Special Resources for Our Community
Dr. Sara’s Newsletter: February 2023
Are you a "bonder" or a "thrill seeker" in your relationship?
Happy Valentine’s Day!On the day dedicated to love, I wanted to share some thoughts about one of the most misunderstood facets of relationships: the pursuit of attachment (creating a bond) and thrill. Both are necessary for a thriving coupledom however; people are often confused as to which one is a sign of a healthier relationship. The concerns I hear are:
“I am bored in this relationship.” “It feels like a roller coaster—am I with the right person?” “Can one person offer both thrill and attachment?”
You’ve probably heard of oxytocin and dopamine if you know a thing or two about love and attachment. They’re considered two of the most important “love hormones.” That means, they both play specific roles in the body in dating as well as relationships over time. But, people often use these interchangeably without much thought. The truth is, these two neuropeptides are very different and mean very different things in your relationship journeys.When we choose a mate and commit to staying with them over time, it means that we have created a sense of bonding with them. This is beyond the need for financial security, sexual exclusivity, and social status. When we speak of such bonding, we are talking about a sense of neurobiological attachment to someone. We miss them, we feel calmer at their presence, we have a sense of trust with them, and their embrace brings us a sense of security. Oxytocin is a hormone that supports feelings of connection and social bonds—what is generally known as “loving someone.” In people with a history of trauma, oxytocin might trigger a control system in the body (vasopressin), which sets off the brain’s alarm system that prevents the person from getting close to their partner (if this resonates with you, a skilled therapist can help you decode your attachment style and work with you on healing your fear of closeness and connection). “Bonding” or attachment seekers are acting on oxytocin mostly—they’re looking more for stability and deep connection. They seek to bond with their partners and create a lasting attachment. Dopamine, however, feeds reward and motivation. It brings a sense of excitement and pleasure that keeps us wanting more of something in our lives. It is the “high hormone” so to speak. Dopamine makes us feel excited and full of thrill. This is one of the reasons that we want to see one another all the time and cannot get enough of each other when we first start dating! “Thrill” seekers—or those chasing mostly dopamine —are always looking for the next thing to excite them. They often fear relationships that are predictable and calm. Or, they consistently seek out new relationships, or new ways to create a sense of thrill in the relationship (sometimes even by creating drama!).
So which is more important—attachment or thrill? Should we be “bonders” or “thrill seekers?”
While some people tend to be more “thrill” seekers or “attachment” seekers, both are needed for sustainable and thriving coupledom. Cultivating both in a relationship allows us to feel motivated and excited, while we have a deep sense of security and connection with our partners.
So the question is: How can we intentionally cultivate both?
- When deciding to pursue a relationship, do you look for the feeling of “butterflies” in your stomach?
- When pursuing a new relationship, how concerned are you with your first impression of the person? Perhaps their level of physical attraction?
- How do you feel when you’re sexually attracted to a person? What sensations come up?
- How do you feel when you’re connected to a partner? What sensations come up?
- When in a long-term relationship, do you often feel bored?
- When in long-term relationships, do you find yourself constantly looking for new ways to create excitement?
- When in long-term relationships, do you find you care more about feeling emotionally connected rather than sexually connected?
- When pursuing new relationships, consider what you’re seeking—are you looking for attraction (“butterflies”)? Connection (feelings of deep attachment)? Or both? Why?
- Are there past relationships that have helped inform what you prioritize while seeking partnerships? How do you think they’ve influenced you?
- What cultural messaging have you received that has encouraged you to pursue one over the other?
- Has your way of thinking served you in your relationships or are you open to expanding your frame of thinking?
Dr. Sara’s Newsletter: January 2023
Is Feeling Jealous "Normal"?
Feelings of jealousy within coupledom have long been deemed as “negative” feelings, even potential “red flags” to look out for and assess and a deficiency in a person. When we experience them, we almost immediately want to be rid of their grasp by either escaping from the relationship (if we are the target for it) or controlling our partner to protect our relationship (if we feel it for the other).
Many of my couples tell me that this is a sign that their coupledom is doomed. Of course, there’s a good reason why jealousy has been posited as a harmful emotion—when we experience jealousy, we often feel an amalgamate of emotions such as hurt, humiliation and even anger. Plus, who wants to feel a sense of competition around their partner?
The truth is though, healthy jealousy does exist (in fact, it’s primal and “normal”!) and it is in many ways essential to a lively, passionate long-term relationship. Jealousy can often ignite or re-ignite the sense of attraction that so many of us are chasing in our partnerships—the extra “zest” that makes a relationship feel exciting, worth fighting for and wondrous. But like anything in life, the experience of jealousy requires a healthy balance—not enough can lead to monotony and taking one’s partner for granted and too much can lead to potential toxicity and controlling behaviors in the relationship.
