“All men are liars, inconstant, false, charlatans, hypocrites, proud and cowardly, despicable and sensual; all women are perfidious, contrived, vain, gossipy and depraved […], but in the world, there is one healthy and sublime thing: the union of two of these beings so imperfect and so hideous,” writes Musset in On ne badine pas avec l’amour (With love one does not joke).
I have treated the children of a divorced couple who, a year after their separation, decided to get back together; the love had not disappeared when they decided to divorce but remained invisible behind the mist of other torments. On the other hand, I have spoken with parents who have consulted me jointly on how they should act to make their separation as smooth as possible for their child and who, after finally clarifying the functioning of the couple, have decided to continue the adventure together. Naturally, some situations are too far advanced in violence and lack of love to find a remedy, but resuscitation is possible on more occasions than one might think, thus avoiding the ending of the couple. Sometimes it is enough to prune the branches of the tree that block the brightness of love for the family to resume life. Understanding the reasons for the fractures in relationships, the changes in values that lead to new combinations of love allows our emotional movements to react and for us to be a little less puppet of our subconscious. The presence of children justifies this reflection before the decision to separate. To prevent is to cure, henceforth.
When I ask divorced couples about the intensity of the love that started their story, nine out of ten answer that it was a strong or very strong love. The officially utilitarian character of a union, the “marriage of convenience” as it was known in the past or as it still exists in other cultures, no longer counts here and now. The economic independence of women and their new rights have a lot to do with this. However, economic security is still an unofficial argument in many unions. This does not preclude love, but the economic strength of one of the partners can play a major role in their power of attraction. Likewise, youth or beauty are other attractions that are worth their weight in gold.
This type of union does not occur cynically; simply, some have built up affectively by investing their libido in these deficiencies. In their affective development(due, no doubt, to the way they were loved as children)they confused the verb to love with the verb to possess, mixing loving possession and material possession, amalgamating “to be loved” with “to have”, both the one who “has” and the one who “pretends to have”. When this decoration disappears, when the need is left aside or when the need is reborn, then the failure of love takes place, unless other relays arise.
At the other end of love would be the passionate love. It is usually generated by a crush on the other person. The love scenario is then more turbulent. Intense physical attraction, heightened sexual arousal, sentimental intensity and violence, obsession, and emotional exaltation all come together. This Big Bang provokes in the lovers an evasion of the reality that surrounds them. In these moments of amorous madness, children were born: they have been called the children of love. The return to earth is crucial for survival. A serene, romantic love, made of communication, tenderness, trust, desire, solicitude, tolerance and affection often awaits the couple when passion dissipates. But sometimes it happens that the descent takes place without a parachute and with nothing waiting below. Indeed, when these two people are under the sway of desire and with the illusion of love, the encounter does not go beyond the meeting of bodies. The union is partial and is not accompanied by an emotional echo. As cultural and affective values, language, centres of interest and personal mythology do not go in unison, camaraderie is not possible. And of these unions there remains an intense memory and, sometimes, a child.
If infatuation initiates slightly more than a third of all unions, the most frequent path that leads to the formation of a couple is a mutual acquaintance accompanied by growing interest and attention. When there is sexual desire, when the languages of the hearts are complementary and the cultural and affective values correspond, life together becomes a reality.
But the family and social view driven by materialistic or cultural values can invalidate unions, which, however, were born of bodily desire crowned with common affective values. Then, external pressure can disunite. Family and social influences are essential agents in the break-up of many couples. If one enters the common home with an excessive load of family ties, which are often real chains full of spikes, the couple will probably have to do a lot of balancing. This is the case of a family living as a clan, in which all the elements presented, i.e. sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, are considered by the parents as unworthy of their children. This is also the case of Stella, the youngest of three siblings, who did not know her father because he left home when she was born; by a mechanism of unconscious repetition, Stella separated from her husband at the birth of their third child. The life of a couple is subject to trans generational processes that have not been decoded in time and are taken for destiny.
One of the new social elements influencing the life span of couples is consumerism, which, as it affects more and more areas of society, is also invading the relationship between two people. The presentation of couples’ relationships in the media, where the spectacular nature of the war of the sexes takes precedence, is undoubtedly a factor that influences the young generations, for whom television models become a major reference. Years ago, one stayed in the family environment and tried to adapt one’s personal life within it. From now on, the adaptation of personal life takes precedence and feelings dominate family life. We are still at a time when there is a rebound effect compared to the couple relationships defined two or three generations ago when the place occupied by men and women in the couple was far from equality.
From this secular inequality, certain reactions of women can be understood as trans generational settling of scores. And even more so when society has ceased to condemn, as in the past, the single man or woman, with or without children.
The main element to be taken into account is the increase in life expectancy. Even though nowadays, couples decide to live together later, thus prolonging adolescence in “adult” science”, couples have never had, throughout history, the statistical possibility of living so long together, with the consequent risk of crisis. Paradoxically, the fear of growing old has never been expressed so much, because to grow old together is to see oneself grow old.
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