How To Battle Your “Relationship Dragons”, with Dr. Sharon May

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

When we argue with our loved ones, whether it be a spouse, significant other, or child, it’s often something under the surface that’s the real issue. According to Dr. Sharon May, we all have our dragons, and sooner or later they will emerge in all our relationships. In this second episode in a series with Dr. May, she and the Amens discuss what you can do to confront those dragons, regardless of whether they are a loved one’s or your own.

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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. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
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Welcome back. We are still here this week with our friend Dr. Sharon May, and this is just so interesting. I love this idea of the Safe Haven Marriage and how to argue and be heard. And one of the techniques you talked about in the last podcast that really struck me, that hit home was about your dragons are never about your dragons, right? The argument's never about the dragon. It's the dragon behind it. And so when you said that, it really hit me because that's been a powerful thing. I'll give you an example. I was arguing with my three-year-old at the time or four-year-old. She was a handful when she was little. And there was a point where I got so frustrated because she was so stubborn that I, thank God I didn't say it out loud, but in my head, I'm just like, "You're just like your dad."
So, the arguing triggered something from the past and it was such a toxic thought. How can I possibly then relate to this child in a loving way if I'm having this very toxic thought? So, fortunately, I caught it and I was like, "Oh, this isn't about her. This is about something that made me very angry in the past. I have to figure out how to communicate with her differently." What I love that you said is she's arguing with me and that means what? She's not listening and that means what? She won't put her toys away and that means what? Rather than just arguing about the situation, actually taking a step back and it means what? Because immediately I was able to connect it to my past.
Dr Sharon May: Yes. That is so powerful and helping couples and parents understand that. And again, thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I am so honored to be with the two of you and the work you're doing with individuals and couples and families is so significant. So, thank you.
But you're right. And that's what makes a healthy marriage and also healthy parenting is when we can understand what gets triggered in us. Because it's not about the event usually. It's about what that event triggers in us and the meaning we put on the event. And sometimes we can say, "Knock it off. That thought. Just forget it." And other times we have to process the thought. We have to usher the thought out of our mind, which means we have to name it, understand it, process it, and then we can tame it, mature it, or move it out.
Tana Amen: I love that.
Dr Sharon May: Otherwise, we become people that just stuff emotions. Don't feel that. Don't think that. It's wrong or bad to think that I'm not ever seen or someone's trying to control me or I'm not valuable. No one wants to hear my voice. I'm not significant. Those dragons, we need to pause and say, "Where did that come from? And when was it true and is it true today?" And to comfort ourselves at that moment. Be kind. Say "Yeah. My efforts were never seen. And so now I've baked the cake and made the dinner and everyone ate it and then just left." My dragon is my efforts aren't seen. How can I realize that, slow it down, and comfort myself? That was hard growing up and not ever being seen. And now what do I do in this moment? I don't want to react my old way, yelling and saying to everyone "And that's the last meal I'm going to make."
In a congruent, authentic, real way, being able to say, "You know you guys, I cook. Means a lot to me because it's my way of loving you. It would be really nice if you just tell me what you thought of the meal." Then I get what I want. I can share my hurts and pain and my need in a way that I'm heard, seen, understood, and can stay in relationship with my spouse, my family, or my coworkers.
Tana Amen: I love that. One technique that I learned, and I'm curious what your thoughts are, that helps me is to challenge the thought by asking the opposite or turning it to its opposite. So like the situation with my daughter. "You're just like your father." Well, if I stop and I challenge that thought for a second, she's not just like her father. Not always. It's not always true. And then she's got many great traits that are from both of us. But then the other turnaround I came up with, and this one hurt, was "She's just like me." But it broke the thought. "She's stubborn. She's like me. I'm stubborn."
Dr Daniel Amen: Really?
Tana Amen: Yeah, a little bit. But it broke the thought for me.
