LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XVI. PLATE THREE: DECIDING WHAT’S IMPORTANT (IDENTIFYING SHARED VALUES)
When the fourth plate (child rearing) is prevalent, the values often are placed on a back-burner. Decisions about values and priorities often are based on the needs and demands of the children. When child-rearing couples look with envy upon the lives and activities of their childless friends, they often focus on issues of values and priorities: the way this other couple is able to decorate their home without having to childproof everything, the type of vacation this couple is able to take (“they can afford to be happy!”), or the time that is available to work on a particularly important social cause.
After the child-rearing plate has become less prevalent (usually with the exiting of the last child from the home), a couple is often faced with values-related decisions and may find these decisions to be particularly stressful: “Who are we as a couple without our children?” “What do we really stand for, independent of our children?” “What do we really want to do, now that the kids have left home?” The so-called “Empty-nest syndrome” has received a great deal of attention over the past twenty years, precisely because of the stress associated with transition into the values plate.
The marker events for this plate are often subtle and hard for a young couple readily to identify (perhaps because this plate is usually prevalent later in life). Early marker events include major “nonessential” purchases, decisions about recreational activities or vacations, joint membership in specific social or political organizations, or selection of mutual friends. Much more dramatically the case of many gay and lesbian couples, the marker event is “coming out of the closet.” While they may have been living as gays or lesbians for many years, it is possible to hide or at least avoid acknowledging their sexual preference in their interactions with parents, siblings and old friends. Typically, the commitment to another person, as not only lover but also life partner, necessitates the public acknowledgement of one’s sexual preferences. Such a commitment holds many implications and usually helps to define and establish a set of critical values regarding honesty (about one’s sexual preferences) and support for a more accepting and open sense of life options with regard to not only sexual preferences, but also marriage, the rearing of children, and other central life choices.