Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships–Essay IV: The New Self and Founding Story
While these stories often help to perpetuate old, outmoded and, at times, dysfunctional aspects of our relationship, they can also help us fight against the old ghosts from previous relationships, as well as set the context for the restructuring (remarriage) of our current relationship. In our study of enduring relationships we found that the founding story and the role(s) which this story played in the relationship often helped to define the central and distinctive character of the relationship, as well as sustain the relationship through difficult times.
The Founding Story
Many psychologists who study the lives of individual people have recently come to the conclusion that we tend to define ourselves through the stories that we tell ourselves and other people about the critical moments, foundings, crises, triumphs and tragedies of our lives. This conclusion confirms the assumption being made in the telling and retelling of all wisdom stories (such as the biblical story of God declaring that man should not be alone)—the assumption that profound truths and valuable guidance is to be found in these stories. In many ways, the only thing that tends to remain constant in our lives — given changes in jobs, geography, marital status, and even the ongoing physical replacement of our bodies (our skin, organs, blood and so forth)—are the stories that we tell about our past life. Barry Lopez, the author of The Weasel and Crow (1990, p. 60) suggests that stories “have a way of taking care of us.”
We found in our study of intimate, enduring relationships that partners have a set story that they tell themselves and other people about their life together as a couple. As we mentioned in a previous essay, couples tend to have the couple’s narrative. This narrative helps to define the expectations and norms (rules) that govern (or at least strongly influence) the ways in which the two partners interact—and determine what can and cannot be discussed by the partners with one another and with other people. In our own interviews, several common ingredients were found in most of these founding stories: (1) how the couple first met; (2) how each partner felt about the other person when they first met; (3) when did they know that they were in love with one another and what event(s) tend to bring about either the feelings of love or at least the expression of these feelings; (4) what their first fight was about and how they resolved this disagreement; and (5) in what ways this relationship different from other relationships they have known (often, in particular, their parents).