Daniel Siegel

What are the 4 S's of a Healthy Marriage or Love Relationship?

How Can Your Marriage or Love Relationship in NYC Improve?

Daniel Siegel's new book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, is for more than just teenagers. In fact, understanding how the brain, the mind, and relationships interact can help everyone improve their marriage and love relationship. 

Watch this broadcast the Daniel Siegel presented recently underlying the key concepts that Brainstorm outlines. Daniel Siegel is the creator of the practice of mindsight, the ability to see inside yourself, empathy for others, and the ability to integrate the two with compassion and kindness, honoring the other's vulnerability.

The teenage brain has a lot in common with the adult brain, and dramatic differences. How can a book about teenagers help adults in their marriage or love relationship?

The teenage brain has a lot in common with the adult brain, and dramatic differences. How can a book about teenagers help adults in their marriage or love relationship?

To have a healthy relationship, you need the 4 S's of Attachment: To be Seen, to be Safe, to be Soothed, and to be Secure. The most important factor in your ability to have a healthy marriage or love relationship and also to be a healthy parent, is how you have made sense of what has happened in your life, not the actual events that you've experienced. How do you understand your story? If you've made sense of your experiences in a compassionate and loving way, you can then give the closest people in your life what they need. Can you be present with what happens in your every day life? If you've made sense of your story, you're much more likely to be able to stay in the present rather than getting carried off into the prison of your past.




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Caught in a Lovetrap? Clearing Up Blind Spots in Your Marriage or Love Relationship

What Are "Lovetraps," and How Can They Get You Stuck in Your Marriage or Love Relationship?


Have you ever interpreted something your partner or spouse did in a negative way, only later to find out you were either blowing things out of proportion, or simply wrong? If you're like most humans, that is easy to answer. Our past experiences define how we see what is happening in the moment, even when our perceptions doesn't actually fit the reality. These perceptions, or mental filters, are referred to as “schemas,” beliefs that filter how you see the world. Schemas that influence you to feel like your partner will leave you, cheat on you, or lie to you most likely stem from key experiences in your past when you were hurt or betrayed. We call schemas "Lovetraps," because they can create huge blind spots that get in the way of safety and closeness in our marriage or love relationships.

Closely linked to these mental filters of schemas are emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, and shame, followed by behavioral urges that may include anger (fight), withdrawal (flight), or paralysis (freeze).  The most common primary schemas that lead to "love traps" relate to how you see yourself (self-esteem) and relationships (with caregivers, romantic partners, and peers). 

The Most Common Schemas in Marriages or Love Relaitonships

  • Abandonment: you expect instability, unreliability, or loss of anyone you are close to
  • Mistrust and Abuse: you expect significant others will hurt, abuse, humiliate, cheat, lie, manipulate, betray, or take advantage of you
  • Emotional Deprivation: you believe that significant others, including your partner or spouse and caregivers, will never meet your primary needs for nurturance, empathy, affection, and protection 
  • Defectiveness or Shame: you feel you are bad, unwanted, undesired, inferior, or invalid
  • Social Exclusion: you feel different or not part of any group or community; you minimize similarities with other people and maximize differences, usually with peers and groups

Your parents gave you a basic template for loving relationships. Sensitivities may also originate from wounding relationships with your siblings, members of your family, mentors or caregiving authorities, and your past and present romantic relationships.

How Do You Know When You're Stuck in a "Lovetrap"?


When your schema is perceiving something with your partner or spouse in a negative way, you’ll either detach from him or her and go numb to "protect" yourself, or experience an intense emotional reaction that you’re aware of, such as anger, fear, sadness or shame. Emotion moves fast, as a protective response to help you survive the potential of danger or threat. If you want to recognize what is occurring in a situation with your partner or spouse, you’ll have to regulate your central nervous system by breathing while doing muscle relaxation or focused attention exercises to help you connect your emotional brain (usually your right hemisphere unless you’re left-handed) with your logical, linguistic and linear brain in your left-hemisphere (unless you are left-handed). If you are able to successfully slow your central nervous system down from a hyper-aroused state through regulation, you will then be able to use your left-hemisphere brain to assess the situation in a more logical, rational way. 

When your schema is triggered, you’ll most likely notice that you’re feeling off-balance, disoriented, disorganized, angry, or numb. The urges that come up for you in the situation may puzzle or startle your partner or spouse in the situation, as they often don’t seem to relate to the degree of severity the experience or situation warrants. For instance, if you have an abandonment schema, where you are afraid that relationships don’t last and expect instability, your coping strategy of anger that protests against a disconnection with your partner or spouse ends up causing more distance and disconnection in your marriage or love relationship.

