Why The Absence of Arguments Can Lead To Divorce, with Dr. Sharon May

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

There are two main types of trust in relationships, and building these forms of trust are key to maintaining long-lasting emotional bonds. So how can you build trust in your relationships? In this third episode of a series with therapist and author Dr. Sharon May, Daniel and Tana Amen describe the worst habits couples tend to fall into, and how to change those habits to set your relationships on the right path.

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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.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit AmenClinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to BrainMD.com
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back to dragon week.
Tana Amen: I love this.
Dr Daniel Amen: What are the dragons that are haunting your relationships? And it's not really just your relationships with your spouse. It applies to your relationship with your children. It also applies to your coworkers. Everybody's got dragons. What are yours? And just when you realize that, it helps you be kinder to people that may be struggling because it may not have anything to do with you. It may have to do with some of the dragons or their pain the past.
We're here with Dr. Sharon May. We're so grateful for your time. And I was just thinking with Tana. So I've written 14 public television specials. I have a new one coming out in March. I write every word of the scripts and people go, "Oh, it just looks so easy for you," and I've probably written each script 100 times. I obsess over them and I always read them to Tana and she's not always, "Oh, I love that. That's just great. You're amazing." She's not like that at all. She's like, "No, that part's boring. No, that'll hurt their feelings. You really want to say that?" But the reason I listen to you, I covet your feedback is because I trust you, right, that we have a foundation of trust. So I know that's a big issue that you work on with your couples. How do people develop trust?
Dr Sharon May: And thank you again for having me on your program. I have so enjoyed this week being with the two of you. And again, thank you for your work and impact on people's lives, helping us keep our brain healthy so we can live and love well. I conduct marriage intensives where couples come for anywhere from two to five days and they come because the trust between the two of them, that emotional bond that connects them is broken. And usually the way we argue breaks that trust. When we're not able to repair arguments, when we don't really trust the, "I am sorrys," it builds this rift and we begin to guard our hearts, protect our hearts and slowly drift apart. And if you find yourself in a marriage where you watch what you say, you walk on eggshells, you're a little bit nervous about, "Oh, date night is ... I know we're going to get in an argument. I'm not sure if I want to go home early tonight," and you live these parallel lives protecting your hearts, you know you've lost that trust.
And there's two kinds of trust in a relationship. There's reliability, dependability, "I can count on you," kind of a trust. And there's the other kind of trust that, "I trust you with my heart. I trust you to be emotionally predictable. I trust you to be emotionally safe. I trust you to be emotionally even-keeled rather than I have to watch what I say because I'm going to set you off. I have to wait for you to be in the right mood before I bring up this topic because you're just going to go from zero to 60, then maybe you're going to get so mad or you're going to sulk. You're going to ruin the weekend and then I have to manage you to keep the peace," and that kind of heart trust, research shows that when a woman loses that heart trust at the end of the day, no matter how we argue, because we will, marriages where there's no argument are on a slippery slope to divorce.
Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.
Dr Sharon May: Not arguing is not the goal in marriage. It is how to repair, how to restore that bond, how do bookend your arguments with healthy repair attempts and sweet connecting times. And when you don't have that, then this heart trust, I just kind of take my heart back, my spirit closes towards you, and that becomes dangerous.
Tana Amen: So true. I have a question about the dragons, because sometimes it seems to me like, do you want to slay all of the dragons? Because some of the dragons feel like, whether it's true or not, they feel like they've kept you safe, right? Those dragons have sort of been there for you at some time in your life. I love what you said. It was true then, but is it true now? Was my four-year-old self who couldn't rationalize the same way, is this still benefiting me now? But some of those dragons are hard to slay because it felt like they were breathing fire and keeping people away from you when you needed to, right? So how do you sort of put a leash on them?
Dr Daniel Amen: So maybe taming your dragons is better than murdering your dragons.
Tana Amen: Right, than slaying them.
Dr Sharon May: Exactly, and you're right on with that, Tana. You don't say your dragons. You tame your dragons, because your dragons will probably be with you your whole life. But you're going to find what's true today and you're going to find a more centered way of being so that your dragons don't control you. They maybe sit on the back burner, but you decide if you listen to them. So once you've recognized your dragon, if you have a dragon of, "I'm not seen. I'm not valued. All the responsibility is on me. This environment is not safe," and you become more of an alley cat. I come close, but I come close a little bit in charge, in control, and then my claws come out of it and then I pull back, and for me to be soft and gentle, I have to really feel safe, because feeling safe came with hurt. If you're going to be in a relationship, you have to be guarded and protected and be one up and have a little edge. But that worked for you growing up.
Tana Amen: Right. I used to say-
Dr Sharon May: [crosstalk 00:07:32] withdraw and shut down and you put up a barrier and you sort of go out and are on your own. That worked for you, and you have to thank your brain for taking care of yourself. Your dragons did the best, your body, your brain and your being, your soul did the best I could in light of that situation growing up. And you can develop dragons, the meaning we put on an event, our vulnerabilities, our sensitivities, you can develop it in the greatest of families. You don't have to have trauma and a terrible family to have a dragon.
