Humans developed over thousands of years, and many of those years were spent in tough and tricky conditions. Our brains needed to be able to respond quickly to perceived threats that could literally come from anywhere at any time.
However, we’ve also elevated ourselves out of our caves and stopped our constant wandering. We’ve settled down and have the security, time, and comfort that previous generations could never enjoy. But this newfound comfort is relatively new compared to the vastness of human development. So, unfortunately, we often revert back to our more primitive selves, particularly in times of stress or anxiety.
And this is where many of our relationship troubles come from. When backed into a corner, we turn to instinct and to our primal responses.
Our Lizard Brain
You might have heard someone referring to “my lizard brain” at one time or another. It’s a clever name for a real thing. Formed over thousands of years of survival, our primitive brains kept our species alive in the wild.
Threats would come at us fast and unexpectedly, and we needed to be able to respond quickly or risk death. Our lizard brain is concerned with the basics and is hard-wired to help us avoid pain, risk, and external threats.
Our lizard brain governs four primary functions:
Don’t get us wrong. We’re glad we have the self-preserving drive to eat and run away from danger. But left unchecked, the lizard brain can lead us to be:
When we react in a spineless way or avoid conflict, that’s our lizard brain in action. In marriages, this often represents itself by us shrinking from a difficult conversation or situation. Instead of pushing through to a solution, we go silent or verbally abuse our spouse. Think of a wounded dog in the wild. We use fancier words than barking (sometimes), but the response is the same.
Unfortunately, these reactions are hard-wired into our brains. Have you ever noticed that no one needs to write a book titled “How To Easily Be More Sarcastic, Withdrawn, Closed Down, Blameful And Depressed in Just 21 Days?”
Yes, most people don’t want to be that. But also, most of us can do that very well on our own without any guidance because it’s our natural instinct to behave in these ways.
Shakespeare even wrote a play about the lizard brain, “The Taming of the Shrew” (or you might know the story as Kiss Me Kate or 10 Things I Hate About You).
It’s ironic that while this lizard brain literally helped our species survive the wild, it’s killing our marriages and future advancements. Thankfully, we also have another brain at work inside us.
Our Other Brain
As humans gained more security and had to struggle less for survival, another brain emerged. Our brains began to dream, free from constantly weighing life or death situations. We learned to imagine new possibilities and gain compassion for others. Most importantly to our development, we learned how to cooperate with others. Let’s call this brain our visionary brain.
The visionary brain lets us be:
- Penitent (remorseful)
- And Perspicuous (eloquent)
This brain lets us be better than our base self. But, because this brain is “newer,” it takes work to let it out. We have to retrain our automated responses to allow our visionary brain to replace the lizard brain’s defaults. This is why you see so many self-help books on the shelves. These new reactions aren’t natural to us.
Winning the Ongoing Battle
The battle between our lizard and visionary brains plays out in every aspect of our lives. But particularly in areas with higher levels of stress or anxiety… like our relationships and marriages. Sadly, in most marriages, couples let their lizard brains win out.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The good news is that better behaviors and responses are possible in your marriage. You just need to be open to working at them in your relationship.
Everyone replaces patterns at different times and speeds depending on various factors. In our relationships, we have to understand this development process and give our partners the space and encouragement needed so that this visionary brain can emerge.
When we work together in our marriage as a team, we can learn to allow our visionary brain to emerge more and move past our base responses.
If you’re struggling with your lizard brain and want some helpful exercises or guidance on how to move forward, please contact us today. We have a team of qualified practitioners available to help you in almost every area of the country. Please contact us today!