LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XVI. PLATE THREE: DECIDING WHAT’S IMPORTANT (IDENTIFYING SHARED VALUES)
Bettina and Neil both speak of their relationship as the most important part of their life. Bettina indicates that their marriage has been their “number one commitment.” Neil similarly states that “marriage is our highest priority . . . If something I desire to do gets in the way, then I program myself to say I won’t compromise our marriage.” Yet, this placement of marriage at the heart of their individual and collective lives caused them major problems when they went through one of their own transitions. Neil had begun participating in a sensitivity group that was sponsored by their church. Bettina was not included and began to feel very threatened when she felt that a woman in the church was becoming very attached to Neil: “I felt like he was having an affair right under my nose. I was feeling apart and very threatened. I felt numb. Something had happened to my relationship.”
Given the central role played by her marriage in her life, the threat of another woman’s attention was viewed not as a potential source of new learning and maturation for Neil, but rather as a debasement of their one shared value (their marriage). “There was lots of pressure,” according to Bettina, “for Neil to get involved in the group. I was so upset. I even went to the minister to talk about it, but there was no way he could understand my feelings. No one got what I was going through. It was very disruptive to the church. We all decided this was not what should be done. It was like setting off a bomb.” Neil directed his remarks toward Bettina: “I was perplexed as to what your problem was. I didn’t understand what you were feeling or where you were coming from.” Bettina responded: “”You sure didn’t!” Despite this difficult transition point for Bettina and Neil (and the obvious, continuing feelings of Bettina about this episode), the two of them have continued to place their relationship at the center of their world of values and have found ways to accommodate to shifts in their own individual development and joint development as a couple.
The valuing of our partner and our shared relationship can be extremely important, especially if this valuing is flexible enough to take into account the shifting nature of contemporary relationships. Bettina and Neil’s statement concerning commitment to their marriage is not just an idle statement, for both Neil and Bettina have many interests outside the home that could distract them from their marriage. Furthermore, they differ significantly in what they value and what interests them outside their home. This is not unusual among the couples we interviewed, given the enormous diversity of images, activities, diversions and entertainments that inundate us every day in our postmodern world (Bergquist, 1993). It is probably quite smart that Neil and Bettina have “programmed” themselves to always go back to their one shared value. Namely, their marriage.