Believe it or not, too little jealousy is a common complaint I’ve been hearing more recently from my clients. The Covid-19 pandemic, quarantine, and working from home has provided many of us (though not all) with new uninterrupted time with our partners. While there are certainly benefits to this newfound quality time, the isolation away from the wider world can be detrimental. Without other people around, couples can often completely lack any feelings of jealousy, which leads to boredom. Seeing one’s partner be desired or admired by others (in small doses) can remind us that our mate is attractive, and potentially wanted by others, waking us up to the idea that we have something that others desire (which is a powerful and innate feeling for us humans).
As a matter of fact evolutionary psychologists invite us to listen to our feelings of being jealous because this is an internal alarm to alert us that our significant relationships that carry emotional bonds could be in danger. We have all seen toddles who fight over their parents attention by interrupting their interactions with others. In this way, a yearning for one another reinvigorated—it can preserve our most intimate social bonds and motivate us to maintain and sustain the relationship.
Alternatively, too much jealousy, can be damaging to a relationship. It can signal to a partner that the relationship is not secure and that there is in fact an imminent threat to the balance of the partnership—whether by someone or something. It can make a partner(s) act in an overly possessive manner, cause them to be controlling or manipulative, or even cause a partner to feel a sense of low self-esteem, or trigger a fear of abandonment. In these extreme cases, jealousy is a red flag, and possibly a sign that it’s time for a solid conversation around the feelings that you have, serious intervention or even to exit the partnership.
I always encourage my clients, whenever they’re presented with an emotion, to try and process it objectively before jumping to a conclusion (i.e. this is a BAD emotion vs. this a GOOD emotion).
Sit with the jealousy and reflect on how it’s really showing up in your body—are you feeling slightly more excitable? Admirable of your partner? Or are you feeling restricted and controlled, or feeling the need to restrict and control?
When you’re experiencing this jealousy, how is your body reacting? Is your jaw clenched? Does your stomach ache?
Do you feel compelled to grab the attention of your partner and connect or recoil and detached?
When in your life have you felt the same? Who was around you? how old were you?
Who agreed with you or told you that you are over-reacting?
All of these signs from the body are cues that can help us determine how we’re actually feeling and processing an emotion. Are we in balance with it or not. Take out a piece of paper and write down these feelings, type them out or commit to an hour of journaling.
When these emotions come up, how do you process it (by talking about it? with whom? Thinking? Overthinking? Acting a certain way?)
Pick a calm moment (not in the middle of a disagreement or while you are still pretty heated with the emotions), frame your conversation “I would like to share something with you”, “when x happens, I feel ….”, “I think….” And don’t stop there, help the other person show up the way you want them to, for example “when I feel like that and tell you as much, you can reassure me by….”.
While you do these exercises
keep in mind
Every person and relationship are different, and only you can decide what feels right to you. We all have a background that impacts our perceived sense of security, when we feel secure and when we feel unstable in a relationship that carries emotional charges for us.
If you are interested in the research on jealousy and want to read more on the topic, here is one that has the necessary coverage on the topic. Click here to read.
Dr. Sara’s Newsletter: December 2022
The New Beginnings
At the beginning of each year, many of us think about what we want to achieve in the New Year, and I also wonder, what is it that I am willing to let go of to be able to free up my time, energy, attention, and resources to welcome what I desire more of in my life.
This past year provided a context for many of us to experience endings or beginnings in one way or another. Many of us might have lost dear ones, had to reframe well-established relationships, welcomed new people to our lives, had to let go of familiar faces, accepted new roles in our lives and had to let go of others. Regardless of these endings or beginnings, being intentional or not, we all have experienced a range of emotions from grief, to joy, to relief, to name a few.
In this end of the year letter, I would like to share with you two exercises that my clients and I do at the end of each year to cultivate a fulfilling life in the year ahead. One is focused on your social capital which I call “Bucketing, Re-Bucketing, and Pruning”. The other one, is called “Roles and Goals”, which is focused on multiple roles that you have or would like to have in your life and intentional planning to make them as fulfilling as possible. I hope you find these helpful. Feel free to share it with your partner, parents, children, and friends too. I suggest that you do the Bucketing, Re-Bucketing, and Pruning together as a couple as well. This will give you a chance to assess your social capital, shape your own and cultivate a mutual one for your coupledom.
From my heart to yours, I would like to thank you kindly for being a part of my global community. Many of you I know in person, some of you I know of, and some of you I am yet to have the pleasure to meet in person. Whoever you are and wherever you are, I am sending you much love and light for a meaningful holiday season followed by a fulfilling New Year ahead. I look forward to keeping in touch!
Dr. Sara 💗