How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Partner with Dr. Sarah Salzman (Episode 202)

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How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Partner with Dr. Sarah Salzman (Episode 202)

Dr. Doni talks with Dr. Sarah Salzman about How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Partner
Relationships thrive when both partners can feel esteemed, heard, understood and supported. Dr. Sarah Salzman joins Dr. Doni to talk about how to improve your relationship and achieve fulfillment by really connecting with your partner.

When a couple can really communicate and build the kind of relationship where they both feel esteemed, heard, understood, and supported, then they both can bring their own missions to their families, communities, and careers in the world. 

My guest today is Dr. Sarah Salzman, a leading couples psychologist and the founder and CEO of the Couples Communication Institute. That means she specializes in helping humans to communicate with each other, especially in a relationship with each other. 

Just think how much more you can accomplish when you have the true backing of a connected partner.

The Evolution of Human Relationships

The evolution of relationships is a huge topic. Stories about marriage used to be about getting married to either join kingdoms or join properties, or to raise a family who would help you with your farming, things like that. Marriage for love is only a couple hundred years old!

Now, not only do we kind of expect to be married for love, but we expect to be married for committed or long-term relationships for deep personal growth and fulfillment. And that is a lot to ask of a relationship. 

So really, in modern times, if you want to have that connected, lasting, deeply fulfilling relationship that I think we do all want, it takes a lot of extra focus and intention, and motivation and hard work.

Seeking Help for a Better Relationship

The thing is, we are not taught how to be in a supportive relationship. We’re not taught this anywhere in our lives. So a lot of people find themselves in a relationship because we have an innate desire to be with another human and of course to be able to create a family and have that intimacy and connectivity. And yet sometimes people then find themselves in a relationship and then find it becoming very tense and difficult. 

A really famous quote from Dr. John Gottman is that people wait an average of six or seven years beyond when they first knew they needed help. People tend to wait until things have become so tense, and things have deteriorated to the point where therapy is a last resort.

Still, there are skills that you can learn, and practices that you can get better at in order to have a much better relationship. Don’t wait to get help! 

Even better is for couples to seek help together. By going to couples therapy together they can learn how to work with each other, and practice how to talk with each other. 

At the same time, many people seek help wanting to work on themselves and learn how they can be better in a relationship. That’s really a powerful thing when you know that you don’t know how to do a relationship, or that you don’t know how to be a good listener, or you don’t know how to settle yourself down. You can get help by yourself to build those skills.

How Childhood Experiences Influence Adult Relationships 

We are shaped by our parents and the people who raised us, unquestionably. Some people learned, for example, to eat with a fork. Other people learned to eat with chopsticks. It’s never going to leave us. It’s part of us. And it’s the same thing with how our parents related to each other. It’s just in there. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that we have to model it. We might do the opposite. We might have seen our parents always fighting and we might vow – I’m not going to do that. But there’s a big gap there. What do we do instead? We never got to see what to do instead.

If there’s something that a person is triggered by with their partner, it’s important to take some time and calm down and think about it. Take a day or two, to come together with intention to have a conversation about what just happened, and what set us off. And then to spend some time reflecting and sharing with your partner what that trigger was.

Vulnerability in a Relationship

This is going to sound like a tangent, but it’s not a tangent. This speaks to the one and only fight or flight response that we have built into our bodies. We evolved to be able to protect ourselves and stay alive in the face of life-threatening danger. 

The whole sympathetic nervous system burst is the change where we are now ready to attack or run away or whatever – that’s the way we respond to something that’s threatening. 

Now, when we feel uncomfortable or when we feel embarrassed or when we feel some negative emotion, like “I’m not sure how this is gonna go,” the same fight or flight response is triggered. 

One of the solutions is to learn how to relax your body when you are feeling upset. When you make the conscious choice, “I don’t want to just sit here being upset. I want to move beyond this,” step number one is to learn how to relax yourself, how to soothe yourself, how to do self-soothing. Tell yourself things like, “It’s OK. It’s not dangerous. I can become vulnerable to my partner because my partner is not a saber-tooth tiger.”

Evolutionarily, vulnerability is death. If we were vulnerable in front of the saber-tooth tiger, we were dead in one second. It was lights out. So we have to develop a skill where we can calm ourselves down enough to see our partner as a safe person to open up and share.

But we have to use discernment. Is it true that we’re safe? Or have we been abused? And if we’ve been abused, we can’t sweep that under the rug. Maybe both partners can change. Maybe an abusive partner can go to anger management. But we have to assess what’s going on in our relationship. And if your partner is dangerous to you, go get help by yourself. Go see a domestic violence counselor and get help. 