Your Brain is an Anticipation Machine: Your Past Shapes How You See the Now

Your brain responds to cues in your current marriage or love relationship with associations from past caregivers, unless your past hurts have been resolved. For instance, if you have a “Mistrust” schema, your partner or spouse arriving home an hour late may easily be interpreted as a “cue” that he or she is having an affair, and will most likely hurt or betray you like a significant past caregiver or partner did. As you’re waiting for him or her to arrive home, your body responds from your brain with alarm, as the danger of getting hurt is linked with your past hurts. You may get angry when your partner or spouse arrives home, accusing him or her of misleading or lying to you. Your anger pushes your partner or spouse away from you, and you most likely feel distance instead of closeness and reassurance. It’s hard for any partner or spouse to respond effectively to the emotion of anger. In reality, your partner or spouse may simply have been running late from work, instead of having an affair.

Many of us are afraid to express our sensitivities or vulnerabilities to other people, especially our partner or spouse. More than anyone else, your partner or spouse may hurt you, and you may fear that he or she may see you as weak, try to control you, or ignore your sensitivities so that you feel even worse. However, your partner or spouse can’t respond to your schemas if you don’t regulate yourself when you’re activated, and reflect on what theme is interfering with your ability to see what is happening in your current situation. Courage and a leap of faith are needed to help you express your sensitivities to your partner or spouse so that he or she can respond in a way that helps you feel better.

esources to Help: Reinventing Your Life & Mindsight

chema therapy, developed by Dr. Jeffrey E. Young, is an empirically validated approach that combines the best methods from cognitive behavioral therapy, emotion-focused therapy, and behavioral therapy. You can read more about schemas and how they may impact you and your relationships in the self-help book, Reinventing Your Life, by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko. The Loving at Your Best Plan uses schema therapy as a foundation for our approach to improving marriages and love relationships.

Mindsight, developed by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, is at the forefront of brain science, using interpersonal neurobiology to help change your brain. At the Loving at Your Best Plan, we use advanced techniques from the Mindsight approach to help you in your marriage or love relationship. 

Share Your Experiences from Your Marriage or Love Relationship

Do you recognize times when you become very upset, or go numb, when your partner or spouse does or says something? Do you recognize what upsets your partner or spouse? Share your experiences of getting caught in your "lovetraps," and help others in our community to learn from your wisdom. Have a question about how to help your marriage or love relationship? Complete the space below, and join the conversation about how to help your marriage or love relationship thrive.

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Does Couples Counseling Work? A Key Tool


A key tool to help couples counseling work actually lies in how both a partner or spouse in a marriage or relationship tell the stories of who they are and what they've experienced in their lives. How do you understand what happens to you in your own life? Most likely, you tell stories to give meaning to the experiences that you have. When you’re sharing stories with your partner or spouse in your marriage or relationship, you can create a bond that both connects and builds a sense of belonging between the two of you. We don’t all tell stories in the same way, of course, and interestingly, how we tell our stories affects our ability to manage our emotions and to understand ourselves and our partner or spouse in our marriage or relationship. 

To identify the differences in how you tell your story in your marriage or relationship, you may want to look back at the key people in your life that helped you create the script of how you tell your story about your past, and about your life now. For instance, what do you remember about your childhood experiences, whether positive or negative? How do you describe those experiences now? Who is the person in your life who influenced you most as a child, especially before the age of 10?  That person, usually a mother or father, was your primary caregiver, and most likely helped to shape how you tell your story now: the story of your past, your present life, and the life you anticipate in the future. How you tell your story now defines how you see yourself, whether that is accurate or not.

What is that voice inside your head? One way to describe the voice is to call it your personal narrator, the voice that gives meaning to your experiences. When you use your personal narrator, you’re trying to make sense of your life, the experiences you have, related to how you define yourself, relationships, and the world. Your personal narrator does not always tell an accurate story of the events you've experienced: details may be foggy, and the meaning may be wrong. For instance, you may think that something was wrong with you because your mother was so busy focusing on her own career that she seldom spent time with you trying to understand you and to be there for you as an emotional support. An accurate narrator would be able to give meaning to the lack of caring and support by understanding the difficulties your mother had in your life, not because of you, but because of her own challenges. You deserved to have a caring and nurturing mother, and you deserve care and love in your life now.  If you work to deepen and clarify how you understand yourself, the key people in your life, and significant experiences you've had, your personal stories can expand and become much more meaningful. Instead of dwelling on your past, you can actually free yourself from experiences that may often feel like they imprison you, even if they occurred 2 or 3 decades ago.


