One of the things that I really miss, but is also a bit on the freaky side is the energy… and its crazy making stuff. There is this article that pops up periodically on my facebook feed and after googling around, I a bit I think I found it. It talks about a very long term research project, where they did physiological monitoring of couples and then rechecked things 6 years later.
The raw physiological data was fascinating, in that for some couples, their sympathetic nervous system cranked up to flight or fight mode when they were talking with each other, and these folks were classified as disasters. Data 6 years later showed that couples in said disaster category, were either chronically unhappy, or had broken up. The other category known as masters swung very much the other way… ie, couples for whom flight or fight mode was absent, or minimal were very happy.
Well, in our case, we fit pretty much right into the disaster category physiologically. In many ways, we were like oil and water, ie, I married like 3 magnitudes out of my league and there were significant cultural issues that didn’t mesh all that well. Ie a beautiful NYC lawyer + midwest engineer/slob… my guess is that ewhatever would likely not pair us together, short of a software bug or two. Alas, being this was before the era of wide spread computer dating, what brought us together were fouled spark plugs, no software was needed. Bottom line, we fed off of each others energy, it was an amazing marriage, albeit admittedly there were some rocky bits in those early years.
As time went on, and sadly her health declined, my sense of vigilance / fight or flight mode cranked up even more. In the later years, my brain was probably flying 200 mph when it wasn’t dealing with pretty massive chronic sleep deprivation. Solo caregiving 24/7/365 for a decade plus tends to do that.
The thing is, her health situation ended up taking more and more of her energy. It really wasn’t obvious to me, up until earlier this week… when light bulbs came on. Things that seem so obvious now, were anything but 5 weeks ago, when an software bug fired up a recorder and granted me a cherished mp3 of one of our typical day to day conversations.
As the years passed, I’d learned to slow things down for her… it was no longer feeding off of each others fight/flight energy, as I was still go go go go, and accelerating mentally, but had learned to interact at levels that brought her a whole boatload of peace and calming. In plain and simple terms, I morphed more and more into the physiological disaster category, and she became not only a master, but a guru. A rather strange combination of energy transfer and shifts, and a boatload of kindness and patience on both sides but it resulted in what I’d call fantasy land relationship wise.
Granted, such was not perfect… one of the things I’d get annoyed about was she would often like to initiate deep conversations, either when I was just about ready to pass out from exhaustion, or right in the middle of some late night medical procedure which required intense concentration on my part… Its like why do we need to discuss this at 3AM right in the middle of this??? But the light bulb came on this week and I figured it out, such was when I wasn’t in go go go mode and having to intentionally slow things down… our deep conversations, when they did come to light were very much organic, and I think that’s why, unconsciously she’d initiate them, at from my pov, the most inopportune times.
I don’t really regret not catching this earlier, as our later years were so awesome… and its kind of funny in a way too. One of her fears was that she might become boring to me… which would be impossible, I was always running to catch up, but this explains what I believed at the time was just an idiosyncrasy of hers that I’d learned to live with.
So… according to Gottman etal physiological research data alone, we should not have made 21 years, or much less have been happy in doing so. Alas, relationships are much more than the sympathetic nervous system activation and physiological markers. Gottman talks about this in some detail with his bird bid thing.
Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird. The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that. People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.” These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.
We were huge on the turn toward thing which more than compensated for the fight/flight energy feed thing for us… Gottman further goes on to talk about kindness which also grew a ton over time. I believe this is a big part of how we got our 21 years. Outliers we are!
And then at 3:45PM on April 23, 2015, it stopped, and it sucks