The Social Context of Relationships

Our impulse to bond is such a primitive, complex and essential force, that cultures throughout the world have deemed it necessary to provide oversight through ritual and rite. Where this occurs, individuals, for better or worse, inherit a whole set of rules, spoken, written, or unspoken, concerning the details of the roles and expectations of marriage. The implication is that to be a “good” person, and to have a successful marriage, you must work very hard to perform your roles and to meet expectations.

Black and Purple Petunias, Georgia O'Keeffe

Black and Purple Petunias, Georgia O'Keeffe

“To create one’s own world in any of the arts takes courage.” Georgia O’Keeffe

But in today’s Western societies, expectations and social injunctions have loosened to such an extent that they barely exist. Now it has become the responsibility of each individual to clarify his or her own vision of the relationship s/he wants, to choose partners, to define the nature of the relationship, to choose to maintain or discard the relationship over time, and, most problematically, to create the rules.

In cultures like ours the commitments to intimate partnership are stressed by the competing commitments to individuality and to the actualization of self. We want to be part of the partnership, but we also want to maintain our own individual identities and boundaries. Relationships, and specifically marriage, without socially defined, shared, and supported roles, is very anxiety provoking. We never quite know what to do; at every step in the process we have to make it up. But roles and rules make us anxious; they inhibit us and thwart our creativity, personal expression, and actualization of self. This is the social context in which modern relationship partners find themselves, and it presents this challenge to aspiring Relationship Artists: how can we create and re-create our relationship, over-and-over again, so that it uniquely reflects the transforming shapes of our needs and aspirations throughout our life together?

Relationship Artists strive to maintain the understanding that their relationship is an organic, transforming process, and always a work in progress.

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