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  • Translator: Sarah El_Gayyar Reviewer: Denise RQ

  • Relationships are difficult.

  • Everybody knows that.

  • Most people think

  • it's because of money, sex, kids, work, or who picks up the socks.

  • Some people think

  • it's because we're just not right for each other,

  • or we don't have enough in common.

  • Look, it's not just you, or him, or her.

  • There's actually nothing more difficult on the planet than another person.

  • Think about that.

  • We're all difficult;

  • we all come to each new relationship wanting easy,

  • but we also come with our fair share of unresolved painful experiences

  • from previous relationships.

  • Between love and work,

  • love is by far, more complex and challenging.

  • Much of the reason for this is based in our automatic neurobiological reflexes,

  • so let me explain.

  • Let's start with that fancy neocortex of yours, the high cortical areas.

  • For simplicity sake, let's call them your ambassadors.

  • Your ambassadors are very smart, deliberate, but slow;

  • and they're very expensive to run.

  • They're really good at planning, predicting, organizing, languaging

  • and if I may be frank, they're really good at making shit up.

  • (Laughter)

  • When you think of logic and reason, think ambassadors.

  • The subcortical areas of your brain, let's call them your primitives;

  • they're very fast, memory-based, automatic, and very cheap to run.

  • They're involved in love and sex, but also threat detection

  • by scanning for dangerous faces, voices, gestures, movements,

  • as well as dangerous words and phrases.

  • When you think fight or flight, think primitives.

  • Thanks to your primitives, your day is 99% fully automatic.

  • Your ambassadors love novelty,

  • but they have to offload newness to your primitives

  • in order to conserve resources.

  • You can't possibly run your day with your ambassadors in full gear;

  • you would fry your brain.

  • So the primitives use something called procedural memory,

  • otherwise known as body memory, and it works like this:

  • you learn to ride a bike; and in the beginning,

  • your primitives and ambassadors are in full gear to learn this new skill,

  • but very soon, your primitives are going to automate bike riding

  • without much need for your ambassadors.

  • It goes into procedural memory.

  • Pretty neat, huh?

  • Now you fall in love with someone, and again, your brain is lit up;

  • you want to know everything about them.

  • You want to touch them, taste them, smell them, you can't get enough of them.

  • You are high on drugs.

  • (Laughter)

  • Nature's drugs, not those!

  • Dopamine for wanting more,

  • noradrenaline for focus and attention,

  • testosterone for you know what,

  • and a distinct drop in serotonin so you can perseverate and obsess.

  • You're neurochemically addicted.

  • You spend all your time together for weeks and months;

  • you get serious, and this is when the fun begins,

  • because very soon, your brain is going to automate this new person

  • and theirs is going to automate you.

  • This is supposed to happen,

  • it's what the brain does in order to function.

  • It'll make your relationship feel a lot easier

  • and it will lead you to your first really big mistakes

  • because you think you know each other already

  • so you stop paying attention, you stop being fully present.

  • Your primitives are relying on procedural memory

  • to run your relationship,

  • and that memory includes everyone and everything

  • of an emotional importance in your life.

  • That primitive brain of yours is going to read

  • your partner's thoughts, feelings, and intentions through that memory lens.

  • So it's kind of like this,

  • "Why are you giving me that look?"

  • "I didn't give you any look."

  • "Why are you using that tone of voice with me?"

  • "What tone?"

  • - "Stop it!" - "What?"

  • - "That." - "What?!"

  • That's the sound of two nervous systems misfiring,

  • and that is our nature.

  • (Laughter)

  • That will happen, and it will be a problem

  • if you don't understand your automatic brain.

  • As a couple's therapist,

  • I can tell you that fighting in and of itself is inevitable.

  • There is no relationship without conflict.

  • In fact, if you are a conflict avoider,

  • you will appear threatening to your partner.

  • The real problem isn't that you fight.

  • It's when you do, one or both of you threatens to leave the relationship.

  • A relationship can survive fights,

  • but what it cannot survive is loss of safety and security.

  • Communication, memory, perception - all error-prone.

  • Human communication, even on a good day, is terrible.

  • We're mostly misunderstanding each other much of the time;

  • when we feel good, we don't care that much,

  • when we don't feel good, we care a whole lot.

  • (Laughter)

  • When stress goes up, human communication gets a whole lot worse.

  • Memory is unreliable.

  • Memory is faulty, folks,

  • and in a fight for whose memory is right, you're probably both wrong.

  • Your perceptions are like fun house mirrors.

  • Your perceptions are constantly being altered

  • by your state of mind and your memory.

  • They're constantly playing tricks on you.

  • If we assume

  • our communication, our memory, our perception is the real truth,

  • that's hubris, and that will get us into trouble.

  • Before I go on, I want to be clear about threat:

  • if you're in an abusive relationship, you must get out.

  • I'm not talking about big T threat; only small T threat,

  • the kind that we have to deal with day in and day out

  • as we bump up against each other, and we fight.

  • But why do our fights spin out of control?

  • It's because real time is too fast,

  • and when we feel threatened, we act, and react with our primitives.

  • Our ambassadors actually have no idea how we got into this place.

  • It's what makes shit up!

  • (Laughter)

  • "I'm right, dammit,

  • and here's what sounds really good to prove my point."

  • (Laughter)

  • You really have no idea what you're talking about

  • (Laughter)

  • but you sound so confident.

  • (Laughter)

  • I want to get to the fun part here.

  • Since all of you literally carry around your own neurobiology lab with you,

  • wherever you go;

  • here's a few experiments you can run in the comfort of your own home:

  • the next time a relationship moment turns tense,

  • change your position;

  • go eye-to-eye and face-to-face, notice what happens.

  • And by the way,

  • if you tend to fight a lot while driving in the car,

  • it's because you're side-to-side and glance;

  • a glance is a threat trigger,

  • that's why you should never fight in the car, or on the phone,

  • or while emailing, or while texting.

  • We're visual animals, and we need our eyes

  • in order to regulate each other's nervous systems.

  • I want you to understand that what I'm talking about here

  • happens to everyone, regardless of personality,

  • previous experience, and relationship experience, or trauma.

  • No angels, no devils here;

  • we're all capable of becoming threatening, even to those we love,

  • and we're capable of making huge mistakes and errors

  • in communication, memory, and perception;

  • all of us.

  • The decision to be in a relationship,

  • the decision to be in a committed relationship

  • - loving, secure functioning -

  • means being in the foxhole together

  • and protecting each other from the dangers out there.

  • It's not just about getting our own way.

  • We're supposed to have each other's backs.

  • I've seen far too many relationships end before their time,

  • because people cannot get this simple concept;

  • our major job is to protect each other and make each other feel safe and secure.

  • The world is a dangerous place, it's always been so;

  • and right now, it feels a little scary.

  • If we don't have each other's backs, who will?

  • Thank you and good luck with your relationships.

  • (Applause)

Translator: Sarah El_Gayyar Reviewer: Denise RQ

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