Connection: How To Improve Your Relationships Today

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Connection is the name of the game when it comes to relationships. But how do you know when your habits are wearing out that connection, causing problems in your relationships or even ending them? In part 6 of the Success Starts Here series, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen introduce the mnemonic R.E.L.A.T.I.N.G., which breaks down what you need to implement to ensure success with those you love.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I am Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brainmd, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. Success starts here, and it's clearly involved your brain.

Tana Amen: In everything you do.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Especially your relationships.

Tana Amen: For sure.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so this lesson is called Connect. How can you use your brain to improve your relationships. And one of the most interesting things I learned from imaging work is that when a person's brain is better, they actually become more thoughtful. They become more loving.

Tana Amen: I think that's true.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They become better connected. And so many years ago, I had a patient from Sacramento named Rad. And he came to see me after he tried to kill himself. And he tried to kill himself by turning on his car in his garage with all the door and windows closed, because his wife left him. And she left him, he said, because he was the anger broker of the Sacramento Valley. And when he first came to see me, he was sort of an ass.

I mean, I know you're not supposed to say that, but he was rude to my staff. I was like 10 minutes late. I'm the most on-time doctor you'll ever meet. And he starts chewing me out right away. At the end of the first session, I said, "Look, I'm gonna send you for a scan, because I need to get you better quickly, because I am not going to treat you, if you don't treat me with respect. And so I sent him over to the imaging center, and then he called me from the imaging center complaining about the technologies.

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He was just so awful. But his brain came back, and it was damaged on the left side.

Tana Amen: From the carbon monoxide?

Dr. Daniel Amen: No.

Tana Amen: Oh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He was an ass like way ... That's why his wife was leaving him-

Tana Amen: I see, but that didn't help.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... because he was an ass.

Tana Amen: That couldn't have helped.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It didn't help, but I'm like, "Did you ever have a head injury?" And he said, "No." And I said, "Well, are you are sure?"

Tana Amen: Oh, yeah. I know this whole routine. You asked him like nine times.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I did, and he had a bad bike accident going down a Colorado mountain, and he had cingulate from hell. So he had damage to his left frontal lobe. That's the happy side of your brain. Happiness lives in the left front part of your brain.

Tana Amen: So if you kill that-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And hurt his left temporal lobe, so short temper, mood instability, irritability, dark thoughts. And he had this cingulate from hell.

Tana Amen: Could never let it go.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Just couldn't let it go. And so I gave him some medicine to stabilize his temporal lobes, to calm down his cingulate, and no lie. Three weeks later, he's bringing flowers to the girls up front.

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He's so kind. "I'm so sorry. I'm so grateful I have you. Please don't leave me."

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: "Everybody leaves me, because I'm an ass." And he just ... And I saw him for, I don't know, years, and he just became the most consistently loving person, because his brain worked better.

Tana Amen: That's amazing. But we see it all the time.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We see it all the time.

Tana Amen: Right. We see it all the time.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So let's talk about some brain-based habits to elevate your relationships. So obviously it's taking care of and balancing your brain. So I came up with this little mnemonic, because I like those things, called relating. So R is for responsibility.

Tana Amen: We just talked about that in the last lesson.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We did, and, you know, people say, "Oh, it's 50/50. She's not doing her part, so I'm not gonna do my part."

Tana Amen: It's 100/100.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You have to do your whole thing.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And what I found, so it used to be, so the common lore is it takes two to make a relationship. And so, you know, I was always thinking if I couldn't get the other person in, and we work as a couple, that I would have no success with people. And then I realized there's ways to say things, and there are ways to say things.

Tana Amen: No doubt.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so as I empowered one person to be more focused, kinder, more purposeful, their partner became more focused, kinder, and purposeful. So I do this exercise with them, and I love doing this. So say it's a couple that's having problems. Or I recently had a 13-year-old that was having problems with his dad. And I went, "So how do you make your dad mad?" He's like, "What do you mean?" I said, "I know you know how to make him crazy. How do you make your dad yell at you?" And he said, "Well, I won't talk to him when he comes in, or I'll be disrespectful to him, or I'll purposefully make noises when he wants us to be quiet."

Tana Amen: It's amazing, right? Kids actually do this. They think it out.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I know exactly how to make you crazy.

