Can the type and quality of your intimate relationships affect your health? You are probably wondering, “What doesn’t affect your health?” There are many studies that indicate stress as a trigger for most of today’s ailments and problems. Emotions and the stress we feel are intimately connected. We can’t control our emotions but we can learn to be aware of them and the good news about managing these emotions is that love is the big winner here. So, how does love affect our health? It has a lot to do with it! I’ve really only been tracking this with intention over the past 5-10 years after I met and married the most authentic love of my love and, might I add the best teacher of myself. The other factor was turning 50. Nothing like a little age factor to wake up to the physical body. Glasses and menopause came on the scene and life changed again.
Menopause in most women enters their lives in the 50’s….give or take a few years. I entered this decade relatively naive – despite “education” I had little experience in the process of menopause in the women of my family history. I grew up in the era of “grin and bear it” or “It’s not a subject worth mentioning” or “It’s not that big of a deal”. Each woman has her own set of beliefs for this life stage too, and hand them down to our family, we do. I often encourage women to examine the women in their lives for information to unearth their own guiding rules. What does menopause have to do with love and health? For me, these transitions melded together. Other transitions include the birth of a child, moving, caring for parents, or others that require major shifts. I won’t speak to men’s mid life transition to this decade here. That will be another piece to work on with my husband. It’s a big deal too!
I have worked with many couples in my psychotherapy practice over the years and noticed patterns of stress management depending on the stage of life, stressors experienced, and family history – meaning here the family dynamics and biologic/personality traits inherited. Humans generally have a huge capacity for doing what they believe they want. We’re designed that way. We have strong defense systems. Denial, minimizing, avoiding and blaming/projecting are examples of how we deflect our stressors. How else are we going to survive? I remember the drive I had earlier in my career to make a living and do something good for the world. I choose a traditional path of social work and walked the way I was taught at home, school and at work. I got married when I thought I was supposed to and ….well that’s when life’s twists and turns really started showing up. Negative emotions fuels stress and if you don’t have the emotional skills, they will erupt into depressive or anxious periods, self- medication with any number of addictive substances or things and physical illnesses. I’ve experienced divorce in all its complexities and traumas, been a single parent twice and all the while still believing that I would someday find the trail of happiness. I eventually realized that it is usually not the most trodden one. I had to find my own path outside that “box” of what I thought life was supposed to look like. When I realized that it was OK to go outside the box, life changed dramatically. It lined up with finding a healthy love relationship. Interestingly, I needed to learn that before I was ready to begin that relationship which reflects one of those wise truths about tending to yourself first.
The body is your first intimate relationship. I was spending time with a baby this weekend: Lucy, her 7 month old body in hand, reacted to impulses and stimuli with her whole body. Her ear hurts, her fists try to go in, her curiosity aroused, she observes intently, tired, she reacts with fussiness. She responds in relationship to how she is treated when she reacts to her body. Much is written about child development and there are various theories of why we learn to behave in the ways that we do. The point here is that our body is our best guide…always. We just have to evolve back and integrate our first true and authentic relationship. How does that relate to love relationships? When you give your partner a hug next time, just notice what happens to your body. Notice what happens in your mind. That’s all you need to do to get started on a new path. Your body won’t lie. Notice if you are feeling any tensions, sensations, especially in your stomach. (the second brain) If you can communicate what you are observing and your partner understands what you say then you have practiced a core communications strategy called Confiding. Confiding is the ability to communicate what you think and feel and feel safe with your partner. Confiding is not complaining. It is stating your reality of the moment. If you find yourself rehearsing what you should say, then you are filtering and feeding your stress. For more information on this skill I will refer you to www.pairs.com.
Another way into your body is a technique called muscle testing. There are simple strategies to access your own body’s wisdom. One easy one is called the sway test. Stand with balance and a calm mind. Make a statement that you know the answer is Yes. For example: I like chocolate. Then, watch the way your body moves without intentionally moving it. Make a statement with a No response and observe your reaction carefully. Practice for awhile and soon you will notice a pattern. When the answer is Yes, your body will sway one way and when the answer is no, it will sway another. Once you have it mastered, you can use this technique whenever you want. Anyone can learn it if they want to. I suggest you don’t use it when you are emotional – wait until you are calm and able to focus in on yourself.
My husband and I recently organized a workshop called Re-Awakening Love Relationships. One of the main experiences of the day was learning to do just that – are at any given time. If you can master that one, you will never be one of those couples that sit in a restaurant with nothing to talk about. You can always go back to your body and ask it what it is noticing and share these observations with your partner. It can be very sensual! See where the conversation goes and you will be surprised. Our bodies can talk and we can listen! Loving our own selves is the best investment for a long and lasting love relationship.
If you are interested we will be doing the workshop in the near future. Info on my website at https://www.relatecommunicate.com