Tana Amen: Sure.
Dr Daniel Amen: Oh yeah, that's totally my family.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: That my family-
Tana Amen: You have a great family.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... on the surface, Tana thinks it's Leave it to Beaver.
Tana Amen: No, they're amazing.
Dr Daniel Amen: And my new book, I just wrote 10 dragons.
Tana Amen: When you compare your family to my family, it's like Leave it to Beaver and Nightmare on Elm Street. When I was listening to you-
Dr Sharon May: But you both have dragons.
Tana Amen: Right. When I was listening to you, [crosstalk 00:08:33] when you were talking about soft, we used to joke that for me, soft was a four letter word. I used to say, "No, soft is a four letter word. Soft does not cut it."
Dr Sharon May: It's weak.
Tana Amen: So the only place that I actually usually even still feel really comfortable being soft is at home, in our home, because it's safe there.
Dr Sharon May: Yes.
Tana Amen: So it's interesting, those claws.
Dr Sharon May: You're right, and you asked how do you build that trust and that safety so you can come home to be seen and known, is being able to, what I say, being able to tell each a couple, if the two of you come together and sit down and say, "Timeout. We're disconnected. I don't trust you with my heart. I love you. I want to grow old with you. But timeout. We have to recognize the arguments cycle we get stuck in when our dragons raise their heads. When I feel you're not there and my alarms sound danger, danger, I start yelling or I get crusty or my claws come out, or when I feel you're not there for me, you weren't my safe haven, I shut down. I withdraw. I just retreat. Those are ways that we cope when our dragon raises its head and those ways of coping don't build the trust. They don't draw us together. They divide us. They put a wedge between us. If we can have a timeout and say, 'I want to be loved by you and I want to love you,' let's go back and say, what kind of safe haven do we want? Kind, loving, gentle, honest, open, fun. Do you want that? Yes, I want that too."
Now, how can we make it safe? And the one way you can instantly make your relationship safe is when the two of you turn to each other and say, "I want to be a better person. I want to understand my dragons, the way I react and the impact my reaction to cope with my pain has on you. I want to take ownership of that and I want to grow and become the best version of me. I want to have authenticity. I want to know me, grow me, and I want to come into this one life I have with loving and kind and wisdom. I want to be bright, smart, intelligent, but gentle. I want to have patience. I want to hear other's views, weigh it together and react in a way that makes you feel better about yourself, that moves you forward, helps you be the best person."
When I know Mike wants to be on a journey of self-reflecting and really being the best person, then I do trust him. So when he says, "Oh, I'm so sorry," he has a business tone of voice, "Sharon, I'd like to talk to you," that business tone of voice sounds my alarms because I was raised in a shame-based culture and I'm like, "I'm in trouble. Uh-oh." It just puts me in a spin. But I know he says, "I'm so sorry. I don't want to use that tone of voice. Trying not to." Oh sweetie, it melts. When he admits and takes responsibility for what he's doing and the impact it has on me, it melts me-
Tana Amen: Right, it's vulnerability.
Dr Sharon May: ... because I know he wants to be a better person. He doesn't want to hurt me, as he says, "Sharon, I want to grow old and have a happy life with you. I don't want to be guarded and defensive." When we realize that, "You want a happy life? I do too. You want to be loved? Me too. Then let's get honest and real. Let's take a good self-reflective. Let's be on a journey of becoming real. And when we admit that to each other, we can begin to trust. You do want to be a better person. You don't want to react that way, and I trust that."
Tana Amen: Yeah, no, I love that. It requires being a little bit vulnerable, which is not always easy.
Dr Daniel Amen: And taking responsibility.
Tana Amen: And taking responsibility, which responsibility, I do love, so that's another way to look at it.
Dr Daniel Amen: And Tana always ... I love what she said is responsibility never means it's your fault. It means your ability to respond. So how much responsibility do you want in this situation? Do you want 50%? I want 100% responsibility because I want to have the ability to respond in a loving way.
Dr Sharon May: Yes, exactly. I don't want to react in my old ways. I will justify, "Well, I need to react this way because look at what you did. Well, I need to get my point across and what I'm saying is right and you need to listen." We justify ourselves, but we're not aware of the impact it has on other people. Those who have a stronger shield and a wall around them are just as tender-hearted as those that maybe go more stoic or withdraw. We are all very sensitive on the inside and a wife will say, "My husband just sits there like a lump on the log and I'm yelling and I'm shouting so I can be seen and heard, and he just goes stone-faced," and the husband in the intensives that I do, he'll say "Every word she said, every look, every tone of voice has wounded and bruised. But I know that's not her intention, but I don't know how to tell her." Please, you don't have to react that way to be heard. I'm trying to put my hands through your porcupine quills, hold on your heart [inaudible 00:14:25] that way [crosstalk 00:14:23].
Dr Daniel Amen: I understand. When we come back, what I want you to tell us ... You've been a marital therapist for a very long time. What are your best tips to help people have the best relationships possible? We're here with Dr. Sharon May, founder and president of Safe Haven Relationship Counseling Center. She's author of ... I have it right here ... How to Argue So Your Spouse Will Listen, and Safe Haven Marriage. You can learn more about her intensives, both individual for couples or groups at SafeHavenRelationshipsCounseling.com. Stay with us.
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