How To Use Your Brain for a Change

How to Use Your Brain for a Change in Your Marriage

After you have had some therapy, how do you imagine that you would want to talk to your partner? When you have participated in a couples therapy intensive, it is important to not get distracted and slip into old patterns. Sometimes the pressures of life can invite us to get distracted. Here are some tips based on the latest discoveries in neuroscience on exactly how to keep a sharp focus.

Start with Changing One Specific Behavior

Human attention is not designed for multi-tasking. Benjamin Franklin famously had a list of virtues he was invested in acquiring. He focused on one virtue each week. The science behind this method is strong. If you try to implement too much change too quickly, you may become discouraged. Consult with your partner. Ask them “of all the information we learned from our recent intensive, what one change can I implement this week that will have the most positive impact on our relationship?” The paradox, however, is that you shift quickly from one important change to another, pursuing change on multiple fronts, but with a singular purpose.

Compare and Contrast Your Best Time of Day With Your Partner

When is the best time for you and your partner to have important conversations? Are you a “Lark”? You are if you are at your best before noon. “Owls” on the other hand are cognitively at their best in the evening.

Couples often describe that they feel mentally sharp at different times of the day. Your sharpest time is when you feel best able to focus, and least likely to succumb to distractions. It’s common for “Larks” who are best in the morning, to marry “Owls” who are at their best in the evening. Understand your differences, and share the cognitive load.

Breath for Focus

Before you dive into a planned conversation with your partner, do a brief breathing exercise. You can improve your quality of attention by focusing on your breath for just 9 inhales and exhales. If you habitually juggle various tasks, you can significantly increase your focus and attention. It only takes a few minutes.

Use Your Brain For a Change


When you are having a conversation with your spouse that is starting to slide into old familiar dysfunctional banter, bring your attention to it. “Honey, we’re doing it again” is a great pattern interrupt.

Slow down the pace breathe together. You win every time you break the pattern. And you break the pattern by first recognizing that you are sliding into it.

Brief Conversations

Use your brain for a change. Remember that your attention and the attention of your beloved are a finite resource. Try not to have long drawn out discussions about differences of opinion. After 20 minutes, both of your minds will tire. It’s better to change the subject for awhile. But remember to tell your partner that you want a break, and you will return to the topic.

Ask for collaboration on brief conflictual conversations with a break after 20 minutes. But you will be asking for trouble if you use asking for a break as a dodge to avoid the subject. Research shows that when couples take a short 5-minute break, they have an increased capacity to return to the conversation with more energy and concentration .

Notice If Your Attention is Wavering and Refocus

After you and your partner break, it’s time to refocus on the earlier conversation. Use the 9 breath method if necessary.


The problem with getting distracted is cultivating the capacity to notice  that you’re, well…. distracted.

However, learning to periodically self-check can improve attention and help people focus better on tasks, recent research finds.  The study’s authors write that attentional lapses occur because:

  • Humans do a poor job in noticing how their attention flags on a moment by moment basis.
  • Lapses in attention are often not noticed in time. Don’t aggravate your partner by faking it. Be honest about needing a break. Any stressful conversation that exceeds 20-minutes is pushing the cognitive envelope.

Adjust the Content

If your attention is still drifting, maybe the conversation is a bit too ambitious. Can you both agree to focus on one part of the problem instead of the whole enchilada? Can you set a briefer agenda, discuss the topic in more bite size pieces?

Your Body Keeps the Score

Yoy may use your brain for a change, but your body keeps the score.

If you notice discomfort in your body, it might be time to give the topic a rest. There is no point in pushing past a natural limit, particularly when you are trying to apply new skills. There’s a limit to how much any couple can get done. If your head or body is beginning to ache, give the topic rest.

Agree on a transitional signal such as “by the way.”  This is a tool to modulate the conversation, and signal that you would like to change the subject.

High-Five each other when you successfully have new conversations and do not fall into old conflictual patterns. reward yourself by doing something fun!

Want to learn more?

Call us for more information 844-926-8753 to reach me, Daniel Dashnaw, use option 2.



About the Author Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.

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