Doing Life Together

ID-100139663When my husband and I watch a movie that has a strong emotional story line, I seem to be more moved by the story. For example, the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan felt traumatizing to me. I kept whispering in my husband’s ear, “Make it stop. It’s too much.”

Is this because women are sensitized to emotions more so than men, or is it because of differences in the way men and women process emotion?

A study from the University of Basel looked at gender differences in emotional processing to help answer this question. In their study, men and women were shown images of emotional and neutral content. Women rated the emotional images as more emotionally stimulating than men, especially the negative images.  When the images were neutral, there were no gender differences in the ratings.

When both genders were given a memory test following the exposure to emotional images, women remembered them better than men. This was especially true for the positive images. The reseachers believe this is due to differences in how emotions are processed in the brain of men and women.

Looking at fMRI images of the male and female brains, the researchers saw increased activity in motor regions of women’s brains linked to those emotionally stimulating images.

According to one of the researchers, these findings may help us understand why women are more prone to depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress, all of which involve emotional dysregulation. If women have stronger reactivity to negative emotional images and remember them better than men do, this could help explain those gender differences.

Maybe this is why I had to close my eyes during the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan and was so much more bothered by the massacre on Omaha Beach. I was more emotionally stimulated, expressed those emotions and could recall them better than my husband.


Source:Klara Spalek, Matthias Fastenrath, Sandra Ackermann, Bianca Auschra, XDavid Coynel, Julia Frey, Leo Gschwind, Francina Hartmann, Nadine van der Maarel, Andreas Papassotiropoulos, Dominique de Quervain and Annette MilnikSex-Dependent Dissociation between Emotional Appraisal and Memory: A Large-Scale Behavioral and fMRI StudyJournal of Neuroscience (2015) | doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.2384-14.2015

ID-10069860Coming this weekend is Valentine’s Day.

Raise your hand if you are doing the standard dinner out, flowers and candy. While this is nice, some of you may need to infuse a little more excitement into your boring relationship;

The key: Novelty!

Do something new to stimulate your relationship that breaks from ordinary life. New experiences stimulate dopamine in the brain and that brings feelings of romance.

Here are a few ideas to rev up the romance and stimulate that boring brain:

1) Do a couple’s spa night. Schedule the two of you for relaxation and pampering. Check on-line coupon sites for deals.

2) Show love to a stranger or person in need. The two of you decide to go to a homeless shelter, children’s hospital or some place where showing love can bring joy to others.

3) Picnic somewhere scenic. Take a blanket, a basket of food and drink and find a beautiful spot to picnic. For those of us in more northern climates, it may have to be an indoor place with a view, so be creative. You might even drive to a scenic view and picnic in your car. Or, if you have a fireplace, spread the picnic out on the floor!

4) If you can afford it, go to a nice hotel and truly get away. Leave your devices alone and enjoy the time together.

5) Do something you never do: Sign up for a cooking class, go on a hike, go bowling or play laser tag.

6) Create love notes all over the house with clues on how to find them.

7) For those of you with a more creative side, write a poem, compose a song, or find quotes that express your love.

8) Recreate your first date. You may not be able to go back to the exact location, but you could use pictures, maps and reminders of the place, then create the date and relive the memory.

9) Create a surprise. Not knowing where you are going or what you are doing with only a few clues along the way, adds to the fun and novelty.

10) Pull out old photos and reminisce about the most romantic times. Put on soft music, candles and set the atmosphere for more to come!

This Valentine’s Day, create a memory that strengthens the couple bond by doing something new to bring passion to your relationship. Romantic love doesn’t have to fade over time. It just needs a few shots of novelty once in awhile!


brainIt’s the end of the school day. Your teen is moody and complains about having a bad day. You later learn he has made poor decisions and acted impulsively. He tells you he smoked pot, missed class, but it is no big deal because other students do it and pass. You are tempted to lecture him, but resist. You know that his brain is not fully developed, and in part, explains his moodiness and impulsivity. Your concern, however, is for his exposure to possible addiction during his teen years.

The teen brain is not the same as an adult brain.

The teen brain is built, but as author of the book, The Teenage Brain says, it’s not fully insulated. Dr. Amy Jensen explains  the neuroscience behind the still forming teenage brain. In short, the front of the brain, known as the prefrontal cortex and frontal cortex, is the last to be developed. And these parts of the brain impact insight, empathy, impulse control, and risk-taking behavior.

Therefore, if your impulse control and risk-taking features are not fully operational, the teenage brain is far more susceptible to moodiness and addictions. Dr. Jensen goes on to explain that teen risk behaviors do more damage to the teen brain.

Thus, the adage that teens are resilient and will bounce back from risk taking behaviors may not be true. Concerns over teen use of drugs, alcohol, smoking and digital devices are not over hyped. The teen brain is a brain without full access to the frontal lobe. And when exposed to addiction, the teen brain builds stronger and longer reward circuits around those addictions, more so than in adults. Teens can get addicted faster because their brains are more efficient towards addiction.

Moody or not,  a conversation with a teen about his/her risk towards addiction is worthwhile. Teaching them that their brains can’t handle addiction like an adult is a needed message in our culture today. Age and development matter, especially when we are talking about addiction and the brain. Not all brains are alike!

Shappy coupleIt’s exciting watching young couples in love. Their desire and love for one another is infectious. But those of us who have been married for quite awhile have some advice when it comes to keeping love alive and making it through what has been termed, “gray divorce.” Yes, more people are divorcing later in life than ever before, but this doesn’t have to be.

When the romantic spark is over, we all know relationships take work. But work doesn’t have to be some arduous thing. In fact, “the work”  has to do with your likes and interests.

I came to marriage with a love of the theatre. I married someone who had never been exposed to theatre. But once he was, he too developed a love for it and we share that love and interest today.

At the time, we didn’t know that we were doing something simple to make our love last: Sharing each others’ interests.  But this is one of the secrets to make love last.

Even when you aren’t particularly interested in something your spouse likes, get interested. The willingness to share and engage goes a long way to keeping marital friendship alive and well. And friendship is one of the building blocks of intimacy. I did this with soccer. Never liked it much, but I married a college soccer player who grew up loving to play and watch soccer. So, I developed an interest in the game. And while it is not my favorite sport, we have gone to professional games and share the interest.

Right now, take a brief inventory. Has your husband wanted you to learn to play golf because he loves it and you don’t? I suggest that you get golf lessons and give it a try. Or maybe your love for art isn’t sitting well with your husband. Take him to a gallery and ask him to open his mind to something new. Try things together and find areas of common interest that you can develop together. It will go a long way to keeping love alive.