Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships–VIII. Compatibility and Covenant
Punctuation and the Pattern of Interactions
The covenant established by Alice and Fred seems to call for one of two ways of punctuating their relationship. The first way is when Alice is willing to fight to get her own way. In these instances, Fred refuses to fight. This, in turn, “defuses” Alice and ceases to push her point. The second, more common, way is when Alice is “stressed out and blows her top.” In these instances, Fred “walks away” and gets some “fresh air.” Then, after things have cooled down, according to Alice, “he would approach me and things would normalize.” For some couples, the sequence of anger (Alice) leading to disengagement (Fred) would result in further anger and further disengagement, in other words, an escalating war. By contrast, Alice and Fred have established a covenant whereby Fred’s disengagement allows both of them to cool off and soon reunite.
Watzlawick and his colleagues (1967, p. 56) have suggested that “disagreements about how to punctuate the sequence of events is at the root of countless relationship struggles.” One member of a couple, for instance, says: “I withdraw because you nag.” The other member responds by indicating: “I nag because you withdraw.” (Watzlawick, et al, 1967, p. 56). Alice and Fred have been successful in establishing their own rules, which enables them to effectively manage their disagreements and conflicts. The specific actions that are taken by partners often are not critical in determining whether or not a relationship will endure. Rather it the manner in which both partners interpret the behavior and the ways in which they re-engage in and re-adjust the relationship during times of stress and conflict that make the difference. A couple’s covenant often will define the nature of this interpretation among the partners in an enduring relationship.