Coupling: Present. Tense!

Subtitle: The many faces of coupling present challenges to couples everywhere

Overview: the legality of the increased range of variations in human coupling has created a complex interpersonal situation for all involved


                        “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”

                                                            Carl Jung

Coupling is not what it used to be. Or is it?  Certainly, it is more diverse, more complex and more dynamic. Consider these vignettes of couples today:

·       Twenty years ago, I met a shy and depressed young man who felt ashamed of his clear sense that he should have been born female. He clearly felt female. Raised by a single mother who was horrified when he wanted to wear makeup and act the part of the females in his theatrical performing group , he finally sought help with transitioning to becoming a female. She, now thirty,  has fallen in love with a man and they plan to marry.  This is part of the changing face of marriage today. As of late, same gender marriages are legal for the first time in the United States. This sweeping new legal change in what it means to couple and to marry is the most important legal development to date in the 21stCentury.

·       An astute colleague, Dr Marti Kranzberg, reports working with a client who is transitioning from male to female but plans to remain with his husband and children.  They are figuring out how to make needed shifts for all concerned.

·       A woman, age 78, has been dating on internet sites and has met many men. She needs help deciding when to meet someone in person because she feels unsafe meeting a stranger in a city for a drink but does not want to stop meeting men.

·       Gay and lesbian couples I have long known, earlier worried about  being disadvantaged in their career if honest about their coupled choices, are now openly affectionate and at ease in their surroundings

·       Caroline Gibbs has founded The Transgender Institute in Kansas City, a not for profit organization devoted to transitioning and gender identity. They are busy and sought after nationally for speaking engagements. We all need to understand.


And, in fact, published resources on coupling tell us that the marriage and divorce rates are lower. A recent chart in the Huffington Post outlines that marriage rates have declined steadily since the 1980sand are lower today than any other time since 1870. And, divorce rates today are also down . We are divorcing less in part because we marry less frequently than in past decades.  In sum, what used to be considered standard fare for marriages is radically different in many instances: 

·       We see fluidity in sexual orientation and in gender identity

·       There are dramatic shifts in how people conceptualize coupling, how frequently they marry and how often they divorce.

·       Older adults are seeking and dating romance in greater numbers

·       Established couples are requiring optimal satisfaction as they approach retirement years and predict ample time alone together.


For three decades I have worked with couples of all descriptions. Among them, precipice marriages teetering on divorce, sexless marriages held together by religious conviction, long term affairs that impact marriages which eventually end, and more optimal marriages where deep love and respect is the tie that binds the partners to each other. From all these couples, even more than from the theory, research and clinical examples of the professional training I give and have received, I have learned gathered basic truths about coupling. 

All couples share fundamental characteristics: 

·       they love one another

·       they want the best for themselves, each other and their family

·       They worry when things go poorly

·       They consider their unhappiness as a major life force

·       They  have power to influence each other’s physical and mental health

In the final analysis I have to wonder how different this is from coupling in the 20thcentury. Yes the patterns are changing for the better, but the greatest human need remains the need to love another, as indicated by neuropsychological research by Dr Helen Fisher’s Why We Love,  We all need to feel compassionately understood and known by another. We all need to open our hearts to another human or animal to fill the void that otherwise is so painful it is barely sustainable. 

To Considerwhat might your life be like without the people you love the most? How do the variations in coupling impact you?  Are you glad they do?

To Read:  Why We Love. Helen Fisher. 2004. Henry Holt: New York.

To exploreTake some time to get to know  a website from The Transgender Institute headed by Caroline Gibbs, who has collected resources for those involved in transitioning, and for those who love them.  You’ll be glad you did.



Norris Clark