Picture yourselfback in your childhood, before the age of 10, and think of an image when one of your key caregivers was telling you a story during and after a significant event. If the caregiver you are picturing had a secure connection to you, he or she helped you to connect both the details of the experience, the emotions you felt, and the meaning of the situation related to how you define yourself, relationships with others, and the world. The caregiver helps you develop meaning in your life. A key finding in research is that it is not what actually happened in your history that affects you nearly as much as how you give meaning to what happened in your life. Your narrator truly shapes how you see yourself, and how you relate to others in the world, including your partner or spouse in your marriage or relationship.

What are the best ways to make a marriage or relationship work?

In your early childhood, your brain is developing at its fastest pace, especially between 1 and 7 years of age, during puberty, and between 15 and 17 years of age. A foundation is laid by your caregivers to influence how you regulate your feelings and how you give meaning to your life. At the Loving at Your Best Plan, we refer to a healthy foundation from a caregiver as having three key actions, the 3-R’s: regulate, reflect, and respond. If you had a secure caregiver, he or she helped you to manage your emotional reactions by regulating yourself to calm and soothe yourself from the inside, and then helped you reflect on your experience to help you understand it. Reflecting is the term we use for  “making sense” of the event or experience. 

With a secure and healthy caregiver growing up as a child, you develop and grow until you're eventually able to manage your own feelings and reflect on the events in your life through your own voice, without the assistance of your caregiver. The caregiver "models" healthy patterns of adaption and flexibility the become ingrained in you. Ideally, all of us would have grown up with a secure caregiver providing these key lessons and experiences to us.

However, if your caregiver didn’t help you manage your feelings, or help you reflect on events in your life in an accurate way, most likely you experienced what children in an insecure connection feel--shame about the experienceinstead of understanding the context and the meaning of the situation and the key characters in the story.

Usually, when a caregiver retells a story to a child, she or he helps the child understand the experiences and helps the child feel comforted through empathic responses. Telling a story involves the narration of a series of events and experiences of characters in those events, just like a narrator retells a story in a novel. The narrator helps the reader understand the events and the experiences of key characters.

As adults, we usually tell our story with words. As a child, if your caregivers helped you understand what was happening to you in upsetting situations accurately, you were most likely able to calm down relatively quickly. You’d understand what happened to you, and you’d more likely be able to predict what may happen to you in the future.

Perhaps you have experiences as a child that you couldn’t understand or give meaning to. Without a caregiver providing a healthy narrative voice, it’s unlikely you could manage what you were feeling, or accurately understand what you were going through. As a child develops, he or she forms the capacity to create a personal narrative based on the voice of the key caregivers in childhood. In the end, how you as a child told your story reflects how you came to understand your world, and how you learned to manage your feelings. 

How to save a marriage or relationship, even if it is failing

The way you tell your life stories reveals the way you have come to understand the events of your life, in the past as well as the present. Even if you're struggling with what you think is a failing marriage or relationship, if you focus on how you can make the failing marriage or relationship better instead of whether or not you should stay in the relationship, you're much more likely to succeed in making improvements. How you tell the story of this process can have a significant impact.

As yourself the following questions about your current life, and see how your answers may influence how you see things in your marriage or relationship now: 

·      Do you describe your experiences from a distance, or do you emotionally relive your experiences as you retell your story? 

·      Do certain issues trigger intense feelings in you that stem from unresolved events or themes, even though they may have happened long ago? 

·      Do you remember many details about your early life? 

·      What feelings come up when you tell the story of your early experiences?

How would you answer the questions? How do you feel as you’re answering them? What do your answers mean to you? 

Your life story can give you clues about how your present world is shaped by your past. How you tell your story and how you emphasize different aspects can reveal the way you have come to understand your world, meaning your self-esteem, relationships, and the world as a whole.

Read more in Daniel Siegel'sexcellent book, Parenting from the Inside Out. Need more help? Call or fill out our contact form, and we'll help you get started today at the Loving at Your Best Plan. You may also visit our sister site for gay couples therapy. Share this page with a friend or family member by clicking the icons below. Let us know what you think as well by clicking the "comment" button. Read reviews of our therapists from unbiased, anonymous clients by clicking "Reviews."

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