Q: What do the Founding Fathers and partners in an intimate relationship have?
A: They’re both in the business of country creation.
There are differences, obviously. The Founding Fathers were focusing on kickin’ some British ass. That’s not what intimate couples do (although there’s probably an exception out there somewhere. “Hey, Martha, down with the Queen!” “True that, George!”).
As a rule, though, couples do exactly what Benjamin, Alexander et al. did. They create codes, rules and laws that govern their rights and duties vis-a-vis each other and the world.
This is one of the great secrets of intimate relationship. The partners are a legislative body. And this body is always in session. It’s kind of relentless, actually, which is one reason relationships can be so challenging.
“Congress goes on recess all the time. Why can’t we?”
“Because, my darling, that would be called a separation.”
Unless, of course, you write into the rules of your Tiny Country that you get to take separate vacations.
When are you allowed to say what? (Example: Can I talk about a problem with you first thing in the morning, or must it wait till you’ve had your coffee?)
Who are you allowed to flirt with? Who are you allowed to have sex with? (Monogamy is the usual rule, but a lot of people have tried swinging or made it their lifestyle—estimates range from 2-15% of couples. And then there’s polyamory, also known as open marriage 2.0, which is gaining in both profile and popularity.)
What tones of voice are okay? (“You sounded sullen.” “No, just thinking about something else.” “Did too sound sullen!” “Did not!”)
What forms of address are acceptable? (“Never, ever call me a bitch, even if you’re joking.”)
Does the woman always get to have an orgasm? (Assuming there’s a woman in the relationship and that she’s orgasmic.)
Are you strict or laid-back with the kids?
How much time with the in-laws?
All subjects for negotiation. All part of the legislative sausage-making process that is Tiny Country Creation.
If you’re in an intimate relationship, you do this. There’s no getting away from it. Unfortunately, more often that not it’s done in a disorganized, random, ad hoc manner, below the surface and unconsciously. This makes the process more problematic—partners often feel that they had decisions foisted on them; they didn’t really get a vote. And it makes for less optimal outcomes, too. Legislative bodies have explicit, usually published, rules for a reason—to produce fair outcomes (although, when I contemplate our current Congress, I wince in writing this). Not having explicit procedures often means a perceived lack of due process and rules that stir up resentment.
If you think it’s a stretch to associate the founding of our country with the daily work of relationship, consider the language from the Preamble to our Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility …
Domestic Tranquility. There ya go.
Okay, so you’re stuck with this relationship obligation. How can you best do it well?
Here are two suggestions.
First, make the Tiny Country Creation process as conscious as you can. Say things like, “Let’s have this be a relationship rule.” (Then your partner can say things like, “And let’s make this an exception.”)
Second, carve out times that are reserved expressly for Tiny Country Creation. That way, you can get in the right frame of mind, which includes leaving at the door any resentments you might have about “when my partner tries to make me do something.” In short, you can come in wearing your “fair and reasonable” brain.
If you’re like me, your life is very busy. It may be difficult to carve out time for Tiny Country Creation. There’s a big pay-off if you can manage to do it, though. It’s an important component of what has come to be known as conscious relationship, which is basically about bringing the light of awareness on the choices you make with the person you’re sharing your bed with.
I talk about Tiny Country Creation at length in my short book on relationships, Love and the More Perfect Union. Highly recommended! (And other people recommend it, too.)
One last thing.
Q. What do the Founding Fathers and partners in an intimate relationship NOT have in common?
A: Women have a say in intimate relationships. Usually.