LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XIX: THE INGREDIENTS OF ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS
Because of the power of the covenant, enduring couples spend little time reviewing or debating their commitments and underlying assumptions about what is of value in the relationship. Basically, they establish their own rules, which enable them to effectively manage their disagreements and conflicts. Long term couples exhibit considerable respect, trust and acknowledgement of each other’s position and worth in the relationship. They accept confusion and conflict as a. vital part of all human interaction. At an advanced point in their relationship, an enduring couple sets aside or at least supplements their covenant with a more flexible and consciously negotiated set of statements about what each individual and the couple needs for personal nourishment and growth.
Our study suggests that sexuality is more important than specific sexual acts with long term relationships. Enduring couples describe sexuality in terms of very special moments together often not even involving sex. They tend to treat sexuality as a meeting ground where mutual needs are addressed. They find each other desirable at specific moments in their lives together, often moments that revolve around issues of power and acceptance. Couples in long term relationships maintain at the heart of their relationships, affection and shared interests and the capacity to honor and build on their differences. Marker events (either one special event or a series of small events) are experienced by long term couples, as examples of mutual commitment of both partners to not necessarily agree about separate marker events. Marker events help to create an identity for the couple which becomes part of the couple’s covenant.
Four developmental phases are repeatedly traversed in long term relationships. Using the concepts of Bruce Tuchman, we have labeled these four phases: “forming,” “storming,” “norming” and “performing.” During the forming phase, enduring couples decide whether or not to establish an intimate relationship involving some level of commitment. They simultaneously experience intense communication and guardedness during the forming of their relationship. They learn to roll with the inevitable disillusionment after the initial magic and intensity of the relationship wears a bit thin. Each time an enduring couple confronts a crisis that leads them to a new developmental task and places them on a new developmental plate they engage in forming activities again. Couples act to protect and even feed the deep fantasies each partner holds about their forming experience. They also establish boundaries that allow each other to get on with their individual lives as well as allow the couple’s life to grow. Mature couples clearly present their own personal needs within the boundaries of the relationship.