We also found that there were actually three stories. One of these stories was the “unified story” that partners tell other people when they are together in the same room. Often, one of the partners is designated either formally or informally to tell the story. In the case of heterosexual couples, we found that the female partner was most often assigned this task, with the male partner given the role of “counterpoint”—filling in details, offering the “forbidden” part of the story (often with laughter, a sense of embarrassment—usually for show—on the part of his partner), offering corrections and amendments, or picking up the story at some point.
In a few cases we found that both partners share equally in the telling of their unified story, usually one partner picking up one segment of the story, the other party offering a second segment, then back to the first partner and so forth. In yet other cases, the two partners offered us a variation on Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet or the classic film, Last Year at Marenbad, in which each partner offers their own version of the unified story, revealing a different perspective on the same events. There is a unified story, with agreed-upon events, as well as alternative interpretations of the meaning and purpose of specific events in the story.
We also discovered, however, that when we met with the two partners individually, each of them usually had their own distinctive story about their life together as a couple. Typically, this distinctive story offered an alternative starting point and, as in the case of the Alexandria/Marenbad variations on the unified story, an alternative set of interpretations of the events in the unified story which they agreed did occur. A key point often concerns the “punctuation” of events in the story. When did a particular story begin, and what was the primary cause of the event(s) described in the story?