Do You Struggle In Relationships? This Could Be Why

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

Being connected is one of the most important functions of being human. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most problematic. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen share their tips for successful relationships through their powerful mnemonic “RELATING.”


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

Tana Amen: And I'm 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: Here we are. Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Do you have some testimonials you want to read?

Tana Amen: I do. First, I want to say, "Welcome back." I had to do a bunch of these by myself because you were hibernating, finishing your book.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Feel better fast, make it last.

Tana Amen: No one-

Dr. Daniel Amen: We'll be talking about-

Tana Amen: ... saw you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: No, I did-

Tana Amen: I missed you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Wow. It's nice to be back.

Tana Amen: I mean, it was nice having you home, but I missed doing recording with you and doing stuff with you, so I am happy to have my husband back. I love this. So let's see. "Aloha, aloha from Canada." How does that make sense? Anyways-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because they know what we're going to talk about today.

Tana Amen: Oh maybe so. Anyways, "Dr. Amen and Mrs. Amen are amazing coaches. This is tomorrow's medicine today. Everyone can benefit from their research and experience. They simplify how to do it. Love them." I love that because that's exactly what we're trying to do, and notice I did really well since I didn't put my contacts in. Yikes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Wow. I actually liked that. I'm going to write that down. Tomorrow's medicine today.

Tana Amen: And we simplify how to do it. That's the whole point.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, did you hear that Pfizer actually laid off a whole bunch of people, and they're getting out of the Alzheimer's business?

Tana Amen: Oh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because they're like, "We're not finding a drug that will cure brain diseases."

Tana Amen: Oh holy moly.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The reason is because there is not one drug that is gong to cure your memory. What you have to do-

Tana Amen: Prevention.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... which I talk about in Memory Rescue, and we talk about in the Brain Warrior's Way, is it's prevention.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's, if you want to keep your brain healthy or rescue it, if you think it's headed for trouble, you have to prevent or treat the 11 major risk factors that steal your mind. We've talked about them and the mnemonic is BRIGHT MINDS. So, B is for blood flow, R, retirement and aging, I in inflammation and so on. And ultimately, it comes down to the one tiny Brain Warriors Way habit is whatever you doing today, is it good for your brain, or is it bad for it? You just have to keep that question top of mind. So when I think of saying something rude to my wife, I ask myself ahead of time, "Is that good for my brain or really bad for my brain?"

Tana Amen: Well it's definitely not good for your stress level for sure.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And stress shrinks the hippocampus, the major memory structure in your brain involved with learning memory, mood and being able to find where you're going to go.

Tana Amen: We go to church all the time. I sort of still don't get the whole submit part. It's really hard for me.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You don't get it?

Tana Amen: I don't.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: I try, I don't get it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You completely missed that part.

Tana Amen: Yeah, I'm working on it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But that's not what our relationship is about.

Tana Amen: No.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's not about busting each other around.

Tana Amen: No.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's about elevating. And so, if you are struggling in your relationship, you want to ask yourself, "What is it I can do today to make it better, to make it worse?" So one of the things I do with my patients all the time when they're struggling in their relationships with their parents or with their spouse or with their boss, I always start with responsibility.

Tana Amen: Yeah, I love that word.

Dr. Daniel Amen: What you taught me is your ability to respond to the situation you're in. But then what I do is, I sort of flip it, and I go, "What are the things you do that make your parents, your wife, your boss crazy? How can you get them to scream at you in under a minute?" And initially, they fold their hands over their chest, and they're like, "I don't do that." I'm like, "Well you don't know how to do that?" "No." "Really?" I said, "I can make my wife scream at me in under 30 seconds."

Tana Amen: You could. Thank you don't.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You just need to sit down, shut up and do what I say.

Tana Amen: I think you've done that once in 12 years where you actually said something and then just like ... and that was the last time you did it, and you said it was so painful that you were never going to do it again.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well I didn't say that. I was never that [crosstalk 00:05:10].

Tana Amen: No, that actually would've been more painful.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But then, you know, I have children tell me exactly how they push their parents' buttons.

