Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships — Essay II: The Couple as a Third Entity
There are many studies about the ways in which individuals change and cope with the complex challenges of our 21st Century world. The same kind of stages and coping strategies are to be found in the relationship. We tend to base our images of relationships on the basic, untested assumption that a couple is composed of only two entities — that is, the two members of the couple. In fact, the couple’s needs are more than a composite of the needs of its two members. While we would like to believe that “two’s a couple, and three’s a crowd,” there is, in fact, a third entity in any relationship, and this is the couple itself. The presence of this third entity (the couple) is critical in understanding the dynamics of a couple; it is also critical to identify the extent to which each member of the couple is responsible for tending to various aspects of this third entity
“What is “Normal”?
One of the distinctive features of this set of essays is its focus on the nature and dynamics of so-called “normal” couples as they undergo “normal” developments in confronting the complex and demanding challenges that inevitably face anyone living in our turbulent world. In our study of normal development in couples, we have interviewed men and women from many different socio-economic and educational levels, from different racial and ethnic populations, and of a wide age range. Some of the couples have children, others do not. Perhaps most importantly, we have interviewed some men and women who are married and living in heterosexual relationships, as well as men and women who are heterosexual but not married, and both lesbian and gay couples. Our concern is not with the distinctive features of marriage, but rather with those issues and insights that seem to extend across many different kinds of intimate, enduring relationships.
How did we identify intimate relationships that were long-¬term or as we coined it here, “enduring?” First, we avoided the task of defining “successful” relationships. At the same time, we also sort out relationships that we found to be long-term but highly destructive and held together to meet pathological needs. Our couples all have problems and difficult issues to address. They certainly can’t be called “perfect” (whatever that means), but they have many redeeming qualities that we can all learn from.