Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships — Essay I: Couples in Transition
During the past couple of decades, the concept of adult development has become increasingly visible and viable in the United States. We have always known that adults change in interesting and often dramatic ways during their lives. Countless novels and motion picture screenplays have been devoted to the nature of changes in men and women during their adult years. Nevertheless, only in recent years have systematic studies been done concerning these predictable developments in the lives of people.
The shift in attention from developmental changes among children to developmental changes among adults has been slow in coming. Most of what seems interesting and significant in human growth and development has often been assumed to occur before adolescence or even before the “latency” of late childhood. Most social scientists and human service practitioners have gradually come to recognize that adults are capable of major reorganization in their lives after they have “grown up.” The maturation process apparently is a lifelong task for all of us.
We must begin to look at couples in a similar manner. Two people do not simply come together and “live happily ever after”. As couples, we are constantly changing and maturing, not just because both individuals in the relationship are changing and maturing, but also because the couple, as a separate third entity, must itself undergo changes in response to varying conditions in the world and undergo maturation as the two individuals jointly gain more wisdom and understanding about themselves as a couple.
Do we have any additional evidence beyond the often insightful perspectives of literature and theater that couples do change in a systematic way over time? Our evidence to date is somewhat sparse and suggestive. The existing literature suggests three dimensions through which a couple will move if successful in adjusting to a host of difficult contemporary problems.