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Relationship Alive!

Neil Sattin interviews John Gottman, Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix, Peter Levine, Stan Tatkin, Dick Schwartz, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Diana Richardson, Terry Real, Wendy Maltz - and many others - in his quest to dig deep into all the factors that keep a Relationship Alive and Thriving! Each week Neil brings you an in-depth interview with a relationship expert. Neil is an author and relationship coach who is enthusiastic and passionate about relationships and the nuts and bolts of what makes them last. You can find out more about Neil Sattin and the Relationship Alive podcast at http://www.neilsattin.com
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Now displaying: May, 2016
May 23, 2016

It’s common these days to hear people talking about having healthy boundaries - but what does that even mean? How would you know what a healthy boundary looks like? How do you honor other people’s boundaries? And if you’re experiencing a breakdown - how do you get back on the right track, so that you know what your boundaries are, and so that they’re respected by the other people in your life. Today’s guest is Sarri Gilman, a therapist for 30 years who has also directed several non-profits, and the author of the book “Transform Your Boundaries”. In this book, Sarri Gilman explains exactly what your boundaries are, and what they aren’t, and gives you guidance about how to bring your boundaries, and yourself, back online.

Here are the core topics that Sarri and I cover in this episode:

YESSES and NOs.  Boundaries are at the core of all relationships- if you interact with humans, you need boundaries! What are boundaries? Boundaries are a collection of your yesses and your nos. We can navigate through layers of complexity and many difficult situations when we come back to a knowing about what our yesses and what our nos are.

Boundary work is ongoing: As with so much in relationships, boundaries are not static entities. They change as we change, and vice versa. Forget about ever ‘mastering’ boundary setting - this is going to be a lifelong process! It takes time, and an investment in yourself too, to sort out your feelings so that you can get to know your own yesses, and nos. Of course there will be foggy and fuzzy situations, and grayness is a part of life, but the confusion cannot become an excuse to be uncertain of your boundaries. Instead, it means you may have to take extra time to check in with yourself.

Self care is at the heart of boundary work- Boundaries - which we often think of as interactional and relational - all stem from self-awareness, and self-care. Start noticing how many times a day people ask you for something. Then notice how many times each day you have the chance to clarify what is a yes and what is a no. Tune into yourself - can you locate that knowing of what you need? To what extent do you follow through on this knowing? Ask yourself - am I giving myself what I need right now? Am I taking time each day for self-care activities? Am I drinking enough water? Am I picking up my guitar? My knitting? Have I taken a computer break and stretched? Tune into you, and learn what it is you need each day to feel well and okay on the inside. From this awareness, you can come to know your true yesses and nos, and gain a stronger voice and clearer compass for navigating conflict around boundaries.

Where do you feel you are paying the price for not taking care of yourself? Not having healthy boundaries can lead to patterns of distraction, avoidance, and isolation. As you begin to increase your self-awareness around your yes and your no, you may begin to notice patterns of boundary avoidance, or compromise. So many of us have been conditioned to put others first, so that our boundaries are a response to what others need, rather than linked to self-care. Some common patterns of unhealthy boundary setting include workaholism, numbing out via internet, social isolation, as well as approval seeking. Do you find yourself looking for LOVE without looking for YOU? Are you so hungry to be loved/liked/approved of that you will do anything for this, without considering if it is actually good for you, or aligned with your real needs?

There is a line in any of these patterns that we do that is healthy, and okay up to a certain point. We are all going to have times we need to distract ourselves, put others first, or feel a need to isolate, and yet, it is key to have a way to check back in with ourselves. When we lose ourselves we lose control of our behavior, and this can lead to depression. On the contrary, if we hold boundaries that are too rigid and firm, they become imprisoning for ourselves and our soul/spirit.

What nurtures you? What is it that YOU need to feel alive, centered, and empowered? Tune into the very core needs you have on a daily and weekly basis, and make sure you are honoring them. Take an hour to read, time at the gym, a walk with a friend, a dinner date - these small acts of nurturance create the resilience, and self-compassion that makes us that much more open to our relationships.

