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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
We all have our notions about couplehood. Whether we're attached or single, we have some opinion: It makes us live longer; it's overrated; it's driving me crazy, but ask me again in five minutes. Pairing off is so natural that we rarely question the institution of couplehood itself (though we might wonder about certain pairs, like whether our niece might be better off without that guy with the prison tattoos). But what actually defines couplehood? Sally Cline, author of Couples: Scenes from the Inside, explores this question through extensive interviews with 160 men and women involved in every possible combination: married, unmarried and living together, lesbian, gay, long-distance, mixed races and religions. Cline leaves no stone unturned when asking questions about sex, finances, past relationships, and affairs outside the relationship. Her seasoned approach tackles the subjects of commitment and love, while her underlying interest is "how coupledom was constructed, whether it was as beneficial as it is publicized to be, whom it benefited and how."
There is a definition of "coupledom" for each person she interviewed. Is it the way others perceive how two people act with each other? Is it when two people announce to the world that yes, they are indeed a couple? Is it shared finances and/or residences? Marie-Claire, married 32 years to Rupert, says "It is forgetting about just yourself and seeing things as a two instead of just a one." Blake, partner to Jimmy and living in a separate residence, believes that being in a couple means having somebody "you want tosharethings with, that you don't want to share with other people." Charles, 72, married to his third wife, Lillian, 73, defines their couplehood as doing "absolutely everything together."
As uniquely as each interviewee and his or her partner may define couplehood, Cline found six elements that everyone agrees must be present to ensure the success of a couple rather than its failure. Commitment, communication, coping with change, cherishing, compromise, and interdependence were mentioned in some way by every person interviewed, a fact that Cline calls the most significant finding of the study. For all the diversity of the research group, the same six issues arose again and again, showing that couplehood does have its own defining patterns.
In the last chapter, Cline investigates a seventh element, creativity, and wonders how two creative people such as writers Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald kept the other six elements in their relationship balanced. "Can one creative person help establish the conditions necessary for their intimate partner's artistic productions without sacrificing their own?" This is by far the most fascinating section of the book — as these creative couples share a dynamic look at their lives.
Reading the snippets of conversation feels a bit like eavesdropping on therapy sessions. The intimate details revealed show us how couples bond, what they give to each other. Robert and Louise, married 35 years, both speak of their abusive childhoods and how they had similar expectations of what couplehood should be: "At the start we always wanted to be physically close...we still sleep naked in each other's arms." Such a scene could only be told from the inside, by the people involved. Cline's ability to elicit such intimacy from her subjects fills the book with lovely scenes and touching honesty.
While not all the pairings in Couples: Scenes from the Inside are thriving or even happy, this cross-section of couples reveals certain truths. Sally Cline set out to discover these truths and did so in a way that teaches as well as entertains. To know that most if not all couples share the same issues and concerns regarding their relationships is somehow comforting. And it reminds us that no matter who we are, we value our partnerships above all else.
—Jessica Leigh Lebos