Date: 5/4/2012 1:52 PM PDT
In my last blog entry, When Marriage Rewires the Brain, there was one quote I inserted from the NY Times Sunday Review (March 25) article that really struck me:
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. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.
It reminded me of the old Biblical adage in the Genesis creation myth when a woman and a man first joined together to “become one flesh.” I use to dismiss that idea of “one flesh,” as defining marriage as “losing one’s identity”, especially the woman, and giving up one’s own self, to be with another. I believed that good marriages support the separate identities of each spouse. I still believe that, but I have come to interpret the “one flesh” phrase differently.
Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, writes: Something in our nature cries out to be loved by another. Isolation is devastating to the human psyche. That is why solitary confinement is considered the cruelest of punishments. At the heart of humankind’s existence is the desire to be intimate and to be loved by another. Marriage is designed to meet that need for intimacy and love.
I agree, and that need is what I now believe was actually being addressed in the biblical verse—“becoming one flesh.” That did not mean that individuals would lose their identity; it meant that they would enter into each other’s lives in a deep and intimate way. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.
But I also know that this kind of love is not the romantic kind, or the passionate kind that we first experience in the courtship stage. No, this love is an intentional love, one where you conscientiously and tenderly choose to express your needs, to connect, touch, nurture, understand, appreciate, support, apologize and forgive (except when there is abuse and repeated betrayal). This is the love you choose to express when differences will inevitably bring you pain and fear and tempt you to build walls. The pain and fear are usually expressed through anger and criticism and distancing….. But real love, the deepest, mature love, -the love we long for-calls the married couple to “turn toward” each other and be “present” with each other, and “become one flesh.” Unfortunately it is not always easy to love this way and too often, couples choose-and it is a choice- to demonize each other, “turn away” and inevitably become strangers in the night.