Tana Amen: You do.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: You do. You don't. Thank, god you don't do it, because-

Dr. Daniel Amen: But I don't. But I know it. And the reason I want you to ask yourself this question, so think of the relationship you want better, how do you make it worse, because now we're talking about responsibility is you're a powerful person. And if you can make it worse, how do you make it better? What are the things? Because I know exactly what would trigger you.

Tana Amen: Oh, yeah. You could walk in and tell me, "Shut the hell up and do what you're told."

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's like, "Take that dress off." But I don't do that.

Tana Amen: No. Thank god. I would not respond well.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because, and the reason I don't do that besides I love you is I will never get what I want, which is a kind-

Tana Amen: You will get lots of what you don't want.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... caring, loving, supportive, passionate relationship. And so I am using my frontal lobes, empathy, purpose, goal-directed [crosstalk 00:07:03].

Tana Amen: So you can see, though, where this would be a problem. So you've got someone like me who has the cingulate who can react to somebody who's aggressive. And then you've got somebody who's had a head injury. You see the problem there. Someone who has low frontal lobe and maybe also has had their left temporal lobe damaged. And now all of a sudden that person's sort of mean, angry, comes in and just says whatever, says some mean things. And you put that someone with someone like me-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And then they can't let it go.

Tana Amen: Right. And I'm not the kind of person who will back down.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And domestic violence actually happens when you have one or both brains that aren't working right.

Tana Amen: Isn't that crazy? It's like but you start to understand.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's one of the big lessons that we have learned. So R is for responsibility. What is it I can do today to make this better and get rid of blame? Because it's just not helpful. E is for empathy, which is the frontal lobe function. It's beginning to see things from their point of view. L is for listening. So important, and we so suck at it as a society. Right? People are talking over each other. And I love active listening. So this family member of ours that we're coaching, and she's like, "My daughter won't talk to me." And I'm like, "Well, it's because you talk over her and you don't listen." And, "Well, she won't talk to me." I took her for a walk a couple of days ago, and she's just like a little chatterbox.

Tana Amen: Well, and it takes practice. Because when I first learned this, you really helped me with this with our daughter. When you first learn, you know, as moms we're often, we think our role is to just tell our kids what to do and to do it right, like give them the instructions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And give them all the wisdom.

Tana Amen: Right. Give them the wisdom as opposed to listening to what they have to say, and then asking questions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And letting them solve it themselves, because then they develop a sense of competence.

Tana Amen: Right. But it takes practice.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So active listening is whenever someone says something, repeat back the last four or five words you hear and listen for the feelings of it. And then repeat back what you hear.

Tana Amen: And if you-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And then shut up.

Tana Amen: Right. That's the hard part.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If you shut up-

Tana Amen: Yeah. It's the hard part.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And then they will continue to talk, and then you can listen, and listening is involved with bonding.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If you talk over them, and you don't listen, they will stop talking to you.

Tana Amen: And now, like I said, it takes practice, but now it's so much fun, because I'll start that process. I'll take my daughter for a drive. For some reason when we're driving is when she opens up, and it's amazing. So but I'll ask a question, and she'll just go on and on and on. And then she'll sort of stop. And so I'll ask her another question. And then she'll just go on and on and on. But you learn so much about your kids.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's very interesting, because as a child psychiatrist what we learned was to play games with kids. Because if you just had them sit on the couch and say, "Okay, tell me your pain, they won't talk to you."

Tana Amen: They don't even really know how to.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But if you start playing cards with them, they will begin to open up and share what's on their mind. So a lot of parents go, "I'm not paying $400 for you to play with the child." But that's not actually what we're doing.

Tana Amen: It's why art therapy works, too. Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The A in relating is for appropriate assertiveness. So this is really important. I have had to teach this to so many patients over the years. If you don't ask for what you need in an appropriate way, you will never get it, because your husband or your wife is no good at reading your mind.

Tana Amen: And women are notorious for this.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And their level of anxiety really gets in the way.

Tana Amen: Or they think, "Well, he should know. If he were really a good husband, he would know what I want and what I need."

Dr. Daniel Amen: Some husbands are not good at reading your mind. And you need to tell them more than once, because they have a short attention span.

Tana Amen: That's [crosstalk 00:11:01].

Dr. Daniel Amen: T is for actual physical time. Relationships and bonding require that. So, you know, you come home and you want sex, and you've not called, you've not talked to her, you're not taking her out-

Tana Amen: Yeah. Good luck with that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you don't go for a walk. It's like forget it. I is for inquiry. So that's correcting the automatic negative thoughts, ants. So if you have ants and your spouse has ants, the ants mate with each other, and you end up with super negative ants. N is for noticing what you like more than what you don't like.