Dr Sharon May: Yes. And that is powerful. Or separating out. You know, there's two things going on right now. My daughter is stubborn. She has a mind of her own. She wants to reason everything out which is a sign of a leader. Intelligence in a leader. But there's the other thing that's going on is my dragon raises its head saying, and I don't know your story, that maybe your first husband, when he was stubborn, was hurtful.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr Sharon May: And that you have that dragon wound along with the challenge of raising maybe a strong-willed child, a leader, or a child that doesn't know how to regulate their own effect, which requires a different way of parenting. You can't scold those children because they don't know how to manage their emotions. So, it just fuels it.
But to separate those thoughts out from that dragon. "You know what? Growing up, I wasn't noticed. I was controlled. Growing up I did have to do everything and my efforts weren't seen. And that was hard. And I can comfort that, but right now my family isn't ignoring me or not valuing me. They're just busy and rushed and maybe the wisdom of my feeling is I need to teach them how to be more grateful verbally."
Dr Daniel Amen: We totally teach people how to treat us, which is so important.
Tana Amen: Right, I love what you're saying.
Dr Daniel Amen: Have you ever categorized the dragons? Do they tend to cluster around certain issues?
Dr Sharon May: The dragons cluster around how I feel about myself. My worthiness, my value, whether or not I belong, whether or not I'm seen, valued, and my worthiness of myself. They also cluster around how I view others. Will someone be there for me or not? Do those others have the love I need that they're just withholding because they're mean? Or do the other people have what I need but they're not giving it to me because there's something wrong with me? And usually, it's around value, shame, sense of self ...
Tana Amen: I like that.
Dr Sharon May: But we all have dragons.
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:08:27] You writing it down?
Dr Sharon May: If you're a human being and you've been raised in this world you're going to have a dragon. We're going to have a sense of ourself. How do I feel about myself? How do I feel about my value, my worth? Do I belong? Do I fit in? I'm going to have a feeling about my feeling. Well, I shouldn't want to be seen and heard and valued because then that means you're self-centered or you're using the old term, children should be seen and not heard. I want to be seen and heard. Well, that's maybe selfish or-
Dr Daniel Amen: There's so much here. I'm just writing down sort of the clusters of dragons and appearance is a dragon for a lot of people.
Dr Sharon May: Yes.
Tana Amen: So, when something brushes up against that-
Dr Daniel Amen: When Tana asks me, "How do I look in this?" And I'll often joke, "Do you want the truth or do you want me to just say it looks awesome?"
Dr Sharon May: Yes. And we want both. You know, how do I look in this? We want to have our spouse reflect back to us, "You are such a beautiful person and I'm so glad I'm going out with you tonight and I can't wait just to enjoy you, but you're wearing white pants and we're going to be sitting outside on a bench. Consider wearing jeans." Be constructive because then I can trust you. But sometimes I'm not asking you does these colors match and is this top do you like the frills? I don't want to know that. What I want to know is do you see into me? Do you just take delight in me and cherish me and like, "Oh, I'm so glad I'm going to be with you and you're the love of my life." You know, my husband, my drop-dead gorgeous husband, I call him my salty old pirate, and I'm the [inaudible 00:10:32] mermaid and he's my lovey.
And it's like, "You're my mermaid and I can't wait to be with you." It doesn't matter if he likes the little frillies on my blouse or not or if he thinks I should be wearing white pants. It's about this bond, this connection.
Tana Amen: Exactly. No, I love what you're saying.
Dr Sharon May: Yes. [crosstalk 00:10:53].
Dr Daniel Amen: So, what is the question?
Dr Sharon May: No, I was just going to use your example because sometimes men don't say the things we want them to say. But you get away with it because of what she just said. The reason you get away with sometimes saying things that I'm just like rolling my eyes is because I feel seen and heard and appreciated and cherished. And so even when you say something stupid, it doesn't really ... it rolls off. There's the difference. It rolls off because I know he doesn't mean to hurt me. I know he is being silly or I know that you genuinely care because you show that.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, let's talk about that in the next podcast. Is how do couples establish that bond of trust?
Tana Amen: Right. Because that's what we're really getting at.
Dr Daniel Amen: I always found for myself, you can say something constructive to me, critical even, if I trust you. If I don't trust you, I generally won't let you do that. So, stay with us. We are here with Dr. Sharon May. She's a psychologist, a relationship expert, the author of how to argue so your spouse will listen. Also, safe Haven marriage. You can find out more about her couple-intensive works and her group couples work at Safe Haven relationships
Tana Amen: I love that.
Dr Daniel Amen: Stay with us.
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