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How to Reconnect – Phase One: Recognizing the Exit Strategy

As I reflect on this American celebration  from this week, I want to give all my thanks to my faithful readers and supporters. I also want to thank all my patients who have trusted me and work with me to better ourselves and the world around us. Finally, I want to thank my family and friends and particularly the very special people who generously donated their time, support and love to carry me this past month through a most challenging medical time. Thank you!

Falling in love is exhilarating; staying in love is a labor of love! And so we relished in our romantic love, blind and happy, until we started sharing house and dirty socks! The red flags were there but our happy hormone pumped up self was oblivious to the potential smell of the dirty socks. Eventually of course, it started to stink along with our responses to it. So came the comments, then the remarks, the heated exchanges and the full fledge fights, all very gradually, until one day, the gap was so wide that we became estranged to each other, wondering how we got there.

Of course, some of us decide that “life is too short”, that “it’s not worth it”, that “there are plenty more where they come from” and use other clichés to justify our personal reasons to withdraw and start a new relationship. Some of us, however, for other personal reasons, do not feel so easily defeated. We want “to work at it”, “rekindle the initial flame”, enjoy the long term effect of companionship and acquire the trust and respect of the lover who over time also becomes our best friend. This choice is arduous and painful but rewarding and validating.

Because this choice is difficult, it is always a good idea to create an environment that will facilitate the process of reconnection. The first step is to close most of the exit strategies. Let’s go back to my lovely initial reference of unsavory household details. Overtime, we have developed strategies to avoid the smell of the dirty socks. We have justified longer work hours. We have made our phones our free-time full-time partner. We have declared ownership to the “do me” hip slogan and decided to go to the gym five times a week regardless whether our mate was available or not. We have made ourselves intimately unavailable because of the children, etc. I think you’re getting the picture. These are exit strategies.

Exit strategies are developed consciously or not to escape. When the relationship becomes tense, boring or conflicting, we disengage, disconnect and increase time away from our partner. Instead of calming the game, overtime, we intensify the disconnection. The key to start closing exit strategies is to examine your individual activities and find out your hidden motivation. Remember that the reconnection business is like meringue, salsa or tango, it requires two people! Also, the goal is to be successful, so no big leap to start with. Kafka, European philosopher, once said:”a path is made by walking it”.

Good luck! Next time, I will talk about phase two…

I would like to share with you my latest experience…and you are probably going to laugh thinking that once again I prove to be a dinosaur.

Dating on line is not a rage any longer. It is a “normal” practice among millions of users. I wanted to experience the buzz so I could relate to those of my patients belonging to the category of “millions of users”.

I did experience the thrill of generating interest, the fun of unrestrained written exchanges and the adrenalin of exchanging contact numbers followed by, sometimes, phone conversations but rarely, so rarely, the ultimate goal of actually meeting the person, I mean the real person in flesh.

Rapidly, then, I would push to actually meet the person. I became that needy, what-do-you-want-go-to-the-point lioness who, when face-to-face with the person did not know how to convey friendliness without compromising myself ah ah. By the way, the feeling was largely reciprocal. What an experience indeed!

I started then to reflect on the advantages of “cyber” friendship versus actual human contacts and I came to the conclusion that words do not replace touch. Touching is magical. Touching convey far better, faster, stronger feelings than words. Actually, according to research, the impact of touch is 10 times superior to that of words. Positive touch reduces stress and, therefore, reinforces well-being. It creates bounds between people, trust, cooperation, empathy and gratitude. Touch is an essential tool to social communication.

Interestingly, there are scientific reasons to prove, if needed be, that the human brain is designed to understand touch on multiple levels. Our body is a gigantic receptive machine with 18,000 square centimeters of skin equipped with specialized sensory receptors to transfer information to our brain through our neural pathway. Some sensory receptors send information about pressure on the skin, temperature, movement, position, strength, etc. Others specialize in emotional input such as caress and send erotic messages to our brain when making love.

We have two brain areas in charge of sorting out these signals: the somatosensory cortex and the insula cortex. The first one deals with the fast messages sent by the sensory receptors of our hands, fingers, face and tongue. The second one, on the contrary, receives the slower emotional signals which allow for the insula to determinate with accuracy the speed of a physical contact. These signals come from our behind, thighs, back, shoulders, forearms, and scalp (that’s why we so appreciate scalp massages). By measuring the speed of a physical contact, the brain “knows” the meaning and the social and emotional intention of a physical contact. Pretty cool isn’t? So in essence, our brain is collecting information through our skin and tells us what to think about the kind of touch we receive. No room for playing games, my friends, not like with words!

That does not mean that I now have the go-ahead to jump on my next date! Indeed, many factors play a role in the time, place and ways to experiment with touching. Culture of course is the major factor, but also nationality, context, gender, sensitivity and the expectations of the person. We usually send behavioral signals indicating what is acceptable and what is not. It is important to learn to read human behavior so as to avoid awkward if not irreparable situations. We also need to remember that our needs are directly linked to our early childhood which does not make it right neither essential. It just means that we are different. Men often kiss each other on both cheeks in France when they are friends. I am not sure that I ever witnessed such behavior in America. It would be kind of weird, wouldn’t? What is most important to remember, however, is the importance and the positive impact that touch generates in our daily life. Let us encourage each other to more conviviality and human contact “live”!

