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Apr 2015 by PCI College

The Relationship NCT by Jade Mullen

Jade Mullen invites us to take the Relationship NCT, advising on the upkeep and maintenance that can help us all to keep our relationship on the right road.

Excitement, anticipation, butterflies, passion, happiness; these are just some of the feelings associated with falling in love. This can quite often be the ‘good bit’, the part where we fall so hopelessly and helplessly and everything between the two is frequently effortless. The rush of hormones and pheromones surge and we connect to the other in a way that is like no other. And so the relationship begins. 

Naturally, over time, this euphoric connection gets interrupted by life’s demands and things may no longer seem as effortless and deep as they once did. Scientifically, there is a completely rational explanation for why this happens. As we fall in love and we experience happiness, excitement and euphoria, chemicals, like dopamine and seretonin – commonly referred to as the ‘happy hormones’, are released creating chemical changes in our brain. This initial reaction of lust, love and attraction is so powerful that researchers have found similarities between the brain of someone falling in love and the brain of someone with an addiction: 

Those who are happily in love express neural activity in a region associated with the ‘rush’ of cocaine, and those who are rejected in love appear to have neural activity in common with those who gamble for money, risking big gains and big losses. (Fisher, 2006, p 101-102)

Couple back to back not speakingIt is unrealistic to expect this ‘high’ to last forever, in fact it has been found that this feeling of being in love only lasts up to about 8 – 17 months of a relationship (Fisher, 2006). Over time, our brain adjusts to these chemical changes and we no longer feel our heart skip a beat at the mention of our loved one’s name. Some people move on and seek this ‘high’ elsewhere, others stay, content to be with the other without the rush; others may wonder where they went wrong and how they can get ‘it’ back. For those who stay, the love may not actually be gone anywhere, but the way the love is felt will have changed.

So without the passion, the butterflies, the excitement, what are we left with in a relationship? We are left with each other, we are left the real relationship and this takes work.

When a person buys a new car, it feels good, it runs well and it looks sharp. If the car is not cared for, maintained, it may breakdown. Over time, as the car wears, we put it through the NCT to prevent crashes and breakdowns. We do not expect a car to keep going without proper maintenance. The same could be said for relationships. How can we expect things to keep going smoothly without doing some upkeep? When it comes to relationships, what should we do to get ours through the NCT?

N is for....Name It: When there is something wrong with you, with them, the relationship, look at this, but not at the issue itself, dig into the feelings you are having as a result of this issue and name them, at first to yourself. Get to know what you are experiencing. Harris (2009, p112) states that “when we experience painful feelings, we commonly switch into one of two modes: avoidance or autopilot.” When we are in avoidance mode we try to distract ourselves from how we are feeling. We can do this by throwing ourselves into work, eating/drinking/smoking too much, going out with friends, pulling back from our partner, etc…(Harris, 2009). When we are in autopilot mode, we are allowing our feelings to control us. We become the “reactive partner” (Harris, 2009, p114). When a situation arises or a feeling within us is triggered, as a reactive partner, we react to that, rather than to how we might really be feeling. A more productive, and arguably more difficult, approach to take is to Name It – admit how you are feeling and accept this feeling for what it is.

C is for.....Communicate: You know how you are feeling, you have named it for yourself, now it’s time to pass this message on. Before you do this, it might be best to consider how you normally communicate within your relationship; quite often what we say is lost simply because of the manner in which we say it. Gottman & Silver (1999, p3) state research shows “that an unhappy marriage can increase your chances of getting sick by roughly 35% and even shorten your life by an average of four years.” While there are many theories as to why this might be the case, Gottman highlights that if we interact and communicate in a negative way, our relationship, in addition to our health, will inevitably come undone. 

Gottman identifies 4 types of negative interaction that are responsible for the breakdown of relationships, he calls these “The Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse”. “Usually these four horsemen clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.” (Gottman & Silver, 1999, p27). 

  1. Criticism: We can all be unhappy about a person’s behaviour, and sometimes rightly so, but when we get personal, attacking, we are using unhelpful criticism.
  2. Contempt: Conveys a message of disapproval. Eye-rolling, sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness are all examples of contempt.
  3. Defensiveness: As a result of the attacks, the disapproving tone, we may jump to our own defence. Putting up a wall, a protection against the blame that is being thrown at us.
  4. Stonewalling: Avoidance, disengagement, no eye-contact, lack of interest. It is no surprise that this appears after a barrage of criticism, contempt and defence.  (Gottman & Silver, 1999).

Of course as humans we cannot expect to interact and communicate well all of the time but if these four horsemen are our go-to style and are present more often than not, our relationship will struggle to survive. When interacting with our partner, it is worth reflecting – will what I am going to do or say bring us closer together or move us apart?

T is for Triggers: Well all of that sounds so simple doesn’t it? I will just stop doing those things, I will stop avoiding or being on autopilot, I will stop rolling my eyes and being critical, unfortunately this information alone is not enough to get us through the NCT. We must know our own triggers. We must consider what it is that keeps pulling us back into being defensive or critical. In knowing our triggers, we can move away from being that ‘reactive partner’. Let’s take, for example, the husband who is frustrated that his wife is nagging…everyday; or the wife who is angry and upset that her husband has forgotten to take out the bins…again and an argument ensues. It is not easy to interact in a positive way when such intense emotions are evoked. If we look deeper we might realise that as a result of nagging, the wife is giving a message that ‘you’re not up to standard’ or as a result of always forgetting to put out the bins, the husband is giving a message that ‘you’re in this alone’. It is not the nagging or the act of forgetting the bins, it is the message behind this, this is what triggers our emotional response and communication style. It is not about the bins, it is never about the bins!

As we work on these three components of the relationship NCT, it is the fuel of love and friendship that will allow the relationship to keep running. Gottman & Silver (1999, p44) describe friendship as “being at the heart of every marriage” and Harris (2009, p37) presents an acronym that sums up what love is all about:

Letting go

Opening up



Love is…..whatever you make of it.

Jade Mullen (April 2015)
PCI College Lecturer

Jade will facilitate a one-day workshop, Repairing Relationships on Saturday 2nd May in Kilkenny. To find out more and book your place now, click on our website here.

Fisher, H. (2006). The drive to love: The neural mechanism of mate selection. In R.J Sternberg & K. Weis. (Eds). The new psychology of love. (pp. 87-115). NY: Yale University Press.
Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Harris, R. (2009). Act with love. CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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