Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships–VIII. Compatibility and Covenant
Honoring and Using Differences Among Partners
A final ingredient in most covenants concerns the role of differences in the relationship. In virtually every relationship, a choice must be made between what Watzlawick and his colleagues speak of as “symmetrical and complimentary” interactions (Watzlawick, et al, 1967, p. 68). According to their interviewer, Fred and Alice have clearly established a symmetrical relationship in which equality and the minimalization of differences frequently being reestablished and reasserted in their relationship. These two people exhibit in their relationship considerable respect, trust and acknowledgement of each other’s position and worth. At the same time, each partner has his or her own areas of strength, where he or she takes the lead and the other partner seems to be quite at ease about that. Fred and Alice have established a dynamic, changing relationship that is long-standing and intimate.
The Origins of Covenants
What are the sources of the covenants that are formed between partners in an intimate relationship? Initially, the covenant (as an unchanging set of rules) is influenced primarily by sources that impact on the couple when their relationship is first forming. Though covenants may grow more complex, more expansive and clearer over time, much as a set of laws are subject to interpretation and precedent once they are codified, they rarely stray very far from their initial character.
There are four different sources that come into play as a couple’s covenant matures over time. Initially, the covenant seems to take on a “magical.” quality. Much as an intimate relationship in its early stages often seems to be directed by some external force or higher power, so the covenant is often assumed to be distinctive and very special for two people who are newly in love. Partners in the throes of love often make very impressive promises that can’t be kept in practice, but only in spirit. One partner promises to buy flowers every day. The other partner promises to always be truthful. Both agree to talk through every disagreement without compromise or antagonism. These commitments are rarely abandoned (often being part of the founding story); however, they become more practical as they are translated into daily rules of interaction and interpersonal sensitivity.