This semester I am teaching a course in family therapy and marriage counseling. One of the gurus I quote in my teaching is John Gottman. Dr. Gottman is a sociologist who does research into marital dynamics. He lives and works inSeattleand runs a research lab called The Marriage Lab. Gottman has studied marital dynamics for about thirty years. One of the common problems he has identified in a marriage is called “the harsh start up.”
Ladies, the harsh start up is most often a female behavior but certainly it is not only females who make mistakes in marital communication. The fellas do plenty of dumb things too. We can talk about some of the more typical male errors another time. Certainly, there are some men who do harsh start ups but, according to Gottman, this is most frequently a female behavior.
Harsh start up is exactly what it sounds like. A person feels upset about something or other and goes to their partner with this emotional/psychological upset and speaks harshly. Of course this is an unproductive communication but the reason it is unproductive is quite interesting. It doesn’t work because when a woman approaches a man in this manner his fight or flight instinct is triggered and he usually, most often, flees. He flees through distance and being non-communicative.
Gottman takes blood samples of his subjects before, sometimes during, and after interactions. He says that when a man is approached with a harsh start up his stress hormones become activated and his heart pumps faster and he protects his health by withdrawal. Of course we know the end of this sad story. He withdraws. She becomes harsher. He withdraws more and eventually the stress level in the family rises to uncontrollable levels. Since relationships and family interactions significantly affect overall physiological health, a harsh start up is something that should be avoided.
According to Ayurveda our communication patterns are a reflection of our doshic imbalances. Yesterday Sandra and I talked about harsh start ups and reflected that it would be women with a pitta imbalance who engage in this behavior. Anger and hostility are hallmarks of both the harsh start up and a pitta imbalance.
What should do we do first — change our communication patterns or work on achieving doshic balance? Since both are inter-related they can be worked on at the same time. Physiological balance will insure that marital communication will change in a life affirming way and our style of marital communication will affect our doshic balance. There is a continual feed-back loop between feelings, behavior and health. Our book Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way is a manual for how to identify and rectify imbalances. When in balance behavior changes and as behavior is altered balance is increased.
Talking about harsh start ups led Sandra and I to speak about other imbalances which can foster unproductive behavior patterns. For instance, people with a vata imbalance are often good at just stirring things up! They stir up tornados and storms. Chaos will swirl around them. A person with a kapha imbalance, on the other hand, has no awareness of anxiety and can become immobilized. Anxiety turned inward and getting in the way of achievement is indicative of the kapha imbalanced person.
Imbalances in the doshas affect our communication style. They also affect us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Achieving and maintaining balance must be an on-going project. Without balance we are vulnerable to all types of problems. Marital problems are among the most severe since these cause damage to our physical and mental health. Happiness should always be our goal and doshic balance is the road to happiness. Let’s meet on this road!
Image from http://onlinemarriagecounselor.org/