Dr. Schnarch is a talented and successful sex therapist as well as an author. He is the first to have introduced me to the concept of differentiation. It is a concept that, over the years, I have tweaked and appropriated and it has resounded in numbers of my patients. I have integrated it in my journey to happiness and although it is very difficult to experience it consistently, it does greatly improve life’s quality.

Differentiation concept has many facets as well as many interpretations in its logic and in its reality. I would describe it as the ultimate balance between personal growth and connection with other(s). The personal growth is worked through the understanding that we are the sole responsible to replenish, improve and/or change the content of our own emotional “tank”.

The emotional tank is being worked out first through our understanding that we all grow with a great potential of strengths only matched by its opposite, a potential of issues or weaknesses generated from our genetics, environment and education since birth as well as our experiences. The goal is then to see and accept what we don’t like about ourselves, then jump the cliff to make a positive change without succumbing to our justifications and anxieties.

The connection with the other one is therefore not the vessel with which to accomplish this journey but rather the support and the recipient of each new positive step taken during our journey. The connection is not based on reciprocal need, greed and expectations but rather on the gift of our growth to the other one, the cherry over the cake, in a way.

This in turn requires establishing personal boundaries that allow for a balanced exchange with the outside. Boundaries are essential to allow each one of us to function within our emotional and psychological comfortable space. Being too tight lessens our opening to the world and prevents fluid communication whereas being too loose often ends up in some form of “emotional dissolution” of self.

Differentiation is the ability to travel on a parallel path of love, goals and ideas guided by a “free of charge” connection with the other one. It creates freedom, self-esteem, personal validation, and the strength to live life to its fullest. It chases away fears, submission, collusions, hate and disappointment. It provides us with everything that makes a good relationship.

Because this little explanation is rather simplistic you may want to know more. If it is the case contact me, or write a comment, or read David Schnarch.

When we speak about love, we think of relationships and couples and when we know that 50% of all marriages end up in divorce, many of us start reflecting upon the nature of relationships.

According to international research, the number of unions was roughly the same in 2004 than it was in 1970. The difference resides in the type of unions. We do see less conventional marriage but we also see an increase in gay marriages, “free unions”, partners living separately, up to the ultimate “non-commitment” of the “friends with benefit” type relationship.

We can argue that since a couple of generations, women have played a huge role in redefining roles and expectations in relationship. Also, multiple relationships and financial factors have played a crucial role in being “creative” in relationship preferences.

It remains obvious that relationship is still in high demand. Many of us, despite bad experiences, want a new go at it and although young adults start their relationship a little later than their parents, they are still wanting “in”. We want to share, we want to be loved and appreciated and we do not want to be alone.

What is new though is the desire for freedom and autonomy in the relationship. It is almost as if we are getting more attached to the type of relationship we want rather than the person we are in relationship with.

It has become part of the norm to have had several long-term relationships, marriage forever a sort of fantasy. Social media has opened a tremendous playing field for individuals looking for their “perfect” match. However, the issues in a relationship remain the same: money, sex, children education, boundaries and loyalty as well as all the personal issues that we bring in the couple from the start.

So how do we navigate between autonomy and love, freedom and relationship, stability and excitement? What do you think? Where have you been successful? In my next post, I will talk about differentiation and the concept of true connection.

Happy love year!

Do I believe that environment, education and personal experiences shape the behavior of human beings?
-Yes, I do
Do I believe, however, that some physiological and neurobiological factors also affect our brain?
– Of course, I do.
The literature is abundant on this topic and it would take a far too long expose to get to the heart of it. It is important, however, to understand our hormonal system in order to deal with men’s behavior versus women’s behavior.
For instance, we often hear: “Men are all the same…” Well yes, men behave similarly because they have a similar hormonal system with testosterone as the predominant hormone. Testosterone has many soldiers that together configure men’s brain and their behavior. The mix is, of course, mitigated by each man’s life experience but also by his hormonal level. To give you an idea, men’s general range of hormonal influenced behavior includes: goal oriented, dominant, sex oriented and bear like when angry (Testosterone), protective (Vasopressin), exploratory, masculine (Mullerian Inhibiting Substance or MIS), sensitive to affection and attention (Oxytocine), dad’s behavior (Prolactin), aggressive (Cortisol), seducer (Androstenedione), excitable (Dopamine) and at times cuddling (Estrogen, in a small percentage, yet pretty powerful behind the scene).
Dr. Louann Brizendine, M.D. in her book “The Male Brain”, named testosterone Zeus or the King of Male Hormones, vasopressin the White Knight, MIS or Hercules, oxytocin the Lion tamer, prolactin or Mr. Mom, cortisol the Gladiator, androstenedione or Romeo (my favorite), dopamine the Energizer and estrogen the Queen. Cute and appropriate!
And thus, men’s propensity to be the protector, the warrior, the bread winner, the solution seeker and also the destroyer, the aggressor and the never ending high libido seducer becomes a bit more understandable.
Of course we know that men and women are not necessarily from “the same planet”. We can, then, safely presume that women’s hormonal system could pretty much be on the opposite side thus explaining general issues in relationships.
I will let you ingest this first part and get back to you in a week with female hormones. At the mean time, maybe, you could help me out and bring in your knowledge about it!

 

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