, we may see through the chaotic parenting, knowing the relationships of our youth were amiss. But knowledge of wrongness doesn’t necessarily correct the patterns implanted in our minds.
We know harmony was missing but remain dumbfounded when confronted with creating and sustaining bonds of intimacy. So, we guess; forming expectations without the security of guiding feelings, wrongly expecting a loving relationship to naturally crystallize, shining on our lost soul, and relieving us of childhood anxieties; we wait for prince charming to magically rescue us from the evil step sisters of our childhoods.
Evolutionary advantages play a cruel game. A characteristic giving survival advantage doesn’t come free of baggage. Characteristics of thought aren’t designed for happiness—they’re not designed at all. Biological process come with blessings and curses.
The human warning system masterfully learns, establishing patterns, and then relieves cognition of the work by creating habitual responses. This process eases cognitive load but also locks the brain into habits. Even when we correct an underlying misguided belief, the emotional warning systems may continue to fire, warning that something is wrong, needing to be addressed. Insecurities jump to action, perceiving hurt, or approaching danger, when only love exists. Our intense and defensive reactions begin to whittle away the growing connections, creating fear where trust should live.
When past relationships incited intense emotions, scars are left. Intensity creates patterns of response that continue with new connections. A new relationship doesn’t swoop down and rescue us. New habits, requiring mindful effort, must be established. We must patiently and diligently act in opposition to the emotional driving forces created from dangerous pasts.
New relationships heighten emotions rather than tame them. Even the most loving partner fails to fulfill unreasonable expectations. Many relationships are doomed before they start; the stormy ocean of thought thrashes against reality, stirring our souls, reminding of the chaos from our pasts. But the human drive for partnership continues to push us forward while our emotional limitations frustrate our efforts to bond, leaving us conflicted.
"The human warning system masterfully learns, establishing patterns, and then relieves cognition of work by creating habitual responses.
When nothing is wrong, but our brain screams that something is, igniting emotions, our cognitive evaluations must restore order and work through the muck. We can accept the emotional signal unconditionally as legitimate, seeking outside causes that don’t exist, or accept the flooding of emotion as a glitch in the learning system and seek help to reprogram our learning.
Confusion over the cause of emotion encourages faulty attribution—blaming the partner. If we errantly blame our partner, the faulty assessment intrudes. The wrongful judgements hurt, destroying open communication. The flawed warning colors judgments, emotions, and responses. Open and effective communication can’t occur with processes we don’t understand. The lack of clarity prevents intimacy and prevents healing. The more assessments drift from the true source of discomfort (our past), the more demanding and disappointed we become.
The twisted interpretations, the repeated misunderstandings, and continued faulty attributions frustrate our attempts for closeness. The harder we try; the quicker relationships deteriorate. The repeated failures grate on self-confidence and increase relationship anxiety. Frustration gives way to unhealthy action—criticism, contempt, defensiveness and emotional shut down. The relationship is damned.
Untangling faulty attributions by rightfully relabeling the cause to our pasts provides needed clarity. The process is slow but possible. We can experience love even when love is foreign. But these changes require cognitive work, addressing misfiring neurons, and habitual destructive responses. The oath to recovery exposes vulnerabilities. Our weakness, our lack of skill, and our pasts need to be confronted and kindly redirected. This is scary work. We can’t rely on faulty intuitions and then conveniently blame others when they fail.
When automatic reactions haven’t served our purposes; they need scrutinizing and discarding. Mindful attentiveness creates necessary space for examining the overpowering emotions. Only then is insight possible. When a clear mind prevails, we can identify misguided emotions and the ensuing unhealthy habits of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and emotional shut down.
All relationships have imperfections—if signals chime something is wrong, identifying a flaw to blame is easy. But this fails to cure relationship ills. Refocusing on the positive may be difficult; but refocusing from the chaotic scrambling to assign blame to nurturing kindness creates connection and open communication. All relationships have negatives, but most have tremendous good as well. Appreciation fuels affection, acceptance and forgiveness—the essential components of fulfilling relationships.
Open your eyes, purposely direct your thoughts to the good, accept that all relationships have limitations, examine personal sources of disruption, and vigilantly and purposely identify and eliminate contempt, criticism, defensiveness and emotional shut-down.
The steps seem simple—they are not. But knowing the steps assists in implementing and eventually mastering love—kind of. These steps for connection take a lifetime to perfect but only purposeful thought to begin the action.
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