The Number 3: The number three plays a powerful role in human dynamics, both as a positive and a negative. For the threesome that composes a triangle, where one is often missing in the dialogue, the number three can take on heinous characteristics. For the play date, it can convulse into gang warfare. However, in the language of self-awareness, the number three is an asset: as in three eyes, two to see out, the third to see in. As in three ears, two to listen out, one to listen in. For the decision stalled, the awareness that “there is always a third option. In the relationship, the number three refers to that third entity, The Coupledom, the sum of two that creates something new.
Managing Life as a Coupledom: At the heart of couples therapy is the quest for help in managing The Coupledom. How do we protect and strengthen that formation, strung together by ribbons of romance, shared interests, and glue gunned down by offspring, mortgages, extended family and friends? There it is…this rather ungainly, not necessarily coordinated entity that needs the flexibility to bend with changing times and the imperfections of its members…while retaining its integrity. Whoa, quelle challenge.
Acknowledgement: The first task of couples therapy is to recognize the existence and the importance of this third entity. Typically a couple comes in presenting a description of conflict “between two people”. The you/the me. The relationship is in a somewhat tangled state of disharmony. Implicit: there is an ailing member in the household; however, the discussion sounds dyadic, two people at odds. Lost in the dyadic difference is The Coupledom whose very birth was a product of this dyadic collaboration, and whose very survival might be threatened because of this dyadic difference. How ironic.
Elevating The Coupledom: Is It Something Greater than Its Parts? There is no shortage of difference in perception or experience. Two people who form a team will eventually face conflict. We are wired to be different. Our epidermis is not shared: our heart pumps within our own chest cavity; our lungs draw in common air but then process it through our unique internal system. We are bounded by our bodies, though our hearts may try to convince us that we are one with another. Not so. Does that mean that we must subjugate our uniqueness, our needs, our desires, our integrity for the “state”, the communist notion: no individual ownership……communal extinguishes individual. Not exactly and heaven forbid. What it does mean, as with sperm joining egg, is that something new has been created that needs tending and involves some sacrifice to survive. The sticking point here, as with the product of that joint venture of sperm and egg, is, “mutual sacrifice”….the equal sacrifice of both parties. Not the exclusive sacrifice of one for the betterment of all.
Achieving the Almost Impossible: The “how to” of elevating The Coupledom, that domicile wherein the relationship resides, above the individual, requires a grasp of the power and usefulness of this concept. The entity exists, is created and can be destroyed. However, recognizing its existence is half the battle.The terminology “the relationship” falls short; sounds ordinary; and misses the power of a domicile, a structure that contains, holds, embraces the creation of two; as in a King/Queen/dom with its treasured castle and protective moat, minus the hierarchy. Consequently when the desires and demands of the individuals shake the foundation, the pillars supporting this edifice may begin to crack, slender fissures spreading little webs of weakness. Normal. But overtime, those fissures pool together and widen the cracks. Rapid and resolute repair services are in order.
The “How to” of Survival of the “us” takes the form of allowing each individual air, the right to breathe in and exhale, to have thoughts and verbalize feelings, opinions and desires unique to them. When conflict emerges, when the emissions of one conflict with the emissions of the other, with anger, hurt and threats, the third option must be put into play.
Examples: If the manner in which children are disciplined, money is spent or not, in-laws visited, sexual contact occurs or doesn’t and holiday plans are made, unleashes intense conflict with opposing ideas of what is good, right and should be, then we go outside of the box, to the third option. What haven’t we thought of yet? Stretching beyond the usual and predictable. That might mean shaving off some of “my way” to allow in some of “your way”. It might include giving up my favorite colors in that room, for yours, and bringing them in to that other room for me. It might mean traveling somewhere I never had interest in, because you do: and next time you do that for me: and the third time we pick a place neither of us ever imagined we would like, but want to try it, together, to share something new. For The Coupledom to grow beyond the reach of the individual……to stretch wider than the combined reach of each of their arms, Wow! That is the joy in the journey. We become more, not less, not the same.
A Masterpiece in The Works: This Coupledom deal is as creative a process of living as anything can be….a canvas on which both partners place paint, take turns with brush strokes, shapes and color choices…together chose designs, apart make designs…create a masterpiece that only these two relationship artists can do.
A Team Of Three: The road to Coupledom Happiness is often strewn with the me and the you and not the us. If you need help to find your way, check in with an expert: sometimes the number three is the solution, if you work as team. Good luck.
© Jill Edelman, M.S.W. , L.C.S.W. 2010
Anne Carpender says
So clearly presented and so true. Hopefully I won’t splatter paint on my canvas!
Collaboration on a masterpiece allows for some splatter. No matter. Just allow the other the occasional lapse as well. Thanks for reading and commenting.