When two people come together in an intimate relationship, a psychological enmeshment process occurs, which not many people are aware of. A third entity is formed: “Us”. This idea of “Us” is often forgotten, as one thinks of how one is interacting with the other person. The relationship is personalised into the other person, how Person A is giving and loving to Person B, how Person A has disagreements with Person B, how Person A forgives Person B. While this is a very logical way to perceive the relationship, since it is the person who attracts us at the start of the relationship, it is slowly gaining importance to recognise the combined entity of “Us” as the relationship matures.
“Us” is the medium each person derives the meaning of the relationship.
What is “Us”?
Every relationship is dynamic. It is the combination of what each person brings into the relationship, from stable trait factors, such as personality, beliefs and morals, to more fluid experiences, such as the tiredness after work, a positive state of mind, a distracted mind, and energy in general. All these factors interact, with each reacting and responding to what the other brings to the table. This dynamic psychological space is “Us”. In long-term relationships, immersing in this dynamic flow of states and traits in the couple relationship becomes an everyday occurrence. We have to be aware of its workings.
“Us” is the medium each person derives the meaning of the relationship. It is a third entity that almost resembles a bank account, as relationship expert Dr. Gottman explains. This “bank account” contains the deposits (positive traits & states) and withdrawals (negatives traits & states) of the relationship. The state of this account would give each person the perceived relationship satisfaction, the health status of the relationship.
The meaning of “Us” for the couple.
It is through “Us”, we are influenced by the relationship. When relationship questionnaires are designed, the items are phrased in terms of “how are you perceiving the relationship?”, and less of “how are you perceiving your partner?”. The idea behind this is because we derive our relationship meaning from the interaction with this psychological space, less of the person because we will also consider our personal input.
What we think we are doing to each other, is actually what we are doing to the relationship that impacts the other. For instance, a negative experience, when Person A accidentally criticises Person B “you could be a little more involved when I’m at work.” What is actually happening is that Person A has withdrawn value from “Us”, which in turn affects how Person B perceives the relationship as blaming. Person B will feel hurt, not because the self-worth, self-concept or self-esteem of Person B is impacted, which some people may think so, but the hurt comes from the evaluation that now the relationship is not as supportive as before. The same occurs for positive experiences as well.
Think of relationship as “Us”.
This post highlights that each person in the relationship has the control and power to influence “Us”. The more deposits made, the higher the quality of relationship. Keep it in mind that any withdrawal made to the relationship will not just impact the other person, but it will eventually come back to its originator. A relationship is always dynamic, a standard rule is that positivity breeds positivity, and negativity breeds negativity. In a future post, I will share how knowing “Us” well enough can solve many relationship problems in an amicable way.
Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.