by Ginger Turner
In a society where more and more people are giving up on their marriage or giving up on life altogether, I felt such a need to understand why. The divorce rate is at its highest and suicide is now the 8th leading cause of death. Why such an increase in these fatal outcomes? I have lost a brother to suicide and almost killed my own marriage and I see so many people around me struggling with the same problems. In my research, I discovered that suicide and divorce can be the end result that is triggered by the improper function of a specific part of the brain.
Why do husbands and wives decide to give up and throw in the towel? Why do some people believe there is no reason to continue living? Most of the time, five parts of the brain determine our emotional state. Our attitude, motivation, and memories are created by these wonderful sections of our brains so it’s very important to understand them and how we can improve their functions. Their improved functions can help improve our friendships, our marriages, and our lives overall.
First of all, I am not a scientist or a doctor. I did my research following my own personal experiences with loss, depression, anxiety, and anger. I can tell you that being a relatively intelligent person trying to understand brain science is quite a challenge. Therefore, I have broken it down into the five brain areas, their function, and how we can improve their function that can in turn improve our lives.
The prefrontal cortex became my favorite part of the brain in my studies. It is located at the front of the brain and gives us the will to live, helps mold our personalities, and helps with our decisions, goals, and shows us good versus bad. Why is it my favorite? The will to live is really important in keeping us here on earth and forcing us to wake up every day and breathe. The prefrontal cortex is functioning properly when you have goals to achieve, follow through with your actions, and learn from your mistakes. Your prefrontal cortex is underactive when you are feeling impulsive, don’t think before you act, can’t sit still, or repeat mistakes. The prefrontal cortex functioning improperly can be seen when a spouse is easily distracted by another person and has an affair or their spouse may complain about their lack of communication. Depression might be diagnosed when the prefrontal cortex needs stimulation. In order to stimulate this area of the brain start by writing down your goals and reading them daily. If you are struggling in your marriage, write down the goals in the marriage and details about improving your relationship, your parenting, or family life. Listing places you would like to go or things to do together and reading them with your spouse will help stay focused and not becoming distracted. Trying new hobbies, eating at a new restaurant, or rearranging the furniture in your house can also stimulate the prefrontal cortex. If there are many arguments with your spouse, think before speaking and admit mistakes that are made instead of focusing on the negative attitude that one of you may have. Try focusing on the positive attributes of your partner or even write them down and read them daily versus focusing on what drives you crazy or annoys you. Many therapists have tried Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that kills the negative thoughts that go through our brains about a relationship or an event that may affect our prefrontal cortex. This doesn’t prove to be effective for every patient but it’s an option if you dislike prescriptive options.
The limbic system is the fun part of the brain that supports our emotions, behavior, motivation, long term memory, and where a certain “high” feeling can stem from – such as love and adoration. This system is functioning properly when you are positive and connecting with others, playful, sexual, and have positive memories. The limbic system is overactive when there is depression, negative memories, you push people away, or distance yourself from others. Many divorces tend to result from the overactive limbic system when loneliness, low libido, and negative thoughts are present. If you experience these symptoms, consider spending more time with your spouse and focus on positive memories and use touch to heal the limbic system. Back rubs and being playful stimulate this part of the brain which result in positive thoughts and connectedness. Changing your diet can also play a huge role in improving your limbic system. Eliminating saturated fats like fried foods and red meat and replacing them with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids will help maintain the neurotransmitters in your brain. Your limbic system is also sensitive to smell so having fragrances such as chamomile and lavender as calming agents or citrus and mint for energy can be stimulating. Exercise plays an important role in brain power too. Doctors recommend 20-30 minutes a day to maintain proper brain activity. Finally, overriding negative thoughts with positive ones and bad memories with good memories will help your limbic system function properly. The Bible tells us “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8. Surround yourself with positive thinkers in your work place, in your groups of friends, and on social media. The political views, gossiping, and bad attitudes allow the negative thoughts into your brain and they take over your positive energy and create a dark mood. These can consume your relationships and your life.
Have you ever wondered why someone you know is obsessive or holds grudges? Maybe they are also unforgiving…? The cingulate region in their brains may not be functioning properly. When this part of the brain is working as it should, we are problem solvers and forgiving. Philippians 4:6 tells us to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” The cingulate is where anxiety and anxiousness can originate. How can we calm our anxiety? Take a break from complaining. Write down possible solutions to your problems and don’t dwell on them. Again, exercise can help with the function of the cingulate, as well as eating carbohydrates. Meditation and prayer, as Philippians 4:6 instructs us, is a solution to an overactive cingulate.
Do you or your spouse suffer from anger, paranoia, or take things the wrong way? Your temporal lobe may need some adjustments. It’s not as easy as a tune up on a car but it’s very important to look into ways of correcting your temporal lobe. This part of the brain stabilizes your emotions and controls your temper and allows you retain good memories. If your temporal lobe has had trauma or injury it may result in short tempers, outbursts, or an emotional roller coaster. Constant worry and anxiety may consume your day. Luke 12:25 asks us “who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Dwelling on the past, memories, the future, etc. consumes our energy and can literally take time off of our lives. If the temporal lobe is not functioning properly, alcohol and drugs should definitely not be consumed because it causes a worse reaction. Families usually suffer the most with temporal lobe problems because of the anger involved and because the brain is also not remembering to be thoughtful and considerate and relationships are not nurtured. Ways to improve the temporal lobe function includes dancing, exercise, listening to music, eating more protein, and using reminders throughout the day to be more thoughtful of your loved ones.
Finally, we have the Basal Ganglia. As strange as the word sounds, it functions to control our habits, cognition, motor movement, and emotion. Do you know someone who complains about their body’s ailments or body aches all of the time? How about anxiety or fear? They may have an overactive basal ganglia. I have read about this in situations where the spouse complains all of the time and has a negative outlook on life in general. They take a “poor-me” attitude. If this part of the brain was functioning properly, they would be calm and relaxed and be more optimistic. So, a solution to this brain malfunction includes breathing exercises and adding some items to the diet – such as kava extract, valerian root, serotonin or melatonin, GABA, and having the smell of chamomile or lavender in the room.
In my own personal study and experimenting, I have found how important the limbic system is for relationships. There are studies of babies in different situations who were removed from all physical interaction and they eventually became ill or even died. I can see in my own family how my children respond to hugs and affection and how their attitudes in general change drastically when they are loved on and adored. Many marriages end when a spouse needs that physical interaction and contact and isn’t receiving it. We were created to be in relationships and have physical interaction with other humans. When this is lacking in a relationship, loneliness, despair, and depression can be a result. Even more, I read so many stories about couples who were misunderstood and struggling and didn’t know why until they had a brain scan done to find out they had an overactive limbic system or underactive prefrontal cortex that was causing the anger or anxiety in their marriage. This is a prime example as to why you should seek therapy before throwing in the towel with your marriage or your life. There is always hope!!!
Remember, I am not a doctor or scientist but have sourced my studies below and encourage you to read more about the brain and how you can improve its functions. If you discover that you can relate to any of the issues above, make an appointment with a therapist or doctor to see what options can help you. It may be a way to save your marriage, relationship with your family, or even your life.
“Change your brain change your life”, by Daniel G. Amen, M.D.