Home Couples & Family Psychology Developmental LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XVIII. PLATE FIVE: SEPTEMBER SONG (GROWING OLD AND FACING MAJOR LIFE CHALLENGES AS A COUPLE)

LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XVIII. PLATE FIVE: SEPTEMBER SONG (GROWING OLD AND FACING MAJOR LIFE CHALLENGES AS A COUPLE)

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The experiences of another couple, Bernard and Gwen, further exemplify in highly dramatic fashion the impact which intrusive life events can have on the way in which a couple is formed and sustained. On October 19, 1991, Bernard and Gwen were comfortably situated in a beautiful Oakland, California home overlooking the San Francisco Bay. They had assembled many material objects that reflected their interests in sports and the arts, as well as photographs and letters that reminded them of the rich variety of their past lives. One day later all of this was gone. The Oakland fire-storm destroyed their home and all of their belongings.

Bernard later reflected that very little energy was available during the first few days after the fire for experiencing any strong feelings:

At the time, attending full to the moment meant accepting this condition, not trying to change it. Accepting what was true became our main way of coping and finding meaning in the chaos of the events. Initially, we denied the reality of our loss by holding out hope that our house had somehow been spared. Our house was nearly at the center of the fire area, yet this thought persisted. Monday morning [one day after the fire started], as everything was still burning, and as we still held out our irrational hope that our house was okay, we began looking for a new home. This seemed our first priority. It wasn’t until late Monday afternoon that we stopped to buy some clothes to wear. By Tuesday evening we had rented a house . . . For the next two weeks we shopped till we dropped.

For Bernard, the loss of his home and possessions was very difficult: “it is amazing how much we take for granted on a day to day basis. The amount of stuff [one owns] is staggering. It was very stressful making all the mutual decisions about our new belongings.”
By contrast, Gwen reports that:

From day one, I felt relieved, freer than I had felt in months. I had been on the top of one of life’s curves, living in a beautiful house, making lots of money, but I suffered anxiety that “the big fall” was coming. After the fire, I felt empowered. I had seen the beast. I had felt its hot breath, and I had escaped unscathed. I suffered the loss of everything I owned, and yet I was okay! I actually reveled in how simple life became all of a sudden. Our worries were reduced to putting a roof over our heads and buying clothes. It was actually nice to be able to fit everything I owned in my car again.

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