Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships — Essay I: Couples in Transition
Virtually of the studies about successful couples speak of the need for a relationship in which inherent conflict and differences can be tolerated — in which one can be “out of like” with one’s partner, without being “out of love.” These studies also often identify the need for trust and flexibility in contemporary relationships and about the need for a successful couple to rapidly abandon outmoded and unrealistic expectations about the nature and purpose of contemporary relationships.
In most cases, the task of describing the developmental stages of couples comes from a therapeutic context. Conclusions are usually drawn from the frequent witnessing of failed relationships. One wonders about the ingredients that keep a couple together during the difficult early stages. Most of those who write about the dynamics of couples offer considerable encouragement, but very little tangible reward, for the couple that is struggling with the disillusionment that sets in after the romance is gone.
Perhaps, these authors are simply being realistic in describing early difficulties in a relationship. These problems certainly would help to account for the large number of failed relationships in contemporary society. Yet, there would seem to be more to contemporary relationships than most of the authors recognize. Their therapeutic perspectives may be limiting their vision. Something must hold couples together other than just a neurotic compulsion to avoid loneliness or a passive acceptance of societal expectations. We must pay more attention to ways in which “normal” couples hold their relationship together during these difficult periods. These insights are essential.
Just as many authors are rather pessimistic in their analyses of the early developmental stages, they tend to be quite optimistic in their description of the final stages. The seeming bliss of the last stages of development is somewhat troublesome. Are mature relationships really that stable? Aren’t there new traumas, new stresses in a relationship that re-invoke old conflicts, transference and projections? Most of the authors note that there will be conflicts in the final stages, but one doesn’t get a sense that these conflicts have any real substance. While the couples in the early stages of most couple-development models are known to us and are sources of rich insight for each of us about where we ourselves now find ourselves (or have been in the past) , the couples in these models who are at the highest stages seem remote and unreal. We don’t really seem to have much to learn from them and may even wonder if they really exist or are in some sense fraudulent. When faced with the complacent statements of couples about their all-too-perfect, liberated relationships, we are inclined to be skeptical—saying “I don’t believe it one bit!”.