Boundaries help to bring ourselves closer to others. Although it may at first sound paradoxical, good boundary setting allows for more authentic intimacy and connection. This is true because setting boundaries is the result of, and the contributor to our knowing ourselves better, which in turn brings those around us closer. Whether with your family, your work relationships, or your primary partnership, learning healthy boundary setting will lead to increased truthfulness, trust, and depth!

Scary, but worth it! Setting boundaries can be difficult and daunting. It can be especially hard if you are someone who has spent much of their life trying to care take of, or please those around you. What helps get through the immediate fear is looking towards the long term results and consequences. Not holding boundaries or following through on commitments with yourself has a huge price! We each have a spirit, or a part of us, that watches what we are doing all of the time - if it always sees you saying no to you, not following up on your own needs, then you may begin to feel depressed. Constantly saying no to ourselves, and trying to say yes to everyone else, can develop into depression, anger, and resentment.

Resentment: Resentment is the clearest signal that your boundaries have been crossed. It comes from a feeling that someone failed to respect our boundary - but it is not their job to do so! It is our job to state our boundaries, and to make them clear and big. If someone is crossing your boundary, it likely means you have to make a bigger sign. The fear and intimidation of doing so should not be a barrier - it is temporary and ephemeral, unlike resentment which does not leave us quickly, and can stick with us so long it make us sick. By allowing our fear of saying no to dominate, we run the risk of carrying around resentment- and then we are left paying that price for a long while. Instead, choose to take the risk of the discomfort of a NO in the name of authenticity, connectedness, and a more honest way of being in relationship! It is your job to respect and care-take your own boundaries. No one else can do this for you.

The art of saying NO: Once you have the courage and self-compassion to set a boundary, then it is your responsibility to do so with as much compassion for the other as you can. Many times our yesses and our nos come up with a lot of associated feelings - anger, frustration, entitlement, etc. Check in to see what level of emotional charge you are feeling, and if it is high, take steps (walk, journal, breathe...) to calm yourself enough so that you can state your boundary from a centered place. When we do so, it is better received than when we set a boundary with hot and high emotions. You may think that getting big and loud will help the other person see your boundary more clearly, but really it only distracts them, puts them in the defense, and leads to increased tension and conflict. Furthermore, with your emotions in check, you are more likely to feel grounded and have a ‘stand by it’ mentality that allows you to not be as affected or swayed by the (often) inevitable reaction you may get. It will help you stay committed to the boundary itself, without getting distracted or lost in all the feelings around it.

How to best handle your fear of communicating a NO: It is common to be worried about how your boundary is going to be received - and yet, often this fear is based on an assumption we are holding. Acknowledge that you have some fear about what a no is going to mean to the other person, and share this! If you are someone who hates to disappoint people, you can take care of them and this feeling simultaneously by simply stating “I am really sorry if you find this disappointing…” before you share your no. Putting it right out on the table is a way of creating more understanding. And helps to create a bridge between the two parties so that they do not get too lost in the emotionality of the process. This connecting is critical when you share boundaries, especially within your romantic relationship as it helps to hold the container and the safety necessary so that the no does not feel like a rupture of attachment. If your no comes from an authentic, self-honoring place, then it is inherently important, even if uncomfortable, for your partner to know about. The deeper your awareness of this, the more resilient you can be in your stance and more capable of holding the boundary, while holding the temporary hurt or harm your partner feels.

We want to get what we want. And we don’t like not getting it. You may find that people use anger and big emotion as a way to manipulate you to change your mind if you have stated a no, when they expected and wanted a yes. People ARE going to push up against you. Be ready for this- notice it and be okay with people having feelings about your inner boundaries. It is okay for people to not like it, or to be upset!  It is not a relationship breaker! Without feeding the drama, you can state something along the lines of “I understand that you are angry, and totally get why you are angry, and I am not going to change my mind. Let’s figure out together how else you can get what you need/want!”