Tana Amen: They know how to do it, and they know they're doing it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, if you can torment them, torture them then what are the things you do that make your relationships better? If you can stay in your power place, what is it I can do today to make the relationship better? Then odds are your relationships going to be better, and people say, "Well come on. It's a 50/50 proposition," and both Tana and I go, "No, it's a 100/100."

Tana Amen: No, it's a 100/100.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You need to do all the things you can do, and what I discovered is that often is enough to completely change the direction of a relationship. So when I say something about what you said about it being a 100/100, because it's true, and this is ... I don't know if this is appropriate for the podcast, but we say a lot of things are probably not all about appropriate on the podcast, so-

Tana Amen: And certainly at home.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, when I was ... what? Let's see. Before I got married, my mom said to me, something that ... You know, I thought probably not a lot of moms say, and when I told you, you laughed so hard.

Tana Amen: I love your mom.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I know you do because she's so inappropriate sometimes.

Tana Amen: But she said, "If you don't take care of your husband in your relationship, someone else will." I thought that it was so rude and so inappropriate. But it's funny because I thought about that and I thought, "You know, that's really important." And so, there are times I get so many people who write to me on Facebook, and they talk about problems in their relationships. I mean, people write to me some pretty heavy stuff sometime on Facebook about affairs and things like this, and I thought to myself, there's always three sides to every story. There's his side, her side, the truth. I know that's really deep. You guys need to go get help if that's happening.

But it's really interesting because a lot of times, some of these people are writing it and they're like, "Look, I'm just too tired. I'm too tired to spend time with my spouse. I'm too tired to have sex. I'm too tired to do what I know I need to do," or, "My hormones are changing. I'm going through menopause. I feel disgusting," but here's the problem. If that saying pops in my head, because there's times I'm tired too. We are really busy. But rather than thinking of it like, "Ugh. This is, like, have to do this. It's a chore. Whatever." I flip that and I think of it as, "No, this is nurturing, right? This is investing in my family. This is nurturing my relationship, my love for you," which in turn, empowers the whole family.

It not only gives me more energy, but now, I have a partner who helps me. And so, it really all depends on how you frame things, because when you're tired, you can nurture being tired, or you can nurture your relationship and sort of change how you think about it. But, you really do need to be careful and protect it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So in this podcast, we're going to actually not talk about what her mother said, but we're going to give you a framework for using your brain to improve your relationships, and we came up with a mnemonic that I really like called RELATING. The R is responsibility. It's, what are you doing that makes the relationship better, and what are you doing that makes the relationship worse? And get rid of the excuses, the grudges, the things from the past, because they don't help you. I was with Marty Seligman at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference recently, and he said something about memory that I thought was so interesting. He said, "We all metabolize memories."

Tana Amen: Oh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: "And they become part of who we are, but some people, their memories give them indigestion- "

Tana Amen: Interesting. Oh I think that's true.

Dr. Daniel Amen: " ... because they're not ... they don't come into us in a healthy state, so we can actually take things that were relatively innocuous and make them worse than they really were."

Tana Amen: There are certain things that, like, I know you've actually mentioned things from my past or whatever, and I'm like, "I was having a really good night. Why? Why are we talking about this?" So that's probably really true.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So, you metabolize memory, but the whole point of R is take responsibility to make the relationship better. The E in RELATING is empathy. It's being able to see the situation, not just from your side, but also see it from their side, and your frontal lobes do that. When the frontal lobes work right, we have the ability to see the world from another person's point of view, and it becomes really important. There's actually this whole system in the brain called mirror neurons where your brain can actually play out what is going on, you think in someone else's hat. And people with autism, for example, they don't have as strong as a mirror neuron system as other people.

The L is so important. It's listening. It's being able to be quiet long enough to actually hear what another person is saying. It's the biggest impediment to relationships because people, they want to say what's on their mind, and so, they want to talk over each other, and they don't want to just take a breath and really hear what the other person is saying. And then before you give your input, repeat it back, and you do that really well with Chloe.

Tana Amen: Well you've helped me learn to do that, because I think that's a problem for a lot of parents, at least the ones I talk to. They want to parent, and so, they think that parenting is more about telling kids what they need to do and how they need to do it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They want to pour their wisdom into the child's brain.

Tana Amen: Right. But if you don't know what's going on in your kid's head, they'll just hide things from you, but they'll tell you if you listen.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And you grew up in an ADD family.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so there was not a lot of listening.

