In answer to my own question about what is it I can briefly yet clearly say about the complex world of couple relationships, my mind repeatedly returns to word paradox.
How do two separate people come to live as a single unit? Can two, in some sense, become one, and if so, do they then stop being two?
To put that question less abstractly: what is this thing, that we can’t see, touch or measure, and that we call relationship; and do we stop being separate individuals when we enter into and get taken up into relationship? The question seems to underpin many other questions a couple will ask themselves during the life of their relationship, including the question of whether or not to continue it. To what extent are they parts of a larger entity, a relationship, and to what extent are they separate individuals? With time and experience of relationship, we come to appreciate how complex and nuanced the question of One or Two actually is. We learn what of our individual self we are prepared to let go of or at least to compromise. Equally, we learn what parts of our being are categorically not up for negotiation. We learn something of the notions, feelings and language of our partner. We learn there are those aspects of their make-up that are different from our own. That discovery can often frustrate us, but, at certain moments, our response to that discovery may simply be “How amazing! Imagine that, this other human being, whom I am so close to, has as much certainty and passionate conviction about the way they see the world as I have–and, lo and behold, they see it differently!” Of the countless marvels of intimate relationship, there is probably none so sobering as truly wake up to our partner’s difference.
It is an epiphany of the other’s sovereignty.
The discovery of that seemingly obvious fact, that my partner is a world beyond my expectations and control, is crucial to the well-being of the relationship. It is the first and necessary step in being initiated into the mysteries of intimacy. The second step is to remember that I, too, am a sovereign world requiring unconditional respect and understanding. If those two steps are successfully taken and are repeated through the relationship, then something begins to emerge that is neither entirely I nor entirely You. There begins to be a sense of We.