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Sun, July 21

Barnes: Becoming and being a couple

They were senior adults, slowly walking around the courthouse plaza, talking to each another, holding hands, and smiling.

This wonderful expression of love and companionship wasn’t lost on several of us who watched them from our benches.

Later that day, I sat down at my computer to record a few thoughts about this lovely couple. I reflected on the issues a married couple, who have been together for years, must have focused on and sometimes “overcome” in adapting themselves to each other.

I don’t have space in my column to fully elaborate so I’ll be as succinct as possible in identifying issues that most couples who remain committed to each other – whether they know it or not – are likely to have dealt with successfully. Of course, I know one marriage far better than any others, so I’ll use ours as an example.

• The gender issue: men and women are different. The wise learn to celebrate those differences.

• Birth order: My Beloved had an older brother; I was an only child. She knew how to handle me, often making me feel that I was in charge.

• Right brain/left brain: I was way right, she was substantially left. After several years of wondering why we differed so often, we read a book on this topic and quickly found the positives that collaboration could bring us.

• Extrovert/Introvert: She was the former, I am the latter. She helped bring me out of “my shell” and gave me the love and confidence to become comfortable opening myself to others.

• Lark/Owl: She was a morning person, I preferred the night. We decided to enjoy both and respect the other’s predilection.

• Interests/Goals: While different in the early years, they gradually came together. We became “one!”

• Religious beliefs: She grew up a Southern Baptist and I was a Presbyterian. We attended different protestant churches throughout our lives until she became a Unitarian Universalist in her later years. From Baptist to UU can certainly be called a significant “leap of faith!”

• Educational differences: Both of us were college-educated with advanced degrees and smart enough to share a deep love for learning and reading books.

• Age differences: Less than a year separated us and was never an issue.

• Political differences: They didn’t exist. We were as one!

• The morale curve: I learned about this significant psychological principle – and the one in the following paragraph – when I was on the staff of the Menninger Foundation, a psychiatric center in Topeka, Kansas. I regard these two descriptors of human behavior as the most important I have ever come across. The curve illustrates the ups and downs a person experiences when making a role change of any kind: e.g. a new job, new parent, new relationship, new home, new assignment. It reflects the underlying psychological processes that occur when we lose the supportive structures we are accustomed to.

• Psychological contracts: These are the hidden roots under every interpersonal exchange. These contracts are unwritten, nonverbal, and often unconscious expectations that underlie each relationship we have. They constitute what we expect of another person. But since they are unspoken and unwritten, it’s unlikely the other person is aware of them. The violation of a “contract” could cause a couple considerable frustration and even harm. Somehow My Beloved and I managed to bring these out into the open early in our relationship and avoided the misunderstandings and conflicts that are often major factors in marriages and divorces.

In my book, Lessons for Leaders, which I wrote in 2005, there is a more detailed examination of the morale curve and psychological contracts. If interested, copies of the book are in the Prescott Public Library, on the main level near the Librarians’ desk. You can check one out or read it there. Copies are also in the Prescott College Library. Or perhaps you know someone who was (or is) enrolled in the Prescott Area Leadership program who will lend you their copy of the book. I believe you will find these two chapters of considerable interest.


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