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Wondering if your relationship is healthy? Go with your gut—not your wish list


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When I was a little girl, my mom taught me to trust my gut. In every situation, she reinforced the power I held within myself. If I was alone and felt unsettled about my environment, get out, she told me. If there was a dream I couldn’t stop thinking about, pursue it. If I questioned whether I could trust a friend, be wary. But it took me years to understand why the gut is the most reliable determiner of relationship decisions, too.

The Love Gap excerpt
Courtesy of Hachette Book Group

Researchers haven’t been able to unpack the formula behind why we choose the partners we do. Past science has shown we don’t always select relationship candidates who match what we proclaim to want and like. Individual attraction and compatibility is a unique mystery, one so complex and layered that not a single variable measured by scientists in a 2017 study helped predict which daters would be drawn to each other.

You can’t help who you love is a common cliche. By all accounts, this is true. I spoke with over 100 men and women while researching for my new book, The Love Gap, and these lingering punches in the gut were a recurring theme. How, despite their partners being perfect on paper, they knew the relationship wasn’t right in their heart of heart’s. Or how, inexplicably, they believed in a connection to the core, so much so that they completely ignored the advice of others to pursue it.

Love is not a rational process, although logic and reason can certainly help you filter out the fully toxic cads and sparkless duds, guiding you toward a healthy relationship with power to go the distance. But compatibility and chemistry are determined somewhere else. Deep down in your gut, you feel the weight of information your subconscious has processed. Therein lies the answer. My mom was right.

Remember this: You know you.

Right now, dating and relationships are more confusing than ever. We have chucked the scripts in an attempt to write our very own stories, reinventing partnership roles and relationship trajectories. Although we’re only beginning to see the remnants of change here on the cultural stage, the underlying message is still beautiful, isn’t it? Let’s destroy the old models. Let’s improve them.

It will be a slow climb to redefine what a relationship is, can, and should be, but I’ve already seen the power of personal navigation in creating strong individual partnerships. Remember this: You know you. You’re smart and reasonable, as well as wise and deep—and both can help you recognize and create the love you want.

Keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from The Love Gap.

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Trust your gut in relationships
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Your intuition is the most powerful tool in your relationship toolbox

I am fascinated by the power of intuition. Karla Ivankovich, the clinical counselor and psychology instructor, explains it as “that gut feeling—a sixth sense, inner voice, or uncanny wisdom that allows the hardwired internal defense systems of the brain to reveal a greater truth.” Sounds mystical. And kind of badass.

That truth might be whether a decision is right or wrong for you. Our brains process information via two different pathways. One is conscious, and the other is subconscious, the latter evaluating situations based on external cues and past experiences. There are lots of cool studies on the intuitive pathway, but let’s look at a recent gambling study.  Each participant chose cards from two decks. One was set up to dole out minimal gains but no losses (the “safe” deck); the other had big gains followed by big losses (the “dangerous” deck).

Our gut is a live wire of neurons and regulation.

Around 50 cards in, participants intuitively figured out which was the safe deck of cards—but they couldn’t explain the phenomenon until around 80 cards in. Even more interesting, however, is that only 10 cards into the game, the sweat glands in participants’ hands began to rev up whenever they’d reach for the dangerous deck.

Our gut is a live wire of neurons and regulation. It is sometimes referred to as our “second brain,” and we’re just learning all the ways in which it communicates with our body.

Good decisions, investments, and choices are often felt somewhere deep in our core—and women might be uniquely wired to have a stronger sense of intuition, perhaps especially as it’s related to the realm of human emotion. Ivankovich says the intuitive skill set is typically linked to those who are more attuned or sensitive to others, an area where women seem to have a leg up on men. Historically, women have had to look out for their children’s interests as well as their own, all the way back to prehistoric times, when we had to evaluate threats quickly or risk extreme dangers—like decide which direction likely held resources, or how best to ditch a saber-toothed tiger. Women might have developed those stronger gut feelings as a result.

Or perhaps a woman’s keen intuition is biological in nature. In a study of nearly 90,000 people, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, women consistently scored higher on the so-called “Eyes Test,” which tallies people’s ability to correctly predict what someone is thinking or feeling by looking at the eyes alone. The researchers showed that women might have “genetic variants on chromosome 3,” which may result in a better ability to read others.

No matter the reason, I want you to remember that your intuition is a powerful tool. I want you to trust your decision-making skills and make choices that sit well on a gut level.

You don’t need a specific reason to break off an unsatisfying relationship; you don’t have to pin- point why you’ve been unhappy or unsettled for months on end, just so you can defend your decision to others.

We’ve  been taught to rationalize absolutely everything in society today, so we often ignore “gut feelings” when we cannot identify the reasons that we have them. But sometimes, your intuition is thinking and processing invisible information that does not sit at the forefront of your mind. Especially in relationships, which feel so hard to begin with, I don’t want you to ignore your gut. You don’t need a specific reason to break off an unsatisfying relationship; you don’t have to pin- point why you’ve been unhappy or unsettled for months on end, just so you can defend your decision to others. You don’t have to justify your investment in a guy who keeps making “silly” decisions to others (and sometimes to yourself ) if you believe the potential of the connection might bear out over time.

You know yourself. You are self-actualizing! You know the kind of relationship that will ultimately make you happy, and you can often feel the right decision before you can explain it—or, at least, the risks you need to take or moves you need to make that could lead to some- thing wonderful. Sometimes, you feel the right path in your gut.

Excerpted from the book THE LOVE GAP: A Radical Way to Win in Life and Love by Jenna Birch. Copyright © 2018 by Jenna Birch. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved. 

Along with trusting your gut when it comes finding love, try this expert-approved exercise to see if you’re a good match. And if you’re not, here’s how to end it, drama-free.