What to do if you suspect that your partner’s NO stems from fear or avoidance: If you do not understand or trust the motives behind your partner’s No, use this doubt and confusion as an invitation for more understanding. Ask them to tell you more about their No. Where does it come from? What brought them to the No? How is it important to them? This curiosity and compassion will help you understand the deeper place your partner is coming from, while also creating a culture and a conversation that can help any stuckness or fear your partner has that is motivating their No, allowing it to dissipate. When we feel comfortable and respected in our relationships, our boundaries can come from that authentic core needs place, rather than from a more reactive and rigid place. This conversation about boundaries provides a chance for intimacy and connection - enjoy it! Explore it!

You ARE going to have a different yes and no than your partner. This understanding is critical in order to provide the flexibility and resilience necessary to get creative! The challenge is not to get on the same page, but rather how to prioritize and protect each other's needs without violating the other’s no. This process encourages creativity and spark! You CAN coexist with a values conflict if you are willing to expand the field a little bit, and start working together to find new solutions.

Connect with your partner each day. Take a minimum of 20 minutes each day to check in with each other. Ask each other questions, and listen! How are you feeling about this/that? What are you thinking about? Is there anything I need to know? What is on your heart? Find out what your partner needs for their self-care, and ask more about it. How can I help you? How can I better encourage that for you? How can I support from my end? Frequent quality check-ins help to create an environment where boundary work can happen in a more effective and mutually empowering way!

TRY THIS: In an effort to practice stating and receiving nos and yesses, you and your partner can take turns expressing to each other some things that you know your partner will say no to. Notice what it is like to receive a no. To state a no. Then try it with yesses. Feel free to laugh! This exercise is meant to help bring in some humor and take the charged energy out because once you can laugh with each other, you can more easily catch yourselves and turn towards regaining perspective.

Resources

For more information about Sarri Gilman’s work see her website here

Watch Sarri’s TEDx talk

Read Sarri’s book Transform Your Boundaries

Look for her app coming out Fall of 2016!

Check out episodes #14 Margaret Paul and #26 Dick Schwartz for more on getting in touch with your inner voice

www.neilsattin.com/boundaries Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with Sarri Gilman and qualify to win a copy of Transform Your Boundaries and her Transform-Your-Boundaries cards!

Our Relationship Alive Community on Facebook

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of:

The Railsplitters - Check them Out!

May 18, 2016

This week is going to be a little different. We’ve had so many new listeners join the podcast over the past couple months - and maybe you are one of them, that I wanted to give you an opportunity to catch up. So this mini-episode is going to be short and sweet, to give you a chance to go back through the more than 8 months worth of episodes and choose something interesting, or edgy, or simply choose something at random to check out. Week after week I’ve been striving to create unique, actionable content with the world’s top relationship experts, or people who are experts at skills needed in relationship - so I encourage you to take a moment and dive back into the archives.

I also wanted to mention something that I haven’t talked about at all on the podcast - if you haven’t gotten it yet, make sure you go to my website, neilsattin.com, and check out the “action plan” - which is available for FREE - all you have to do is go to the website and click the “send me the action plan” button, and you’ll get the guide that I wrote called “The Single Most Powerful Thing that Will Make or Break Your Relationship”. This guide is designed to give you clarity into how your relationship is or isn’t meeting your needs, and how to adjust things for the better - or, if you’re single, you’ll get insight into how to create a relationship that is truly going to get to the heart of what you’re looking for.

Whether you’re single and looking, in a relationship that’s good - but you want to make it better, or in a relationship that’s in trouble - I want to encourage you to get support. Way back in our very first episode, John Gottman mentioned that couples wait an average of six YEARS to get help - and let’s just say that six years is a LONG time, with lots of potential to create even more damage. Sometimes all it takes is one or two coaching sessions to experience a radical shift, to learn new skills and uncover the blind spots that are holding you back. So - don’t wait six years. If you’re interested in finding out more about what it would be like to work with me, you can email me at neilius at neilsattin.com - or simply text the word “SUPPORT” to the number 33444, and I’ll send you a link to my scheduler to set up a free conversation to chat about what’s going on with you and see whether or not we’d be a good fit to work together.

If you’re looking for a way to stay in touch as well as to connect with other people listening to relationship alive - check out our group on Facebook. It’s called the Relationship Alive Community - http://www.facebook.com/groups/RelationshipAliveCommunity - and I look forward to seeing you there!

