The notion of ‘couple identity’ has been ingrained in us through our experiences of seeing our parents as one unit. It has helped create an understanding of togetherness based on their interaction with each other and later, strengthened by watching other similar relationships.

One often hears terms like, ‘united as one, two hearts beating as one, soul mates, my other/better half, makes me complete.’ Traditionally, culturally and generationally, these terms have helped shape our views and outlook on love, relationship, marriage and mating. Each term covertly gives the impression of an illusionary ‘perfect match’ who will make life complete and marriage blissful. It also implies that unless you reach that stage of connectedness, something is missing in the relationship.

As social beings, there is a leaning towards companionship and a need to belong. Yet many couples feel boxed in and struggle between wanting to assert their individuality and showing up as a united front. Attempting to strike a balance impacts commitment.

So what defines ‘couple identity?’ Does it mean:

• Similar belief systems?

• Need for differing points of view to balance one’s outlook towards life?

• Giving importance to couple goals at the expense of individual goals?

• Ensuring a future that involves both partners equally?

• Developing a deep connection that creates a sense of shared identity?

In intimate, long-term relationships, couple identity and connectedness reflect in the language used: ‘I/me’ vs ‘us/we.’ As couples move towards interdependence, they increasingly invest in each other and often begin to reflect their partner’s satisfaction and dissatisfaction as their own. Their sense of commitment grows as they move away from thinking of themselves as separate individuals in the relationship. Instead, they look towards a future that includes them both. Physical and sexual intimacy further strengthens this commitment.

Two concepts play an important role here—the understanding of our core personal self and how we form attachments during infancy.

The core personal self is our true, authentic self and a summation of our values, beliefs, feelings, vulnerabilities and needs. We perceive and express this core self differently depending on the social context or situation. The self doesn’t remain passive in relationships and each partner’s self-related goals and motives can influence how the relationship develops and progresses.

Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond with another person. As children grow, the nurturing attitude of caregivers, their availability, dependability and responsiveness to the child’s needs allow them to, in turn, develop a sense of security that they use to explore their outside world. Different patterns of attachments are formed based on the interaction between a child and their caregiver. While adult attachment styles are not necessarily similar to those seen in infancy, early attachments do have a serious impact on later relationships.

Those who are securely attached in childhood tend to develop stronger self-esteem, self-reliance, are more independent and can have successful social and romantic relationships. Lack of trust and dependability, difficulty to ask for help, confusion and inconsistency, discomfort and fear arise with insecure attachments.

In couple relationships, there is an interplay of these two important concepts.

Relationships shape our self-concept and thus, based on the unique role we play in relation to the other partner, certain aspects of ourselves are drawn out. Similarly, based on childhood experiences and personal attachment patterns, couples interact differently creating unique bonds with each other. The seemingly obvious need for a safe, thriving and healthy bond can often lead to enmeshment, i.e., wiping out one or both identities in some form. One partner might seem considerably more involved than the other. This commitment can either be open to exploitation or can make the other partner feel entrapped.

In addition, the purpose of marriage has evolved. From meeting societal, economic and intimacy needs, it has now shifted to meeting the need for autonomy and personal growth. Marriages that satisfy this expectation seem to be happier. Interestingly, earlier the notion of individualism was seen negatively yet today, there’s a need to respect individual identities and negotiate an identity that symbolises the coming together of two unique individuals. This significantly determines the quality of the relationship, its longevity and satisfaction.

Thus, a healthy bond can ideally mean three identities: You, me, us. It indicates a clear sense of us while retaining an equally clearer understanding that the partners are separate individuals. Partners can choose to not share or share less certain aspects of their lives (like work or interests) while mindfully providing encouragement, recognition and support to the other. It requires clear boundaries and seamless interdependence where partners thrive as individuals while nurturing the sense of us with a joint future.

In a hyper-connected world with endless options, the search for a partner can become formidable unless unreasonable expectations are challenged and partners willingly and proactively create their acceptable versions of couple identity.

The writer is a mental health counsellor. The views expressed are personal.

Latest news

Related news