I’m in lovely St. Charles, Illinois today learning from a master therapist, Dr. Brent Atkinson. He is a professor, researcher, author and couples therapist who has spent the last 30 years honing his craft. He asked us today to look at our partner through the lens of our nervous system. Most of us never consider the idea that our individual nervous systems are largely responsible for how we experience and manage stress. Ever notice how some people can be energized by stress or at least seem to let stress roll off them and others can barely make it until 5:00 p.m. each day? There is a good chance that you married someone whose nervous system is hard wired differently from yours. The cliché “opposites attract” actually has some validity. I see couples every day who are inexplicably drawn to one another but then end up completely frustrated with the same characteristics that most likely attracted them in the first place. It makes good sense that Mother Nature would want us to procreate with someone who is our opposite to insure diversity in our population. It also serves to insure that our offspring are raised by parents whose skills are complementary. This creates a more well-rounded child who is better prepared for what to expect in the real world. As Dr. Atkinson explained to us how our unique nervous system shows up in our real life behavior, I began to see a clear picture of myself and my husband. I am living evidence that opposites attract for long enough to mate. The trickier part is then learning to manage those differences over a lifetime. Ask yourself these questions and notice what your kneejerk response is.
Your first response to a stressful event is to a. Reach out to others or b. Withdraw and process it alone
Is it better to a. Invest in the future first or b. Live for the moment?
You’re preferred way of being is a. Predictable or b. Spontaneous
Are you a. Not too easy to upset or b. Do you become upset very easily?
Are you a. More likely to jump into problem solving or b. Do you prefer to thoroughly understand the problem first?
Now consider your answers and ask yourself this. Do you tend to judge the alternative reaction as inferior or frustrating? Most of us do. We tend to believe that our way of interpreting and managing stress, worry or anxiety is better than the alternative. The problem is that this sets you up to see yourself as superior to your mate and this belief will eventually cause conflict in the relationship. If we choose to see the different ways of being as just that , different, rather than right or wrong or superior or inferior, it gets us down off of our high horse. Perhaps we can just accept that some of our traits are hard wired and learn to appreciate how our partner’s opposite style can many times serve you well. Think about it.