Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships– Essay III: The Stories We Are Told
The dominant cultural narrative of our time with regard to intimate relationships consists of the story of a man and woman who meet, fall in love, and remain together for life. They solve all their problems, keep their love alive, live independently of their families [of origin], encourage each other’s personal development, have healthy and happy children, and endure as partners and friends. This dominant narrative certainly meets all three criteria. It appears to be external and is strongly reinforced on a daily basis in the popular media. It is also consistent, logical and coherent: If we are in love and work hard on our relationship, then it will be successful and everyone associated with the relationship (including children) will be happy. Consideration and hard work, in other words, always pay off in the end.
Finally, this image of the perfect relationship does provide stability, particularly in a world which so rarely seems to produce successful and enduring relationships. We can always turn back to this ideal relationship and know that if we will only emulate this perfect couple, we too will be happy. Given the power of this dominant narrative, we look everywhere for relevant models and paths to achieving this ideal. Yet, we are rarely successful, in part because intimate relationships might not be all about happiness. Furthermore, events over which we have no control intrude on our relationships and disrupt our best intentions. Finally, this narrative (like all collective myths) tends to be immune to the influence of real life and contemporary experiences.
Our society instills many of these narratives as frames of reference that enable us to live with relative comfort in a specific society every day of our life. Other frames of reference that guide our daily lives range from the ways in which we value and use money to the ways in which we see our universe. Yet, not all of our narratives come from our specific society. Many come from our families of origins and the communities in which we were raised, while other narratives represent our own unique perspectives. These latter narratives are often called self-biographies and constitute a central ingredient in our sense of a personal “self.” It would seem that some of the most influential frames of reference in our life are generated by and are deeply embedded in our intimate relationships.