Tana Amen: It's really interesting, and my mom's an amazing person, but she was just scattered, just a scattered person. So, yeah, really interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: One of the things I found, and I learned this, because I don't think we were really good listeners in my family, with five sisters, a brother, and powerful, king father. He was the king, right? And the mother who ran everything-

Tana Amen: Your mom's a matriarch for sure, but she's amazing.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... that that there was not a lot of listening. But bonding, being truly connected, really requires two skills, and the first one is listening so that you can understand what's going on in somebody else's head. It also helps with empathy and time, which we will talk about. So just a simple what they teach therapists to do is something called active listening, and I teach parents to do that. We teach parents when we talk about parent training, and it's when somebody says something, don't immediately respond, or if you do respond, respond with the last three or four words that they said, and then gives space because then they'll continue. And often with kids or-

Tana Amen: Sometimes you do that so much that I'm like on the phone, I'm like, "Hello? Hello?" You're like, "Hello," because you give a lot of space.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well it's also Verizon, right? I mean, let's be honest. You never know if Verizon has just dropped you like a potato. So, I was reading Never Split the Difference-

Tana Amen: I love that book.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... which is from an-

Tana Amen: It's a really good book.

Dr. Daniel Amen: From an FBI negotiator. Never Split the Difference is about how to negotiate in relationships or business, and it's a great book. A quarter of the book's active listening, right?

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Repeat back what you hear. Listen for the feelings behind what you hear.

Tana Amen: What is it they really want?

Dr. Daniel Amen: What did they really want? Because you and I have the same goal, right? In our relationship, we have the same goal. We want a kind, caring, loving, supportive, passionate relationship.

Tana Amen: Right. Underneath all that, we want to feel supported and fulfilled and loved, right? So in order to feel those things, you need to give those things really.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. And we both Gary Chapman's book, The 5 Love Languages.

Tana Amen: The Love Languages, yeah we all realized really quickly ... Everyone in our family realized, we don't really care about gifts. But it was a really good book to read with your kids.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. If you just come to the holiday season when gifts are like-

Tana Amen: Stressful.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... big things-

Tana Amen: Stressful.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... it's not important to us that words of affirmation are important, physical touch is important.

Tana Amen: And acts of service and spending time. And for our whole family, it's like, in different orders, but those are the things.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So if you've not read The 5 Love Languages, it's an awesome book.

Tana Amen: We just gave them two great books, Never Split the Difference and The 5 Love Languages.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well there you go. And of course, Memory Rescue, out now. So in RELATING, the A is for assertiveness and one of the big lessons ... You don't have a problem with that, trust me. But one of the big lessons I've learned is a lot of people who are having relationship problems early in the relationship, they were anxious, and they just said yes all the time, even when the other person may have been rude to them or overbearing or demanding. Then what they did is they started to hold resentments.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And they never really said what they wanted and drew appropriate boundaries around behavior that was acceptable.

Tana Amen: So there's a flip side to that. It's really interesting, and we work on this in martial arts a lot. I like what you've said that sometimes people don't say what they want or don't say it in a way that they're heard appropriately. There's a flip side to that. In martial arts, we work a lot on the difference between aggression and assertiveness, because sometimes when you say things, it doesn't come across as being assertive; it comes across as being aggressive or mean. So what is the difference between being assertive and being aggressive? It's intention.

And so, that's really important to understand too, because sometimes people don't mean to sound aggressive, but they do, and it's really the intention behind it or the emotion behind it. It's the emotions attached to it. So it's really important that you don't go too far. It's like a continuum, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. I always say to my patients, "There are ways to say things, and there are ways to say things."

