Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships — Essay II: The Couple as a Third Entity
In another of the now classic books on marriage, Between Man and Women, Everett Shostrom and James Kavenaugh (1975) speak about the successful couple (“rhythmic relationship”) as: “the creation of a new reality, a third substance (tertium quid), which neither individual could produce by himself.” Joseph Campbell (1988) expressed something of the same thoughts in a somewhat more dramatic manner: “when you make the sacrifice in marriage, you’re sacrificing not to each other but to unity in the relationship.”
In recent years, this notion of groups of people and organizations being considered autonomous entities in their own right, as something more than the sum of the parts (the members of the group or organization) has been labeled “system theory”. At the heart of this theory is the notion not only that systems (whether they are couples or corporations) lead their own autonomous lives and find their own distinctive directions, but also are composed of parts that are intricately interwoven. Each of the parts of the system is dependent on all the other parts for its identity, its purpose and even its ability to stay alive. This is what Scott Page (Miller and Page, 2007) and many other system theorists call “complexity.” A complicated system will have many working parts. In a complex system these parts are all interwoven and interdependent.
This notion of interweaving is particularly appropriate when applied to the system which we are calling an “enduring relationship.” As Thomas Moore (1994, p. 47) noted, many cultures emphasize processes that weave together families, communities and even nations, as well as work and creative endeavors. A relationship is woven together precisely because it operates as a single system, consisting of the two partners and their own individual needs and stories, the couple’s history (as told through their stories), the couple’s covenant (concerning mutual commitments and values) and various social expectations that impact on the couple’s sense of itself a a single entity.