Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships–V. Exploring the Founding Story
Who Tells the Story
Another critical dimension that is to be discovered in the retelling of the founding stories concerns the way in which the story is told and who tells the story. Rich insights regarding the couple are often revealed through decisions that are made by a couple concerning who tells the story or specific parts of the story, concerning who is allowed to hear all or part of the story, and concerning the extent to which the couple’s story matches with each of the partner’s individual stories. In telling their founding story, John and Nancy decided (or at least John decided) that he would set the broad framework or title of the story: “We met at church youth activities and at youth camps.” Nancy then began filling in the details. At this point, John took some papers out of his briefcase, which he began to shuffle around. Clearly, the job of telling the story fell in Nancy’s lap. When asked about his seeming indifference, John said he thought he could do some paper work at the same time he was answering questions. Then he added: “I’m not sure I want her to tell you this story.”
John provided occasional commentaries on Nancy’s narration throughout the course of the story, indicating at times that she had already spent enough time on a particular part of the story or correcting the information that Nancy provided. At one point, after being quiet for several minutes while Nancy was telling the story, John spoke up in frustration: “I don’t remember any of this! Nothing! Nothing!” A few minutes later, he admitted that he readily forgets details about his early relationship with Nancy.
In telling their founding story, Nancy and John said much about their current relationship, not only because most of the telling was done by Nancy while John (as we noted above) tended to fumble through papers, but also because the founding story itself suggests that John relies on Nancy for retaining the details of their relationship and for giving primary attention to the maintenance of their relationship. Thus, the content of their founding story parallels the process of telling the story itself — as we found to be the case with many couples that we interviewed.
At times, John gets frustrated about this role that Nancy has assumed in the relationship, and tries to diminish this role by attending to his “work” or by belittling her. Yet, at other times during the interview, John often expressed his appreciation for Nancy’s abilities in a painful, self -deprecating manner. In their own unique manner, Nancy and John had struck a balance in their relationship. John acknowledges that he isn’t very skillful in, relating to other people — especially with regard to intimacy or emotional issues. She was responsible for negotiating with the world regarding their relationship, while he was to negotiate with the world regarding career, finances and other traditional “male” domains.