In his preface to the book of Virginia Ioannidou, Hans Jellouschek notes: “Virginia Ioannidou has written a book for the general public as well as for psychologists, therapists and counsellors who deal with couples and wish to provide some effective help.”
A tall order, I would say, and one with a visible risk of the author wavering between simplification and an abstruse language. The important thing is that the book of Virginia Ioannidou is admirably balanced: simple and lively for the general public and at the same time methodically scientific, and introducing knowledge, insights and bibliography not always known in Greece. Personally, and despite my many years of involvement (theoretical and practical) with couple therapy, I did learn new things (especially from the German experience).
The book is sensitive and not at all “didactic” (the author does have a view but does not impose it) in its approach of this most intimate of adult relationships—that of a couple. As for its moral stance, it is one of respect for individuals and institutions in all their difference.
Thus none of the two aspects (scientific-popular) undermines the other. As Picasso said, “Art is to say difficult things in an easy way”. In this sense, Virginia Ioannidou has “practised art” in this book.
To go back to the title, when couple therapy first emerged, in Britain and the USA it was called “marital therapy”. This contained a prejudice from the outset, since (a) it focused on married couples, and (b) it suggested a “normative” approach to couples based on the family models of the West in the second half of the twentieth century. Virginia Ioannidou, however, not only talks simply and openly about “couples” but also uses the interesting term “multipartiality”.
I shall stop at two words in the title, techni [art] and syntrofos [partner; companion], and pursue some mental associations.
Art is man’s free creative expression through works that heed certain aesthetic rules. And an artwork is a creation of an aesthetic character as opposed to practical, utilitarian creation. Technognossia, or knowhow, soon went beyond its original reference to craftsmen, carpenters or metallurgists to signify the way, the means for carrying out a task. In Plato art denotes the systematic artistic creation (distinguished from science), and the fine arts are those which aim at aesthetic expression and the satisfaction of good taste.
To Virginia Ioannidou the art of being a couple involves both: aesthetic expression/ satisfaction of good taste and knowhow. Similarly, couple therapy requires knowhow but needs to become an art in order to be authentic.
The everyday usage of the term ‘art’ has the same two aspects, suggesting a popular multipartiality: “back to my old art [=craft, tricks]” (the patterns in a couple); “martial arts” (that flourish in both symmetrical and complementary couples); “paucity devises arts [=ways out, tricks — the equivalent of “necessity is the mother of invention”] (promotes empathic understanding between partners, or can be an incentive for couple therapy).
Art is the “tango” of a couple’s common life, as is the art of swimming (union with the primordial mother, but also a struggle for survival against waves or sharks).
The second word is syntrofos, [syn+trogo, ‘eat together’], which suggests a close relationship with someone — friend, supporter. A life partner (the one we choose to be together in life, in marriage or otherwise); the one with whom we have sexual relations; but also an unpleasant, unwanted partner (“sorrow has become his permanent companion”).
The Greek term syntrofia was used in recent times to translate the French compagnie (a commercial house or company since the 16th c.; earlier, a military unit). It was also established as the form of address among the members of communist, socialist and other parties (camarade, comrade, compagno, compañero, kamerad-genossen).
Virginia Ioannidou’s The Art of Being a Couple is ultimately an informative book about the types and forms of life as a couple, its hardships, dysfunctions and crises (autonomy-companionship, power patterns, psychological games, relations with the original families, the couple in the life cycle, sexuality, extramarital relationships, separation-divorce, reconstituted families) as well as about couple therapy and mediation. In addition to making interesting reading, it has the useful traits of a “textbook”.