Thanks again for listening to the show, and for the courage and willingness to show up for yourself, and, if you’re in one, for your relationship. Thanks also for helping to get the word out about the podcast. Relationship Alive was recently chosen by Women’s Health Magazine as one of the top 10 relationship podcasts - and part of the success of this show has been your willingness to help get the word out. If you can take a moment to let a few friends know about the podcast, or post it on Facebook or Twitter, I would be most grateful. We have more great episodes coming in the next several months, and I’ve also heard from many listeners that they’d like to hear more about the work that I do with my partner, Chloe - and more about what’s been helpful for us in our relationship. We just taught a workshop in Montreal called “Deepening Intimacy, the Art of Conscious Relationship” and I’m looking forward to having her on the show to talk about that, about the book we’re working on, and...well - you tell me! Drop me a line at neilius at neilsattin.com, or in the Relationship Alive Community facebook group, and let me know what questions you have for me or Chloe, and we’ll incorporate that into our show together.

Ok, now’s your chance to dive into the Relationship Alive archives and pick out something really juicy. I can’t wait to hear more about what you pick and how it’s helpful for you. Take care, and...see you next week!

May 10, 2016

Let’s face it, modern relationships can be kinda complex. And if you’re in a relationship with someone who has been divorced, and has children from their previous relationship - or if you have children from a previous relationship, then you’re probably in the middle of that kind of complexity. Back in Episode 21, with Katherine Woodward Thomas, we talked about Conscious Uncoupling and the inner work required to heal from past relationships so you can be present for your current relationship. In today’s episode, we’re going to tackle the topic of success in a post-divorce family head-on. There are challenges that are unique to this situation - and you’ll find that the strategies for succeeding come down to themes that we’ve been covering on the show. How do you connect, communicate, co-parent, and get really clear in a potentially complicated situation? That’s what today’s show is about.

Our guest is Susan Wisdom, retired therapist and author of the classic book “Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family”. It’s one of the few books on the topic - and fortunately it offers a lot of helpful information and strategies for strengthening your relationship, and your family, when you’re operating in a post-divorce world. If you’re not in this situation, then I think you’ll find that today’s show has some great insight that can help any relationship, especially if children are present.

In this conversation, Susan Wisdom and I cover the following:

The 4 C’s are helpful building blocks for successfully navigating stepcoupling, they are:

  • CONNECTION
  • COMMUNICATION
  • COPARENTING
  • CLARIFICATION

CONNECTION: Connection is that wonderfully good feeling that is the glue that keeps couples together. It can be in the form of a thought, a behavior, a caring action, or a feeling that conjures togetherness. The more connection that exists in the stepcouple, the better coparents you will be, and the sooner the children will feel safe and trusting of their new family dynamics.

COMMUNICATION: Communication is key in building and sustaining the stepcouple (and any relationship). It is important to learn to communicate in healthy ways, and from a place of deep respect and curiosity. Remember that listening and receiving is just as much part of communicating as voicing and articulating. When you hear your partner say something that begins to boil your blood or trigger you, try on a “hmmm” response- switching from immediate reactivity to questioning and curiosity. Clear communication relies on calmness- calm language and a calm nervous system- if you find yourself drifting out of this, take a deep breath and try again.

CO PARENTING: Issues around co parenting go hand in hand with a dedication to communication. Successful co parenting does not necessarily come naturally, rather it is a dynamic that must be addressed head on, created together, and continually nurtured. Face this  directly- develop a plan and find strategies that work for the two of you. As you do this, be patient with each other- you are not always going to get your own way. Instead, observe your partner as they parent, and be open to their influence. Furthermore, be open to the concept that by letting go of some control, you are helping to create a stronger team.  

CLARIFICATION: Be willing and able to look at your coparenting dynamic from multiple perspectives, and with a curious mind. Notice, inquire, and remain aware of how issues from the past are manifesting in your current relationship.