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, you want to say it in a kind but clear way that is without-

Tana Amen: Firm and kind.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... blame and hostility. Firm and kind. You never go wrong with firm and kind in relationships. The T is actual physical time, and I know you and I. We always do better when we have time alone-

Tana Amen: Same with our kids.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... together.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, so if you're having a struggle with one of your children or your spouse, do special time every day, 20 minutes. Just do something with them they want to do, and during that time, practice active listening. Listen. Don't boss them around. Don't tell them their room's not clean or you're unhappy with their schoolwork. Just listen. It helps bonding so much. I is for inquiry, which is killing the ANTs, the automatic negative thoughts. It's interesting. In relationships, we talk a lot about ANTs on the show, but if you have ANTs in your head, and you're married to someone who have ANTs in her head-

Tana Amen: They have babies.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They have to have babies. So, the ANTs mate with each other and then they create this race of super ANTs, and the negativity just perpetuates. And a lot of divorce actually is because no one has cleaned up the thinking in each of the partner's heads. So please don't believe every stupid thing you think. I remember I had this one thought once. Tana never listens to me.

Tana Amen: Once, once. You said that once.

Dr. Daniel Amen: No, I've had that thought.

Tana Amen: And it's so not true. Oh my gosh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So I've had this thought, and if you don't question a thought, you believe it like 100%.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And then you act out of the belief. So, if I really believe that to be true, if I didn't question the thought, I didn't have the skill I have now. Well, that's a terrible thought that my wife who I love, who I've given my life to, never listens to me, it makes me feel sad and mad and lonely-

Tana Amen: Isolated, right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and isolated, and it'll cause me to be rude. It'll cause me to be withdrawn. It may cause bad things. I'll go find somebody who wants to listen to me. And-

Tana Amen: Painful.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... painful, right?

Tana Amen: For you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well I get it, for me, but we're beyond all that. I get it for me, but it's actually not a true thought. So when you write it down, "Tana never listens to me," the first thing you do is you go, "Well is that true?" And I'm like, "No. I've written 12 public television specials. You've listened to the scripts for all of them multiple times. You've listened to me a lot," right? So it's a lie, but if I don't question it, if I don't inquire about it, then I will begin to act out of the lies I tell myself, which damage our relationship.

Tana Amen: Right. No, I really like that. There's two questions I ask myself when things are ... it's, you know, your relationships aren't always just your marriage. I mean, sometimes it's family, like we've got some issues in our family that happened. Now and then we had some drama happened in sort of a family relationship, and you model for your kids. It's really important that you're modeling all the time for your kids. Your kids don't do what you say. They do what you do. And so, some drama was happening in the family and something happened and there was ... Anyways, Chloe was hearing this, and so, when I got off the phone with this person, I ended it sort of in a kinder way than one would think that I would have under this ... in circumstances.

I got off the phone and Chloe goes, "Are you going to let that go?" And the question, which is not always easy for me, okay? With my personality, it's not always easy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Really?

Tana Amen: No. But here's the questions I ask myself. Time and age can really help a lot and a lot of reading and a lot of therapy, but anyways, I digress. The two questions I asked myself, what's my goal? And does it have eternal value, right? So, what's your goal in the relationship? And, does it have eternal value?

Dr. Daniel Amen: So important.

Tana Amen: And so I've learned to stop myself, and the one you said, like, what I really like is, is it true? That's a really big one. But if it is true, if something's going on, and you know it's an issue, what's my goal? Does it have eternal value? I said to Chloe, it's like, "It's not really about being right always," okay? Sometimes it's about being happy. Sometimes it's about the family. Being right isn't the end all, be all. Sometimes you got to let things go if you want the relationship.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But there's some people, especially people who tend to be rule-bound.

Tana Amen: I'm rule-bound.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I know you are. But being right in the moment is more important than the overall goal for the relationship.

Tana Amen: Oh trust me. This takes work. But if you stop-

Dr. Daniel Amen: We were with a friend at dinner last night, and she corrected her husband about something, and her husband complained about, you know, if we went on a seven-day vacation or six and a half-

Tana Amen: No, it's a six-day.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's six days.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. I correct people in my head, but I don't say it much, because if it-

Tana Amen: But you really don't.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... doesn't matter-

Tana Amen: Why does it matter?

Dr. Daniel Amen: If it doesn't matter to the situation, you don't have to be correcting them, right?

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Being right is not so important about being-

Tana Amen: Chloe does that. She's a detail person.

Dr. Daniel Amen: About being connected-

Tana Amen: Connected.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... is so important. So believe every stupid thought you have.

Tana Amen: So we'll be back with the second half of our podcast on relationships. Stay with us.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank you for listening to the Bain 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.