What Your Therapist Might Be Missing About Your Relationship Issues

What Your Therapist Might Be Missing About Your Relationship Issues

During the pandemic, divorce rates have soared by 34%, according to a recent survey. Newlyweds married less than 5 months have been the hardest hit, with twice as many seeking a divorce compared to 2019. And with the pandemic, job losses, and stay-at-home orders, it took only 3 weeks for marriages to fall apart.

How’s your relationship holding up with the stacked stresses we’re all facing these days? Have your marital issues become more glaring? Have you tried marriage counseling but haven’t achieved the changes you were hoping for? There are many experienced therapists and counselors who offer solid strategies to improve relationships. With some couples, however, one or both parties can’t seem to follow their recommendations even though they love their partner and want to save the marriage.

What’s the problem?

It may be due to brain dysfunction. Therapists and counselors don’t look at the brain, so it’s impossible to know if underlying problems in the brain are contributing to marital discord and preventing one or both parties from following their advice.

Amen Clinics partners with thousands of therapists and counselors, performing brain SPECT imaging on couples who aren’t making progress in counseling. The scans often reveal areas of the brain that are either overactive or underactive, contributing to problems. Based on the Amen Clinics database of over 160,000 brain scans, here are the 5 most common brain regions where abnormal activity levels can sabotage a relationship.

Here are the 5 most common brain regions where abnormal activity levels can sabotage a relationship: Prefrontal cortex, Anterior cingulate gyrus, Deep limbic system, Basal ganglia, Temporal lobes. Click To Tweet

The 5 Most Common Brain Regions Where Abnormal Activity Levels Can Sabotage A Relationship

1. Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) Problems in Relationships

Located behind the forehead, involved in impulse control, judgment, forethought

When the PFC is underactive, people tend to be impulsive in what they say or do, often causing serious problems in relationships. People with a “sleepy” PFC are the type who blurt out hurtful comments without thinking (“You look like you’ve gained weight.”). In some cases, they may impulsively have extramarital affairs without thinking about the consequences of their actions. They may also have trouble paying attention to their partner. Expressing thoughts and feelings can be difficult, causing their partners to complain about a lack of meaningful conversation in the relationship.

Sleepy PFC types may have trouble staying on task and finishing projects, following through on commitments, or completing chores, which irritates partners. Being late is also common as is an unconscious tendency to be conflict seeking or to look for problems when none exists. At Amen Clinics, this is called the “let’s have a problem game,” and it can destroy relationships.

What their partners say:

“She never pays attention to me.”

“He says such mean things, it really hurts my feelings.”

Optimize it: The nutritional supplement rhodiola, green tea, a higher protein diet, and physical exercise can boost activity in the PFC. When the PFC is optimized, people are able to think before they say or do things and they learn from their mistakes. And they are less likely to seek out conflict, tension, or turmoil. This makes for a more peaceful relationship.

2. Anterior Cingulate Gyrus (ACG) Problems in Relationships

Runs lengthwise through the deep parts of the frontal lobes, acts as the brain’s gear shifter

Where there is too much activity in the ACG, people tend to be rigid, inflexible, and unbending—“It’s my way or the highway.” They may have obsessive or compulsive tendencies and when things don’t go their way, they may get very upset. Partners of people with an overactive ACG often describe them as uncooperative, difficult, or argumentative. That can be challenging for any relationship. These people don’t like change or trying new things, so spouses can feel like they’re stuck in the same old routine. They also worry a lot, hold onto grudges, can’t let go of past hurts, and are unforgiving of perceived wrongdoings. This means their partners are constantly being reminded about something they did long ago.

What their partners say:

“She brings up issues from years and years ago.”

“He can never say he’s sorry.”

Optimize it: The nutraceuticals 5-HTP and saffron and a diet higher in complex carbohydrates can help calm an overactive ACG. When the ACG is optimized, people tend to be more flexible and adaptable, even with the normal ups and downs of relationships. They’re more able to forgive the mistakes of others and can let go of past hurts.

3. Deep Limbic System Problems in Relationships

Located near the center of the brain, involved in setting a person’s emotional tone

When the limbic system is overactive, there is a tendency toward depression, negativity, and distance from others. They may have trouble bonding with their partner. These people are experts at noticing what’s wrong, including their partner’s flaws, which is usually not helpful. They aren’t playful, don’t feel sexy, and may shy away from sexual activity due to a lack of interest. Low energy levels and low motivation are common in these people, which can put a damper on a relationship.

What their partners say:

“He doesn’t want to be around other people.”

“She’s so negative, it’s hard to be around her.”

