Omega: Why do you say we're wired more for war than love, and what does that mean for relationships?
Stan: We have more centers in the brain that are responsible for keeping us alive and preserving the species than we do for attachment. But attachment is part of survival, so we need to love because we need to attach to at least one other human being for survival. I know it sounds contradictory, but those are both there, and they're both linked to survival.
We pride ourselves on having this very smart, complex brain on the top, but it's not the one that's running the show day-to-day. The primitive brain is the one that's actually directing all of our actions. So when push comes to shove, we're going to shoot first and ask questions later to different degrees, depending on the systems we have in place to limit us and inhibit us.
The more support we have in childhood, the more integrated our brain is as we move into adolescence and adulthood, the more systems are available to us to cross check and error correct messages we get from the primitive brain.
Omega: You also say we’re not wired for monogamy. How so?
Stan: There's been no evidence that the human animal is by nature monogamous—in fact, quite the opposite. The only evidence we have is that, in general, human beings tended to pair bond in the wild to procreate and protect the offspring for a few years, then separate to mix up the gene pool.
Monogamy is more of a social construct, and it's an important one because of the basic need for bonding. Our tendency to stray is at odds with our need to feel safe and secure in that attachment relationship. But now that we live longer and depend on the nuclear family, we can say that while biologically we may want to stray, it would be very bad for us because it would disrupt the primary safety and security system in that relationship.
You and I can agree that in order to feel safe and secure we are not going to do that, because it serves both of our needs. And if we believe in that, then that keeps us from doing it.
Omega: How can we have successful relationships if our biology is against us?
Stan: We can look at many examples where people, because of our biology, pair bond to protect each other from the environment and predators. It happens in mentally ill populations, with cop partners, Navy seals, and in war zones or other places where people naturally stick together and have each other’s backs. They have a mutual interest in being experts on each other, on being the people that they trust above all others. They don’t have time to wonder if they’re soulmates or not, they’re too busy protecting each other—surviving.
These groups develop the principles of behavior that you would expect from a mini-society—the relationships are based on fairness, justice, and sensitivity, at least the most successful ones are. Regardless of personality, moods, or urges, they agree on a set of principles that override these things because it's in their best interest.
A couple is a mini-society, but we live in a larger society where we don't have any strong messages about the purpose of marriage. If couples don't have this understanding, it’s the wild west, and everyone gets together with their implicit ideas of how it should be until something happens. Then they call foul and say, “How could you do that?” But we find these couples never had any overarching principles or reasons for being together other than they love each other, they're attracted, their families like them—things that don't last, things that can't hold people together.
We know from observation that successful romantic relationships require collaboration and full mutuality. They’re like a 3-legged race at a picnic—if one of us goes down, we both go down. But that’s not held as an idea in our modern times. And so people do things to each other without thinking about it, things that erode their sense of safety and security because they're thinking as a one-person system not a two-person system.
Omega: What’s the benefit to thinking as a two-person system?
Stan: In a two-person system I have to know you better than you know yourself. I have to know what to do when you feel this or that. I need to know how to minister to you like no one else can. But you also do the same for me. Then we become a team that generates energy that we can apply to life and that becomes a directive to our children and families and the world. It’s very important.
© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies