Marriage Training

Do we hire Cupid for marriage training? No, fortunately. Cupid's job is to get us together, and anyone who has experienced falling in love will tell you that marriage training is the last thing you think about when in love.

There are some tools available now, though, that allow us to navigate the heady experience of love with a bit more clarity, and there is a lot of research available from the Gottman Institute, whose work I use with my domestic violence clients, which teaches about the Master's of Marriage and what they do to make marriage continue to be desirable. John and Julie Schwartze Gottman have been studying couples for at least 20 years at their "love lab", and have been following some couples through their marriage as long, I believe, so they have developed a real data base, not some opinions.

The first tool I use is the work of Helen Fisher,Ph.D., who is an anthropologist at Rutgers who has peered into the human brain using fMRI while it is in love or while it is falling out of love, to see which parts of our brains are active in those processes.

In fact, she has built a chemistry based model which purports to bring people of similar chemistry together where they can then begin using the Gottman skills in hope of building a masterful marriage.

A Little About Dr. Fisher

"Helen E. Fisher, PhD biological anthropologist, is a Research Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. She has written five books on the evolution and future of human sexuality, monogamy, adultery and divorce, gender differences in the brain, the chemistry of romantic love, and most recently, human personality types and why we fall in love with one person rather than another.

Fisher maintains that humans have evolved three core brain systems for mating and reproduction:

* Lust—the sex drive or libido * Romantic attraction—romantic love * Attachment—deep feelings of union with a long term partner.

“Love can start off with any of these three feelings,” Fisher maintains. “Some people have sex first and then fall in love. Some fall head over heels in love, then climb into bed. Some feel deeply attached to someone they have known for months or years; then circumstances change, they fall madly in love and have sex.” But the sex drive evolved to encourage you to seek a range of partners; romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your mating energy on just one at a time; and attachment evolved to enable you to feel deep union to this person long enough to rear your infants as a team.”

But these brain systems can be tricky. Having sex, Fisher says, can drive up dopamine in the brain and push you over the threshold toward falling in love. And with orgasm, you experience a flood of oxytocin and vasopressin--giving you feelings of attachment. “Casual sex isn’t always casual” Fisher reports, “it can trigger a host of powerful feelings.” In fact, Fisher believes that men and women often engage in “hooking up” to unconsciously trigger these feelings of romance and attachment.

What happens when you fall in love? Fisher says it begins when someone takes on “special meaning.” “The world has a new center,” Fisher says, “then you focus on him or her. You beloved’s car is different from every other car in the parking lot, for example. People can list what they don’t like about their sweetheart, but they sweep these things aside and focus on what they adore. Intense energy, elation, mood swings, emotional dependence, separation anxiety, possessiveness, a pounding heart and craving are all central to this madness. But most important is obsessive thinking.” As Fisher says, “Someone is camping in your head.”

MRI brain scan

Fisher and her colleagues have put 49 people into a brain scanner (fMRI) to study the brain circuitry of romantic love: 17 had just fallen madly in love; 15 had just been dumped; 17 reported they were still in love after an average of 21 years of marriage. One of her central ideas is that romantic love is a drive stronger than the sex drive. As she says, “After all, if you causally ask someone to go to bed with you and they refuse, you don’t slip into a depression, or commit suicide or homicide; but around the world people suffer terribly from rejection in love.”

Fisher also maintains that taking serotonin-enhancing antidepressants (SSRIs) can potentially dampen feelings of romantic love and attachment, as well as the sex drive.

Fisher has looked at marriage and divorce in 58 societies, adultery in 42 cultures, patterns of monogamy and desertion in birds and mammals, and gender differences in the brain and behavior. In her newest work, she reports on four biologically-based personality types, and using data on 28,000 people collected on the dating site, she explores who you are and why you are chemically drawn to some types more than others." I think what Dr. Fisher's work does is to make the experience of love a little more predictable for those of us enthralled or hoping to be enthralled or working through becoming un-enthralled.

Dr. Fisher also says that those early stages of relationship can last about two years, and that once that period is over, it is time to begin learning the Gottman skills.

But before we look at the Gottman model, here is a link to Dr. Fisher's tool.

Marriage Training the Gottman Way

I have used the Gottman home study course called The Art and Science of Love, in part, with my clients because it teaches that their are discreet, learnable skills that folks can practice which impact their marital satisfaction.

One of those skills is nurturing positive emotions. Feeling good does not have to be random, and I know this from practicing gratitude thoughts when I am scared or anxious.

I only need so much fear to begin the problem solving process, and then I need to change my physiology, or I will damage my health, and limit my ability to brainstorm solutions for marital issues.

The tool that has worked wonders for me and many of my clients in the nurturing positive emotions arena is HeartMath heart rate variability biofeedback.

HeartMath, once learned, which took me all of six practices, or three hours, gives me the ability to make my heart beat and my body feel good on any given heart beat, so nurturing positive emotions is no longer random.

I can set the physiological stage for when I see my mate by doing my HeartMath so we great each other positively, express appreciation, and get on with using the other Gottman tools to build a masterful marriage.

By the way, guys, Gottman says that a key piece of what we need to do is accept influence from our wives, which sure fits with offering choice, which is the opposite of power and control behaviors isn't it?

So marital training would first of all involve using Dr. Fisher's model to connect with a compatible partner, and then use HeartMath, which has many brain fitness side effects, to nurture positive emotion.

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