Little Joys—Neural Intimacy

“The answer is always yes.”

This is the latest rule of life in the Wells marriage. And yes, the first marriage thing you thought of is on the list, along with hot tea, nachos, and bourbon. There is no reason to ask whether the other of us wants tea, or nachos, or bourbon, or sex, the answer is always yes.

It’s said that when a couple has spent a long time together, they start to look and sound like each other. It’s actually true, because, science. But it’s also true that people begin to think like each other. In Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book, Powers of Two, he sees the connectivity between couples as a shared mind that allows them to be more creative together than they would be on their own.

Our being together and different ways of processing the world together rubs off on each other; it sharpens the dull edges of our perspectives until we are no longer quite like the person we first were when we met. We see things differently, collectively. 

We share a mind, not in a direct replica of the other person, but in neural intimacy, holding one person’s thoughts and emotions with the same love and concern, as closely as your own. There’s actually a psychological term “neuro-intimacy,” which is essentially what I’m talking about here: that deep connection you have with a person that allows you to let down your guard and be exactly who you are, share exactly what you think, because the degree of trust between you is so strong.

You know what the other person is going to say before they say it. You remember the same memory simultaneously. You say the same thing at the same time.

And I find it to be absolutely delightful.

“No man is an island entire of itself” wrote John Donne. We are interwoven, the ever-expanding patchwork quilt of our lives growing more complex and connected the longer we are together.

Brandon and I have known each other for 20 years and will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary next September. When you’ve been in contact with someone daily for 7,300 days the way we have, you’ve had 7,300 opportunities to develop neural intimacy, the shared mind of couples.

I love this about relationships. It isn’t just true of romantic relationships or marriages, but of friendships, sibling bonds, the connection between a parent and her child. We develop our own private languages and our own inside jokes, and we say exactly what we mean to say from the vulnerable heart center of ourselves.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” the Teacher in Ecclesiastes said. We’ve experienced this push and pull in our lives, especially recently. When one of us is stressed and overwhelmed, anxious about the future, the other tends to be steady, calm, able to navigate the storm. There is great power to find shelter and stability in this neural intimacy.

I’d like to share more silly anecdotes that could provide insight into this small, daily joy of our lives together…

…but you probably wouldn’t get it. It’s an inside joke.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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