Stepcoupling- The foundation of a strong blended family relies on the health and strength of the step-couple themselves. When all's said and done, are you each fully committed and in love? Your YES will carry you through the constant challenges (and blessings) inevitable when raising a blended family. It is common for children of split families to try to drive a wedge into the new couple as a reaction to their still being upset about the loss of the original parental couple. If the stepcouple themselves does not feel like a team, the couple AND the children will begin to feel threatened, weakened, and ultimately untrusting. If on the other hand the couple is strong, then the children will begin to trust, adjust, and it will be more natural.

Be aware that an adjustment period is natural for all- and be careful to balance your attention between the bond you must maintain with your children, and your excitement for this new blossoming relationship you are in. Know that it is possible! The good news is that if you travel the distance together, there is a tremendous amount of love and fun that is possible!

Differences are inevitable and beautiful. There is often a period of shock for partners after deciding to move in together because there are dynamics and details that were never visible or experienced during the honeymoon phase. Accept that these challenges are inevitable. Be patient, join support groups, get counseling, and begin to bust through these unrealistic co parenting expectations and myths:

MYTH 1: You will quickly and naturally adjust to your partner’s children once you

get married.

MYTH 2: You will instantly love your stepchildren as you love your own children

MYTH 3: You will attach and bond equally with all children in the family

You don’t have to immediately love your step children. Shall we repeat this? You do not have to immediately love your step children. In fact, it is very natural and normal to not love your step children. So stop shaming yourself if you find that you do not love your partner’s children as if they are your own, and focus on being a responsible adult, caring for the children, and responding and providing for their needs. Honor the fact that your relationship with your stepchildren is a unique and different form of relationship, and allow the love to grow in its own time.

It is all a work in progress. It can be helpful to acknowledge that blending your families together is essentially an exercise of figuring out how a group of strangers can fit together. This adjustment is going to look different for every family, and for every member of the family. It will develop over time, and it will develop that much stronger if the couple does not hold tightly to expectation that “we love each other so this should be easy”. It is unrealistic to believe that you will agree on how to  raise or discipline your children, in fact, you may never together agree- but you can find ways to compromise and to create new ways together. Remember the beauty and gift of blending families is that you get to develop your own family system!

Styles and value differences in families can be DELIGHTFUL.  Parenting is always difficult, and coparenting can be exponentially harder because there are inherently more differences in the picture. Not only is the couple coming from different backgrounds (as is true in all couples) but the children also come into the new family with their own differences in backgrounds, experiences, temperaments, genes, traditions, values, senses of humor, etc. In original families it is possible to maintain an illusion of some cohesion in values, but as soon as you are working in a blended family, all bets are off! It is up to the stepcouple to hold a space for all these differences, and in order to do so there must be strength, love, humor as the glue to hold together the differences of the couple themself! You will have to try to do anything and everything to foster acceptance of the breadth of experience and values that are now essentially being married together. On the toughest days, try on the mantra: different can be delightful! Can you find ways with your partner and your kids to celebrate this chance you have to redefine values, create new patterns, and cohabitate a myriad of differences?

Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be together? As you figure out what is going to help make your family stay together over time, return to this question often. Learn to recognize when you are triggered, stop playing the right/wrong game, and find ways to ground yourself in a process (versus immediate result) oriented view. There WILL be compromises. There WILL be adjustments. There WILL be misunderstandings. And there WILL be solutions.

Try to not take it personally. Do you find yourself saying “my stepkids do not respect me” or “my stepkids never listen to me”? Taking behavior personally is a common and nearly universal reaction for stepparents.  Have patience with your vulnerability, while trying to not take your stepchildren’s actions too personally. The truth is that they do not know you yet, and they are likely not excited about your entry into the family- for reasons having nothing to do with who you are, rather with that you represent a loss and change. Furthermore, the children are protecting themselves from more disruption and change by testing you to see if you will stay. This trust takes time. And in the meantime, remind yourself often that these children have good reason to not trust, and that their extreme behavior is likely a manifestation of their incredible self-protective instincts.

Get curious. Bear in mind, especially in the hardest moments, to embody the qualities of RESPECT and CURIOSITY. Get seriously curious. Who are these children? Where did these children come from? What do they like? What do they not like? Get to know these children. Try dedicating time to get to know each kid independently, while also creating times and ways for the whole family to come together, whether this is during meals, weekend activities, or certain rituals and traditions. Your place as a stepparent will develop over time, and it will come from personal authority versus positional authority. You are setting yourself up for major struggle and tension if you come in believing that “these children should respect me- I’m the adult here”. Personal authority, instead of positional authority, develops from the slow building of rapport and trust. It is slower to develop but it is genuine and long lasting.