When you’re in a new relationship with a new person who is proving themselves to be safe, then yes, you can work this out and learn together how to calm both of yourselves down so you can make sure to keep your conversations constructive.

How to Take a Break During Tense Situations

When you’re in a tense situation, and you recognize that you’re not relaxed, or you’re not just like hanging out anymore. Suddenly you can feel your muscles are tense or your throat is closed or you’re having worried thoughts, it’s important to take a break. You don’t have to answer. You don’t have to continue. 

You can say, “You know what, I’m feeling a little bit too overwhelmed right now. I want to take a break for a few minutes.” Or you can say, “I need to go to the bathroom,” or “You know what, give me a few minutes. I need to gather myself.” And then you go and you take some time to calm down, whether it’s deep breathing, meditation, or something like that.

If you try to take a break and the other person says, “Oh no, you get back here. We’re not done,” that’s not necessarily abusive, but is that the kind of relationship you want to stay in long-term? If you can really talk this out and let them know, “When I let you know that I need to take a break, I need that to be respected,” if they don’t respect that, abusive or not, that’s not a situation we want to stay in.

The thing about being in fight or flight is, it’s the animal brain and your body reacting. The higher processing, smart parts of your brain are not working. When you feel the problem-solving brain coming back online as you calm yourself down, you might be able to say, “You know what, I realize I’m a little overwhelmed. I need to take a break.” If you can’t say that yet, just keep calming yourself down. Take those deep breaths. And you can stay in that bathroom as long as you’d like.

The Importance of Self-Soothing

Some research shows that it can take 20 minutes for all of those fight or flight chemicals to get processed and out of your bloodstream and into your urine. If you’re in fight or flight mode and you’re starting to fight with your partner and you’re yelling and you’re screaming, you’re going to need at least 20 minutes, if not an hour or two or more, to calm yourself down. 

If you have that awareness, like, “Oh, I’m getting tense,” your central nervous system may be sending out the adrenaline, but maybe there hasn’t been too much adrenaline yet, and maybe there hasn’t been any cortisol yet. You can come back from that state more quickly. 

When you go and take a break, you really just want to focus on calming down. What you do not want to do is what’s called rehearsal. You don’t want to be saying to yourself things like, “I can’t believe they said that to me,” and “Oh my gosh, I should have said this,” and “How dare they do that.” That just keeps you stirred up. That’s just you inside fighting or running away in your brain, and it doesn’t settle anything down.

The Importance of Staying Connected

Poor communication is the number one reason couples split up. There’s something so important in being human, in making eye contact with each other and being in the same room and looking at each other. So if we’re talking with our partner and they’re looking at their phone, how do we feel? 

We feel like their attention is not on us and they must not care about us. That’s universal, whether you’re a man or a woman, and it’s universal whether you’re in your 20s or whether you’re in your 80s. It’s not a generational thing. So rather than a phone, it could be a book, or it could be the newspaper, or it could be the television. If we’re not engaging with good eye contact, the other person feels that viscerally. That’s the key to communication, whoever you are.

If you would like to learn about your communication skills, you can take Dr. Sarah’s Couples Communication Quiz. It’s a two-minute quiz where you’ll find out which communication zone you’re in, and you’ll get a free 8-page guide about communication. And depending on the zone that you’re in, you’ll get tips for just one or two great steps to start with, to start building your communication towards a healthier communication zone, towards healthier communication with your partner.

To learn more from Dr. Sarah Salzman and how she can help you and your partner, check out her website here. You can also find her on Instagram @couplescommunicationinstitute or Facebook @Couples Communication Institute with Dr. Sarah Salzman.

To learn more about my Stress and Trauma Recovery Protocol®, which can also help you improve your communication skills and relationships, you can read my latest book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health. My protocol involves optimizing cortisol and adrenaline levels using nutrients, herbs and C.A.R.E.™, my proprietary program to support clean eating, adequate sleep, stress recovery and exercise.

For the most comprehensive support, even with the most difficult health issues (physical or mental), it is best to meet with me one-on-one, which is available to you no matter where you are in the world (via phone or zoom). You can set up a one-on-one appointment here.

Thank you all so much for joining me today. If you are new, I invite you to subscribe and send me comments and reviews. I appreciate all of you listening and I look forward to connecting with you again in the next episode of How Humans Heal.

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Disclaimer: This specific article and all other Content, Products, and Services of this Website are NOT intended as, and must not be understood or construed as, medical care or advice, naturopathic medical care or advice, the practice of medicine, or the practice of counseling care, nor can it be understood or construed as providing any form of medical diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease.

For more on the topic, see my interview with Sandy Weiner in Episode 164.

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