Tana Amen: You're really good at that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I think that's how you shape behavior. And G is for connecting in groups or social networks. So I wrote, you can help me with this, 10 Ways to Sabotage Your Relationship. So what is number one?

Tana Amen: Number one is a poor attitude. So you expect the conversation to go nowhere, and you don't try to direct it in a positive way. Negative assumptions about the other person feed into your poor attitude, and upfront you don't trust the other person, so you remain stiff and guarded when you're together. Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So you expect things are gonna turn out badly.

Tana Amen: They're gonna turn out badly.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You are predicting the worse. Or you have unclear expectations and needs. You expect people to guess what you want and need? Or do you communicate with them? People are not mind readers, or they're not very effective at reading your mind.

Tana Amen: Number three is not to reinforce. If you're not reinforcing body language. So no reinforcing body language. Body language is very important. It sends both conscious and unconscious messages. Isn't it true that only, like it's less than 30% of communication is actually verbal.

Dr. Daniel Amen: What you say.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. So you could be talking to me, and I could be on my phone, rolling my eyes, grunting.

Tana Amen: Right. And the being on social media thing is what makes me crazy when people are not paying attention to you. So when you fail to make eye contact or acknowledge the other person with facial or body gestures, he or she begins to feel lost, alone, unenthusiastic about continuing the conversation. I mean, just think about when you're talking to someone, and they're just sitting there looking at their email going, "Uh-huh. Uh-huh." You're like, "Why am I even bothering?"

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: So I noticed, this is really interesting, in martial arts, they teach little kids, they start them out really young. It's like you have to make eye contact, because kids today don't make eye contact like they used to, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: No, their heads are buried in their phones.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Four, competing with distractions. So like what you just said. Distractions frequently doom communication.

Tana Amen: Number five is never asking for feedback on what you're saying. So you can't assume that you're sending clear messages to the other person and think that they're understanding it. In fact, what they understand might be completely different from what you're saying to them. So you need to actually make sure they're understanding it. And that's why one of the things you taught me about with the active listening is to also repeat back. "I think what I'm hearing you say is," or, "I've heard you say," you know, and then repeat back. It's really important.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Six is kitchen sinking. This occurs in arguments where people feel backed into a corner, so they bring up completely unrelated things from the past to protect themselves or to stir stuff up further. So you want to stay on track. What are we really discussing?

Tana Amen: Right. Seven is what we talked about earlier, mind reading. So you arbitrarily predict what another person is thinking and then react on the imagined information, and it might not even be true. So mind reading is often a projection of what you think as opposed to what's real. Even after couples have been married for 30 years, it's impossible to know what they are thinking.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: You might be better at it-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because sometimes you'll go, "Oh, you're thinking this." And I'm like, "I'm not." I'm not lying to you, I just, I wasn't thinking that, and we know each other really well.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Eight is having to be right. This destroys effective communication. When a person has to be right in a conversation, there is no communication, only [inaudible 00:15:15].

Tana Amen: I've actually seen that become abusive. I've actually seen that be abusive in relationships, where someone won't let something go. They're yelling at you. They're screaming at you, because they won't quit until you agree with them, even what they're saying is completely absurd.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That happens a lot.

Tana Amen: It's horrible. That's abusive.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. It happens a lot.

Tana Amen: And I see parents do it to kids, and it's terrible.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Sparring using put downs, sarcasm, or discounting the other's ideas erodes meaningful dialogue and sets up distance in the relationship.

Tana Amen: And a lack of monitoring and followup. So often it takes repeated efforts to get what you need. You can't just say, "Well, I told you that three years ago," and think that that person's going to really understand. I mean, when you are trying to teach your children something, do you give up after one time if they don't get it right? Right? And I'm not saying that your spouse is like your child. I'm saying relationships take that constant attention. So it's very important not to give up. When you give up asking for what you need, you often silently resent, or sometimes not so silently, resent the other person, which subverts the whole relationship.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So better brain, better relationship, but it's still critical to put these habits in your everyday life. And the more connected you are, the longer you live.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Stay with us. Success starts here. Thank you for listening to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of The Brain Warrior's Way and The Brain Warrior's Way cookbook we give away every month.