Lessons from TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé, Part 2

Welcome back! If you’ve come here first, you’ll want to check out Part One of Lessons from TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé. Today, I’ll give you 3 more lessons. And, while the original catalyst for these posts isn’t necessarily the most credible, in all seriousness, the lessons we can learn are good ones.

Lesson #3: 
“Talking about issues” doesn’t usually lead to change. 

Here’s the reality of behavior change. I’m getting so tired of hearing couples say “we really need to work on our communication (or issues)” without a (seemingly) clear understanding of how people change. I’m going to go on a limb here and say that, for the majority of people, thinking about and talking through issues only goes so far, and that’s not far.

It’s all about behaving your way out. The thinking follows. And to really get behavior to change, it takes A LOT of consistency and repetition of the new behavior. I’ve even heard at least 90 days of consistency for the pathway to be established. We’re talking about creating new pathways in the brain. Assuming your partner wants to change their behavior (and not just you wanting them to change), it requires an incredible amount of intentional effort. If you want your partner to text you when they get home from a night out, or communicate more in general, and that person is telling you they’re not interested in changing, you’ve got a different bigger problem.

Lesson #4:
Just because you think it, or feel it, does not make it true.

This could be anything from “when we saw each other, he just felt like the one” to “I felt like he was acting inappropriately, so I assume he was (flirting with another woman).”

This is a really important lesson, because it’s easy to get hooked by our thoughts and feelings and then treat them like they’re gospel, when in fact, they’re not. I’ve written a lot about this, because it’s so important.

For anyone who worries about relationships, or their future in general, I’d bet you probably have anxiety sensitivity in this area. That means your thoughts and feelings around this area will feel stickier. They’ll keep coming up and harder to get rid of, they’ll come back faster, and you’ll have more physical sensations when you think about your relationship, past relationships or love, in general. That doesn’t mean anything more than you’re more sensitive to anxiety in this area of life, and you act accordingly. Pay more attention to facts and data and learn how to respond differently to your thoughts and feelings if and when they send out alarm bells when there’s no crisis to be found.

Lesson #5: 
Learn to focus on the right side of the street.

Somewhere I read the metaphor of comparing dealing with anxiety with the sides of the street, and it’s brilliant. (I wish I could claim credit.)

To focus on the wrong side of the street is to put too much weight on something outside of us like the other person or the triggering event. Where we need to stay focused is on our side of the street. How are we responding to that trigger? If, for example, we’re getting anxious, it’s likely we’re treating the stimulus as if it’s dangerous, important, and meaningful, and in turn, setting off our amygdala. If the situation or your safety is at risk, we need to this feedback system to respond quickly. But if the “threat” is in your head, you may be mistaking discomfort for danger and reacting out of emotion.

The amygdala is the portion of the brain which responds with cortisol, often called the stress hormone, and adrenaline. Together, these chemicals give us the physical sensations we interpret as “oh this is really bad,” or “I feel like this is different: it’s worse.”

I’ve seen this manifest on the show with highly disproportionate reactions to situations: almost starting a fight when someone thought their fiancé was dancing with a woman (he wasn’t), ending a lifelong friendship because you didn’t like what they were saying and avoiding difficult situations because it’s “just too much.”

So, there you have it, my 5 lessons from the 90 Day Fiancé.

Most of us don’t like uncertainty, especially around the longevity of our relationship and/or our partners. This is normal. But when our intolerance of being uncomfortable (or alone) exceeds our ability to stay present to our reality, problems can (and generally do) arise. 90 Day Fiancé is just an extreme example of couples under stress and what can go wrong (and sometimes right).

You don’t need a 90 Day Fiancé to need help. If you feel like you could use an outside perspective, contact me.