Many years ago, a very famous study was done with rhesus monkeys by Harlowe & Harlowe. Surrogate mothers were created by forming the shape of a monkey out of wire. There were two types of "mothers:" one type was rigged to give the baby monkeys food, and the other had cloth over the wire but were not able to offer food.
The young monkeys were put into situations that created anxiety. The findings were that the baby monkeys sought out the cloth "mothers" rather than those who offered food during these periods, indicating a need for contact comfort. This has now become a famous study indicating the need for attachment and comfort in relationships.
No doubt, relationships are important. Good relationships provide satisfaction, as well as the necessities for both physical and psychological health.
Do as the Monkey Does
Though mentioned in last week’s article, I think it’s worth repeating once more and in greater detail. Studies done more recently with monkeys have once again indicated some very interesting findings. They have shown that within the brain there are mirror neurons, which become activated merely by watching an individual do something. That is to say, the brain does not actually have to perform the behavior; mere observation of another doing it is enough for a neural connection to be made.
This has a very significant meaning because it indicates that the brain is able to tune-in to another person’s experience. It also demonstrates a connection between mind and body. To offer a concrete example, during the feeding experience between a mother and infant, when the mother smiles at the baby, the baby will reflect that smile and respond in kind. This very pleasant, comforting and secure experience is also creating a neural connection in the baby’s brain. (Additionally, the mother will continue to smile and there is now a shared experience.)
Emotions are Contagious
Though the example I’ve given is between a baby and mother, this interaction is by no means limited to this type of relationship. Emotions are contagious at all ages and in all types of relationships. Consider how easily your own emotions are affected by those around you—whether they are impacted upwardly or downwardly. And just as the example with baby and mama is bidirectional, so is the relationship with your spouse. If you are negative, it will have an effect on your mate. Then your spouse responds negatively and the spiral has started.
There are a variety of ways that emotions get conveyed: through facial expressions, by one’s posture and tone of voice. Emotions can even be sensed on a more subtle energetic level.
Let this information become a source of strength. Having an understanding and awareness that this phenomenon happens, there are things you can do to strengthen the emotional connections with your husband or wife:
1. Rather than falling victim to it, choose to respond differently instead of reacting.
2. Remember, chances are that if your partner is acting negative, something is emotionally bothering him or her.
3. Many times, if you can match your body language to his or hers, your mate, unknowingly, will feel more understood.
4. Never dismiss the other person’s feelings, but consider going back to the suggestions in the last two posts.
5. Finally, when some of the emotions have calmed down, do a "check-in" on your own attitude. Does it need to be lifted up a bit, too? After all, the emotional contagion works both ways.
Part 2: Connect With Your Spouse Through Empathy
Part 1: Building Emotional Connections in Your Marriage
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com