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9 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationships Through Intentional Regulation

By June 12, 2022No Comments
Being regulated is, in a very basic form, the act of getting what you need to be calm and feel safe. As a child, being well regulated means that when you cry someone comforts you, when you’re hungry someone feeds you, or when you’re tired you are able to rest undisturbed. As we mature, regulation becomes more nuanced and a little harder to find since adults are usually left to figure out what they need and how to get it on their own. Most of the time, adults are self-regulating with varying degrees of success. When I have a stressful day, I know that I can meditate later to help calm my nerves and bring me into a state of regulation. If I have company at home and I’m unable to regulate myself in the same way, this can lead to further dysregulation and irritability until I can course-correct.
Regulation when it comes to relationships is an exercise in syncing. When we are in sync with the people in our lives it means that we are well regulated. Therefore it is possible to strengthen your relationships by using the knowledge of regulation to pick activities that will sync you up in a meaningful way and enrich your relationship for years to come.

The Secret to Regulation

As babies, there are two things that soothe us without fail – being rocked, and the sound of a heart beating. These both mimic the experience of being inside the womb – the safest place we have ever known. As a result, we have evolved to be soothed by rhythmic experiences, and when we experience rhythmic motions or sounds with others, it makes us feel close and aligned to that person or group of people.
Being synced up with the people in your life is soothing to your nervous system. This is because humans are social creatures and we instinctively know that there is safety in numbers – provided the members of the group all get along. It could be that if you’re going to be around people you can have two completely different experiences depending on if you are well regulated to them or not. It is the difference between kicking back and relaxing while cracking open a beer with a friend, and standing rigidly at a party where you barely know anyone and have little in common.
The brain is always working on your behalf, and your subconscious soaks in roughly 11 million bits of data per second. Your brain chooses which 40 – 50 bits of data to serve up to your conscious mind for your input and consideration. What this means is that you are always aware, on some level, about body language, tone of voice, word choice, sounds and much more that is going on around you. If you have an uneasy feeling about someone, there’s a good chance it is because your subconscious added up all its observations and your brain made a judgment call using that data without fully consulting you. Conversely, when you vibe with someone right out of the gate, there is a good chance your subconscious picked up on similarities or patterns you prefer.
Syncing, or regulating, typically occurs on a subconscious level. Now that you know what regulation is, you can be intentional about how you invoke it. 

What kind of relationships can be strengthened with regulation?

All of them. Being well regulated with your children, partners, siblings, parents, friends, coworkers, relatives, and even strangers has monumental benefits. Not only will it strengthen these relationships, you will feel a physical and energetic boost through a cocktail of reward hormones. As mentioned, humans have evolved to believe we are safest when we are a part of a like-minded group, and so your brain and body will always react positively to being an accepted member of a tribe.
The benefits do not stop with you when it comes to intentional regulation. The people in which you engage will also benefit from the same, helping them to feel safe and increase the quality of their lives, too.
In other words, it’s a win-win.

#1 – Drum together or go to drum circles

As mentioned, rhythmic sounds are the ultimate form of regulation to humans, and what is more rhythmic than a drum? They’re easy to play, and most people can follow a beat – especially in group settings. There is also the added benefit of the vibrations, which serve to amplify the physical experience and further sync those being hit with the same waves of sound.

#2 – Dance!

Dancing is one of the oldest forms of regulation. There’s a reason why every culture usually has a cadre of traditional dances that can include large groups of people. The famous Maori ceremonial dance called the haka is a perfect example of this type of dance – designed to unify one group in preparation for battling another. The haka also includes chanting, which we’ll talk more about in #8. Dancing is a full body movement, and when we are in sync or complementary to others, our nervous systems are ecstatic. 

#3 – Sing Together

No, you don’t have to be a good singer for this one to work. Think about how great it feels to bust out to one of your favorite songs with your best friend to the car radio. Or how enjoyable it is to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with a stadium full of people. Anyone who has been in a choir or an a capella group can attest to the joys of harmonizing, but if that’s out of your reach there is still a lot of regulation that occurs when engaging your vocal chords in a similar way.

#4 – Go for a walk or a jog

Both walking and jogging together, when done at a similar pace, create a type of rhythm and thus support regulation. For the majority of human history, the only way we could get around was by walking or running. This, of course, was always safest to do in groups, so sharing this activity with others only increases the satisfaction to the nervous system and ultimately your brain.

#5 – Swing or rock together

Who doesn’t like to be rocked? As an adult, it’s probably been a while since you experienced this, but I assure you you’d probably still love it. Luckily, rocking chairs exist, as well as swings and hammocks. All of these come in at least double-wide configurations, so treat you and your loved one to the experience as a way to regulate and strengthen your relationship.

#6 – Play catch!

Did you know that humans are the only species on Earth who evolved the ability to throw objects with any degree of consistent accuracy? It would be a shame to waste that kind of evolutionary advantage, so that alone is enough of a reason to enjoy a game of catch from time-to-time. More than that, playing catch is a cooperative activity that requires full focus and synchronicity between the catcher and the thrower. Syncing up enough to successfully toss an object back and forth is a great way to regulate, as well as a great way to get the body moving.

#7 – Listen to each other’s heart beat

Heart beats are incredibly soothing to the human nervous system, so try letting your partner press their ear to your chest and back and listen in while you lay quietly together. Listen to theirs in similar fashion and pay attention to how relaxed your body and mind become, and how in tune you feel with one another during and after the practice.

#8 – Meditate together (extra points for chanting)

Meditation is a great way to self-regulate – deep breathing already does wonders for the nervous system, and allowing your mind to exist in the present moment instead of fretting about the past or future is incredibly restorative. These benefits are only magnified when you meditate with a partner or in a group because of our preference to social settings. As mentioned before, when a group is engaged in the same activity, our nervous systems are happy. In addition to the intrinsic group benefits, this activity can help you feel more energetically aligned and connected.
Chanting has an additional benefit of stimulating the vagus nerve, which prompts relaxation. When you chant as a group, you are not only relaxing in the same way, you are syncing from an auditory perspective which is an additional regulation trigger. 

#9 – Play cooperative video games

Different from playing a game of chess or checkers where you are opponents with your partner, look for games in which the objective is to team up in order to win. Cooperative video games stimulate a sense of community that is deeply ingrained in our genetic memories. Humans working towards a common cause has kept us alive and thriving for thousands of years, and our brains and bodies are deeply connected to the concept of teamwork. Being a part of a successful campaign with a  partner, child, friend or coworker can go a long way towards feeling safe, comfortable and well-regulated in your interpersonal relationships. 

BONUS technique: Mirroring

Mirroring is a great way to connect with new people right out of the gate. Mirroring is a technique where you consciously attune to another person’s tone, cadence, stance, and physical gestures. It is important to note that mirroring is not mimicking, and you want to be careful not to cross that line, otherwise this technique will backfire and people will assume you are mocking them. By aligning yourself to someone’s stance, way of speaking or choice of words, you are sending a signal to that person’s subconscious that you are on their same wavelength. The brain likes all things familiar, and by making yourself familiar you’re helping to form regulation between both parties.

Call to Action

Now that you have this super-power of insight, pick any of the techniques outlined and give it a try with one of the loved ones in your life. See if you can tell a difference between how you felt before and after the activity. Look for other ways to build regulation into your relationships and observe the subtle changes that add up over time as you become closer and more comfortable.