Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships–VIII. Compatibility and Covenant
Unlike Gwen and Bernard, Fred and Alice look to couples other than their parents as role models for their own, relationship and have adopted aspects of these other couples’ relationships in the creation of their own covenant. Fred described a favorite uncle and aunt who “treat each other with respect, allowed space for each other to have their own personal endeavors, and were supportive of each other’s growth.” Alice’s favorite couple was a host family that she lived with when she was an exchange student from France.
Alice described the traits in them that she appreciated the most. They “would kiss each other, were humorous, and they were supportive of one another.” Alice went on to note that “they were very different from my family.” The attributes of this favorite aunt, uncle and host family were very similar to those shown by Alice and Fred. Did they model themselves after these other two couples, or do they admire these other couples precisely because they resemble them? We suspect that both are true, but that in the case of Alice and Fred, as in the case of many couples, modeling of other couples is common and very important, even if unnoticed or unacknowledged by the couple.
The third stage in the formation of covenants among many couples concerns individualization of the rules so that they will be responsive to this couple’s unique needs and interests. Typically, a couple that sustains an enduring relationship will find its own distinctive covenant, rather than borrowing from other couples. As Moore (1994, p. 29) has noted, our society (and in particular various self-help books on marriage and love) tend to lay down “impossible rules and expectations for a relationship. We are told to be clear and forthright in the expression of our feelings. We are supposed to communicate [with] our partners. We are expected to be good listeners and to be full of patience and empathy. We are given the illusion that it’s possible to understand ourselves and others.” Yet, sometimes, the conflicts and tensions that couples experience in their relationship are not amenable to immediate solution, nor is communication, per se, the answer.