Extend curiosity to your partner. As you begin to blend your families, you will begin to observe reactions, responses, actions, and patterns in your partner that you might not have been aware of before. Do not assume you understand why your partner does or believes what they do- ask! The more questions you ask yourself and your partner the more clarity and connection you will feel that will help to create that sense of togetherness that is essential in building a strong family foundation. Ask your partner what their relationship is to cleanliness, to religion, to money. Ask how their parents disciplined them, how their parents showed affection, how they were taught to respect their parents, and on and on. You can get creative with your curiosity! This inquiry will yield helpful insight, at the same time as it will develop a sense of feeling respected and invested in. Nothing is more loving than asking those open-ended questions that say ‘my heart wants to understand you’.

Acknowledge the children’s feelings and discomfort. Even in the best case scenarios, familial transitions and blending of families is disruptive for children. It is confusing for kids, and it must be known and appreciated that it will take a while for kids to trust the new arrangements. It takes time, gentleness, developmentally appropriate responses, flexibility, and consistency. Truly be there. For the good, the bad, and the ugly, the stepcouple must be there. The stepcouple must show the children that their relationship is strong enough to keep the kids safe, and they must model for the children that having mixed emotions is okay and tolerable. Be aware that the stress that you feel as a couple reverberates throughout the family, and take responsibility for looking inwards when there is stuff coming up with kids.

See yourself as the source of your experience- Be mindful of any victim narrative you are living in. Meaning that if you find yourself feeling like this family happened to you, instead of it being a conscious choice you made, then take a moment to step back. Check your triggers. Check your sense of self. No matter how lost, weak, small, or helpless you feel, remind yourself that you are an adult who has the power to shift the dynamics, and that you are always able to change how you relate to the reality that is your new family situation. The children, and your spouse, will respond to your sense of self confidence, and the whole family will feel more stable and safe when you are able to reconnect with your own strength. When you are rocked, reach out for support- ask your partner, your friends, your community to help you find the strength to be with what is, and to change what is needed.

Resources

Learn more at Susan Wisdom’s website

Read Wisdom’s book Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today's Blended Family

www.neilsattin.com/stepcoupling Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with Susan Wisdom and qualify to win a free copy of Susan’s book, Stepcoupling.

Our Relationship Alive Community on Facebook

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of:

The Railsplitters - Check them Out!

May 3, 2016

How does your biochemistry affect your relationship? Are there ways to foster the inner chemicals of love to keep things feeling fresh and vibrant? Today we’re talking about the big “O” - Oxytocin - and its impact on how we fall into love, and keep love going. In other earlier episodes on the show, we’ve talked about oxytocin, and oxytocin versus dopamine - and it seemed like it was time to go straight to the source of much of what we know about how oxytocin works.

Today’s guest is Sue Carter, Director of the Kinsey Institute, and Rudy Professor of Biology at Indiana University. Sue was the first person to figure out oxytocin’s role in how we bond with our partners - so if you hear people talking about this “love chemical” - they’re probably talking about her work or work that’s based on her work. We’re going to chat about what we know about oxytocin, what we don’t know, and how to use the science to help you improve things with your partner.

The Love Hormone: Oxytocin is often seen as the ‘love hormone’. It was first discovered to be involved in love in the early 1970’s when it was found to be present in the birth process. Since that time it has been proven to play a key role in birth, as well as in the bonding of mother and child. More recently it has been discovered that oxytocin affects our brains, and is involved in the biological and neurological system of attachment between parents and children, and between adult partners.

Why is oxytocin so important in successful long term relationships? Anything that lasts a long time in human behavior has to have a biochemical or biological basis. There has to be a mechanism that allows us to fall in love, one that helps keep us together, as well as a mechanism for allowing break ups to happen. The question of why oxytocin is so important is complicated to answer, but the short answer is that it is a mammalian hormone with an ancient biochemistry (meaning it existed before the emergence of mammals) and it is reused many times for many purposes. The most important things in a human life require oxytocin to be present. This includes birth, caring for offspring, finding a mate, creating a social bond with our partners, and restoration and healing in the face of stress.