Optimize it: Physical exercise, aromatherapy, and natural supplements like saffron, DL-phenylalanine, SAMe, and L-tyrosine can be effective in balancing activity in the limbic system. When the limbic system is optimized, people tend to be more positive and better able to connect to their partner. They’re more likely to have better energy and are more playful and interested in sexual activity. Their positive attitude makes them more attractive to others.

4. Basal Ganglia Problems in Relationships

Located toward the center of the brain surrounding the limbic system, involved with integrating feelings, thoughts, and movement

When the basal ganglia are overactive, there is a tendency toward anxiety, panic, fear, and tension. People often have decreased sexual interest because their bodies tend to be wrapped in tension, such as backaches, headaches, upset stomach, and other physical complaints. They often don’t have the physical or emotional energy to feel sexy or sexual. Most of their memories are filled with anxiety or fear. They can be conflict-avoidant, which can result in relationship problems building up until they seem insurmountable. They have a tendency to be people-pleasers, so they may take on too much responsibility in a partnership then develop feelings of resentment. And they tend to wear out their partners with the constant fear they project.

What their partners say:

“He predicts the worst possible outcomes to situations.”

“She’s so uptight.”

Optimize it: Hypnosis, meditation, relaxation training, and the nutritional supplement GABA can help calm overactivity in the basal ganglia. When this region is optimized, people tend to be calmer, more relaxed, and have a more hopeful outlook. Their bodies tend to feel good, making them freer to express their sexuality. And they’re able to deal with conflict in an effective way and speak up for themselves so there is more equal footing in the relationship.

5. Temporal Lobe Problems in Relationships

Located underneath the temples and behind the eyes, involved in mood stability, reading social cues, memory, and language

When the temporal lobes aren’t functioning properly, people tend to have memory struggles—forgetting anniversaries, birthdays, and other important things that can make loved ones feel neglected and unloved. They often have emotional ups and downs, and it can be hard for a partner to deal with the mood swings. They tend to be temperamental and have problems with anger and can lash out over seemingly small things. This means significant others often feel like they have to walk on eggshells around them. They may take things the wrong way or misread the emotions of others, which can lead to conflict.

What their partners say:

“I feel like I’m always waiting for him to lose his temper.”

“She’s so moody I never know who I’m going to wake up to.”

Optimize it: A higher protein diet, anger management, and music therapy can help balance the temporal lobes. When the temporal lobes are optimized, people tend to be more stable emotionally, which helps foster stability in relationships. They tend to have accurate memories and are able to read emotional cues. And they have better control over their temper, which makes everyone around them less on edge.

At Amen Clinics, it has been noted that when relationships are crumbling, it’s often because both individuals have brain health issues. When your partner’s brain health issues conflict with your own trouble spots, it can create big problems. Looking at the brains of both people is often beneficial and sometimes very surprising.

Marital conflict and relationship issues, anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your relationships and mental well-being are more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your situation worse.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for couples, families, and individuals. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. My marriage has all of these symptoms right now. They have been there for some time but only in the last five months have they gotten worse. We don’t have much in the way of medical insurance, just Medicare, so getting brain scans are not possible. We are in our late 60’s and honestly, just waiting for the end. It helps to have an idea of what’s wrong; so sad that we have no way to fix it.

    Comment by Patricia M Hess — September 25, 2020 @ 9:09 AM

  2. gosh …..if it werent for my three loving cats I would be totally lost and berzerk😺 Where is the much needed advice especially for seniors to adopt a shelter
    cat before they are killed! Euthenasia is putting an animal out of its pain but thats not what happens to MILLIONS OF CATS IN THE US! I rest my case…
    and need to feed my loving creatures of joy! before their constant whining drives me INSANE

    Comment by Gary York — September 25, 2020 @ 9:26 AM

  3. Wonderful overview of issues & parts of the brain affected. Thank you. I sure enjoy your site & the information it provides. I am a retired RN worked with TBI, SCI, MS & other neuro impaired folks with underlying psych. diagnoses . Thank you. Referring & sharing your information. Thank you for your care of these folks.

    Comment by Lynne Beresford — September 25, 2020 @ 10:06 AM

  4. Our relationship is hanging by a thread-behaviorally speaking, do you think too much isolation wears down the impulse control as well? Can if physically affect the prefrontal lobe? I do know one of us drinks (him) and I can’t due to gallbladder removal in 2018. His drinking has increased, I don’t fault him but I also don’t want to be around him. Oh, to just leave and go to a cafe or restaurant by myself. I am so comfortable with being in places like that alone, don’t even need electronics. Just my headspace. That’s crushing my coping skills, that and missing my girlfriends and dinners out.

    Comment by Allison — September 25, 2020 @ 12:49 PM

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