LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XVI. PLATE THREE: DECIDING WHAT’S IMPORTANT (IDENTIFYING SHARED VALUES)
Erik agrees with Nancy regarding this period of time in their relationship: “I think we were kind of creating as we went along . . . We had to do all that [learning how to negotiate] ourselves without having any role models.” They had many conflicts during this storming phase of their relationship. According to Nancy, they had “fights like you wouldn’t believe.” However, like other successful couples, “from the word ‘go’, [Erik and I] recognized that we were in a committed relationship.” This commitment to their relationship, together with commitment to a central set of values enabled Nancy and Erik to successfully negotiate the mine fields of the values plate and to move into a long-running performance stage in their relationship.
While neither Nancy nor Erik would suggest that they have a perfect relationship, they would agree that they would rather be with one another than anyone else in the world. This is what a good relationship is really all about. One can almost see the majestic mountains rising as their value plate clashes with their other plates (economic, children, establishing a home), producing earth-quaking discussions about how much time they each have to spend working, how little money they need to live without feeling insecure, and how they can find a way to equitably distribute the work load in their relationship. There is an imperfect harmony, as with all intimate relationships described in this book. One can hear the clang of the “money/time” bell in the clear mountain air and the early seismic rumblings of new conflicts regarding retirement and old age. Gentle reminders that the maintenance of any contemporary relationship is an unending and challenging process.
In many cases, enduring relationships are built on a particularly firm foundation of shared values because the relationship itself is the most valued aspect of life. Obviously, making the relationship all-important can at times be problematic. Heavily enmeshed relationships in which men and women spend all of their time together and literally can’t live without one another make for great romance novels but lousy lives. Similarly, people who care only about their relationship are particularly vulnerable when the relationship goes through the inevitable transformations that we are describing in this book. We need something else that’s important in our lives if we are to survive remarriages in our significant relationships.