Resolving Conflict with Relationship Math
Relationships require hard work.
Biology takes care of the short term; hormones drive infatuation in the early days. After that, we all must work to stay in love. Why?
Surprisingly, that answer comes from biology, too.
You see, we humans are not simple beings. In fact, we’re fascinatingly complex mosaics. Our evolutionary success is driven by our enormously sophisticated and versatile brain that has the capacity to present us to the world in a broad range of ways. We’re like a giant, living Swiss Army knife: the most advanced multitool on the planet. And our brain is the supercomputer that drives this within-person diversity.
Think about yourself for a moment. Like everyone else, you’re a kind, calm, thoughtful, reasonable, and caring human being. But if you’re honest with yourself, there are moments when you’re really not this wonderful person I just described. In fact, there are probably moments when you’re far from them!
There are times that you fly into a blind rage or withdraw into almost total silence in sadness or unhappiness. There are times when you’re overcome by jealousy or fear, and a completely different you emerges.
In truth, you have many faces. One person, many faces, each driven from the single brain you were born with.
I’m not talking about multiple personalities. I’m talking about the many ways that you’ve learned to behave—each so discretely powerful that you sometimes appear to be many people within one human frame.
Each different you results from a collection of nerve centers in your brain that fire together to produce a discrete attitude or behavior set. Repeated collective activation of these pathways induces them to form dense “maps” in your brain that represent the range of sub-personalities that lead you in your day-to-day life. And all these sub-personalities are good. Each uniquely mapped sub-personality is specialized for a different situation, and each behavior set that results from its activation is so discrete that you may look (and feel) like an entirely different person under its influence. It’s a magnificent design that enables your survival and success.
But here is the problem: As you reinforce these psychobiological entities, they often become dominant—even default—players that very willingly step up to lead, especially in stressful situations. And some of these good players tend to become not-so-good players in their deep commitment to serving you.
These not-so-good players are seriously committed to protecting you. Their job is to help you survive, and they selfishly take care of your safety first, putting everything and everyone else into a distant second place.
We usually don’t like these not-so-good parts of ourselves; they can be downright nasty, they tend to get us in trouble, and they are highly active in relationship disputes. But they are very real!
In times of distress, they rise up to the surface in a spontaneous and determined protective effort—and since only one of your parts can be leading at any one time, your kind and loving parts move below the radar and into the background.
At such times, you’re not necessarily the nicest person to be around. And when your and your partner’s not-so-good parts are leading at the same time…well, it’s certainly not a recipe for a harmonious relationship!
Sadly, the statistics are not encouraging. Mathematically, if you had only two parts—a good one and a not-so-good one—you would enjoy only one out of every four days in harmony with your life partner. And if you had four not-so-good parts (and most of us have many more), this success would be dramatically reduced. Without any overriding self-control, you might enjoy only one good day together each month!
But there is good news.
Each of these not-so-good parts can be controlled by the very same mind that drives the beautiful you—the authentic you, the authentic self you were born with, the beautiful, calm, kind, caring, confident, trusting SELF that is the best part of you.
Because your brain, like every other organ, works for you—well, at least, it should work for you—you are able to decide which part of your brain takes the lead at any moment and in any situation.
When your authentic SELF leads, life is good. And it’s even better when your and your partner’s authentic SELVES show themselves at the same time. Then, you are able to enjoy a loving and fulfilling relationship.
With courage, patience, skilled insight, and training, you can increase the likelihood of putting your authentic SELF in control, even in times of distress. I call this Personal Mastery; others have called this “flow”: the state in which life moves forward effortlessly.
When you work with a coach trained in this specific methodology, you will learn to identify and understand your parts. You will learn about the situations where your not-so-good parts take over, and you will practice keeping your authentic SELF in the lead even in those moments.
And even before you engage a neurocentric coach, you could start to use the language of parts. When you find yourself in the middle of a hot marital argument, don’t say, “You’re ruining my life because you’re always jealous (or angry, or sad, or afraid)!” Instead, identify calmly that, “A part of you is jealous (or angry, or sad, or afraid) right now,” and then insist on speaking with the person you love, the authentic self of your partner that has been pushed aside by their protective part.
And, if you’re the one feeling jealous (or angry, or sad, or afraid), then calmly state that, “A part of me is feeling jealous (or angry, or sad, or afraid).” You will notice that, as you call attention to this not-so-good part and explicitly state that those not-so-good emotions and behaviors belong to that part—and not your authentic SELF—you create a kaleidoscope of uplifting possibilities.
Without those possibilities, your partner had to somehow negotiate harmony with your not-so-good parts—not an easy or a pleasant task. But now, instead, you and your partner can work with the not-so-good part rearing its ugly head, asking it to step aside so that you can again deal directly with the one that you fell in love with. And, together, when both of your authentic SELVES lead, you will solve any problem with ease.
When you perfect this approach, you stand a much better chance of achieving a harmonious, productive relationship that will last a lifetime. You see, the beauty of this magnificent brain design is that the parts of your brain that you nourish will flourish. As you work to keep each mapped sub-personality performing its good role, and limiting it’s not-so-good influence, you fundamentally alter the structure and function of your brain, rewiring it for good!
I hope that you will have the courage to explore your inner world, either alone or with your life partner, and see that this pathway to a balanced and integrated life will lead to loving and rewarding partnerships.
Dr. Roddy Carter, MD, has over 30 years of experience working across a range of medical disciplines and corporate settings.
At the height of his successful career, Roddy experienced a personal health and happiness awakening. During this profoundly transformative time, he began applying his deep knowledge of performance neuroscience to his everyday life. He discovered that, in moments of stress, the brain develops intricate psycho-protective adaptations to ensure our short-term survival; however, these adaptations often impose substantial residual limitations, create profound (and often hidden) distress, and prevent us from reaching our innate potential.
Today, Roddy is an executive coach and author dedicated to helping others unlock their full potential throughout their lives by applying compassionate neuroscience and sharing his unique approach to Personal Mastery™.