All mammals have a very similar brain stem.  The basic biology of pair bonding and of attachment is possible using old neural mechanisms and is housed in old parts of our brain - the parts of our brain stem which we share with all other mammals. Many believe that the most important organ for connection is our brain. In fact, Woody Allen once said, that the brain is his “second favorite sex organ”.  The brain is directly engaged in the process of both falling in love and experiencing positive forms of sex.

Fostering oxytocin production: We can get low level oxytocin production through simple social behaviors- interacting, play, being in a socially safe place, and engaging with others. The most reliable way to release higher levels of oxytocin in humans is via sexual behavior, specifically orgasm. Another activity with high oxytocin production is birth - in which the hormone is released in repeated bursts.

Parent and child - All human babies need a caretaker, and it appears that oxytocin is critically involved in the bonding and attachment necessary to keep children cared for. Attachment behaviors found between parents and children produce similar oxytocin producing results between two adults. For example, it is a fact that the human breast has a monosynaptic connection between the breast and hypothalamus- meaning there is a direct route from the breast to the brain*. This route is not limited to nursing- any kind of breast stimulation has the potential to release oxytocin with other stimulation, if in the right context.

*Men also have this same nipple neural network.

We have a biology that is beautifully attuned to allow us to attach to people that are safe, and people that we have good potential to become long term partners with. Oxytocin is a very clever molecule! Oxytocin works within a background of a set of complex hormones, and never in isolation. It is highly tuned to context, and is sensitive to high levels of stress. This means that consensual sexual interactions are critical for positive and oxytocin producing physiological responses. Although safety is a very relative concept, our bodies are highly tuned to know how to assess for safety.

You can’t just read the sex manual. By all means enjoy reading sex manuals, learning new how tos, and fun tricks, but remember that no matter how well you are trained in the ‘technology’ of sex, there is no assurance it is going to work! You can learn to touch here/suck that, but know that meaningful and fulfilling sexual interactions involve both partners, some key biological processes, and a whole lot of consent. As humans we are always reading the social cues of those that we are forming relationships with. We listen for verbal cues, and are constantly scanning for subtle body language. Always remember that your partner may be having a very different experience than you are. That said, take your time, put yourself in their experience, and look for invitations to move forward.

What makes internet dating so challenging? Our bodies use neuroception - our nervous system’s decision making process - to help read physical and social cues to assess safety. Online dating makes this very difficult, and may explain that feeling of disappointment when you finally meet someone in person who you had amazing internet interactions with. Be patient, and trust your body to know who is a good match.

How to nurture oxytocin - We humans get bored, and our body is designed to seek spontaneity, variety, and novelty in our lives. Yes we have a need for stability and certainty, but our nervous system also craves stimulation and growth! Oxytocin is involved in both the seeking of safety and in the capacity for not fearing the strange. This allows us to enter into novel situations, and enter into new relationships! Without oxytocin there would be no change, and perhaps no partnering at all!  

If you want to up the game and make things feel a bit more potent with your partner, then engage in activities that you find mutually exciting and interesting. It is not enough to just feel safe, on top of the secure base there must be something that makes the relationship feel dynamic and exciting. How well is your relationship balanced? Is there too much variety and not enough safety? Or vice versa, too much safety and not enough variety? Play around with the balance, and check in with each other to help come to a working definition that feels right to both of you.

What is happening at the Kinsey Institute - The Kinsey institute is constantly at the cutting edge of research about love, sexuality, and bonding. Currently they are exploring the concept of contact - trying to understand the messy and complex process by which we assess and make better partner decisions. They are also researching how to better help people repair after sexual assault and trauma. Lastly, they are looking into the ramifications of certain medical procedures and surgeries on reproductive and sexual processes.

Resources

Check out what the Kinsey Institute is up to

www.neilsattin.com/oxytocin Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide.

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Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of:

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