Relationship Conflict and Your Brain

3 Brains and a Partner

One of the most essential aspects of the human experience that lovers are wise to fully understand is exactly how brain physiology impacts intimate, committed relationships. I see this as a primary piece of information that will help you make sense from what is often both distressing plus confusing to married people. I also believe that this is one of the most interesting plus fascinating pieces of information you will find in relationship literature.

Basically, we have 3 brains and not just one.

The Hindbrain (The Reptilian Brain) Like it or not, a part of our brain is similar to lizards. It is located right at the base of our own skull in the back. It is the component of our brain that controls our automatic functions (keeps our cardiovascular beating, controls breathing, pumps adrenalin when needed, etc . ).

The hindbrain is constantly alert to possible danger so when danger is perceived, it takes over. For instance, if you were to hear an abrupt, loud, noise, you would have what is called a “startle” response. In an instant, your heart rate would increase, your breathing would become more rapid, your own eyes would dilate, your mouth can have a little drier, your adrenal glands would start pumping and you would likely tense your muscles — getting ready to operate or fight or do something. You will not consciously think and choose to do these things; they would all immediately and automatically happen because the hindbrain kicked into activity and went to work to make sure you survive.

The particular Mid-Brain (The Mammalian Brain)

The 2nd brain, like it or not, is similar to mammals. This is the part of our brain that will mediates or controls emotion. We generally do not think of snakes or lizards as having emotion, but mammals (dogs, cats, etc . ) experience what we call emotion. They can be afraid, angry, loving, happy, and so forth Humans have a wide and wealthy range of emotion.

The important thing to understand regarding the Mid-Brain is that our emotions are not controlled by the conscious, intentional component of our brain (that’s coming next). The old saying, “Emotions have no brains” is true only in the sense that we are unable to consciously choose to feel any given feelings at a certain time. Emotions “happen” while we are engaged in life. While they can be understood intelligently and rationally, they cannot be “turned on” simply by choice.

Even in the field of psychiatric therapy where the goal is often to understand and gain some control in regards to emotion, this is outside our choiceful or volitional control. We can learn to manage and understand and learn from our emotions; we cannot control them straight. Our Mid-Brain (the mammalian brain) is in charge of that.

The Cortex (The Computer Brain)

Finally we all possess a cortex, the part of our brain which is conscious, intentional, rational, and choiceful.
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It is the cortex you are using at this point as you read this article. It is the part of all of us that can be self-aware, reflective, and self-observant. It is the part of our brain which allows us to communicate in complicated languages and develop science, literature and art. It is the part of the brain that makes us distinctively and uniquely human. Some animals and perhaps porpoises have rudimentary cortexes, but the human cortex is far superior.

It would be nice if the cortex controlled our lives and our marriages, but alas and alack, that sadly rarely happens in the real world. Most marriages are run on reptilian and mammalian energy.

The Old Brain

With regard to simplicity’s sake, in this WEB site, we are going to lump the Hindbrain and the Midbrain together and refer to them since “The Old Brain. ” It is “old” not in the sense that it is out of date or not as valuable as the Cortex (The “New Brain”). We are often wise to learn to deeply respect, worth and honor the “Old Mind. ” But it is “old” in the sense in that it is the more primitive section of our Brain.

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