Sunday, April 1, 2012

Love and Other Drugs

Sometimes the conversation in our community regarding marriage is less than romantic. Heck, I'm no romance-lover, but nowadays it can sound downright clinical. Often phraseology is akin to a one-day sale. "Getting" a shidduch has a "running of the brides" image. 
That's why I stop and read articles like this one, which shows all the biological benefits to a committed relationship. Diane Ackerman begins with the love between a mother and child which stems from the initial oneness. That is what infants seeks for the rest of their days. 
But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent . . .  Loving relationships alter the brain the most significantly.
When two people meet, the resulting compromises and introductions into the other's world floods the brain with new information. 
When two people become a couple, the brain extends its idea of self to include the other; instead of the slender pronoun “I,” a plural self emerges who can borrow some of the other’s assets and strengths. The brain knows who we are. . . we trade bits of identity with loved ones, and in time we become a sort of chimera. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her. 
On Scrubs, in a fantasy episode called "My Princess," the smug and newly-wedded Turk and Carla morph into one being, the two-headed Turla. While they were irritating, they are the ideal, I suppose. We believe in two neshamos becoming one. 

And that feeling as though an imaginary hand is squeezing your gut when you are rejected? Not imagined. 
 . . . the same areas of the brain that register physical pain are active when someone feels socially rejected. That’s why being spurned by a lover hurts. . . . the bundle of nerve fibers zinging messages between the hemispheres that register both rejection and physical assault. Whether they speak Armenian or Mandarin, people around the world use the same images of physical pain to describe a broken heart, which they perceive as crushing and crippling. It’s not just a metaphor for an emotional punch. Social pain can trigger the same sort of distress as a stomachache or a broken bone.
On the other hand, the presence of a loved one can do wonders for the brain. 
If you’re in a healthy relationship, holding your partner’s hand is enough to subdue your blood pressure, ease your response to stress, improve your health and soften physical pain. We alter one another’s physiology and neural functions . . . scanned the brains of long-married couples who described themselves as still “madly in love.” Staring at a picture of a spouse lit up their reward centers as expected; the same happened with those newly in love (and also with cocaine users). But, in contrast to new sweethearts and cocaine addicts, long-married couples displayed calm in sites associated with fear and anxiety. Also, in the opiate-rich sites linked to pleasure and pain relief, and those affiliated with maternal love, the home fires glowed brightly . . . A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby. 
I thought of my cousin, who had always been a bundle of nerves. I remember distinctly how after her marriage her spouse, who was in tune to her worries, took care of what she needed to be dealt with, transmitting to her his own calmness, created this new creature, a relatively tranquil being compared to her previously single self. 
During idylls of safety, when your brain knows you’re with someone you can trust, it needn’t waste precious resources coping with stressors or menace. Instead it may spend its lifeblood learning new things or fine-tuning the process of healing. Its doors of perception swing wide open.
But this divine being doesn't just happen. And something this precious shouldn't.


FrumGeek said...

I am a firm believer in romance, and I have seen what happens to relationships when it is absent. However, one must still thing with ones head, and not let the good feeling you have with another cloud your mind to issues and differences that may not easily be overcome. That too, can eventually lead to heartbreak and resentment.

Shades of Grey said...

Very, very interesting... It's neat to have a better grasp of what goes inside of our brains/minds when it comes to relationships, at least for someone with a scientific bend like me.

Thanks for sharing!!!