Wednesday, February 19, 2014

5 Stages of a Relationship : Where Are You?

Over the Valentine's Weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending a beautiful wedding in the wine country of Southern California. A sparkling lake outlined with rows of vines served as the backdrop for the elegant ceremony. Listening to the vows laced with poetic verses and timeless scripture, I couldn't take my eyes off the bride and groom. Although they met in high school nine years ago and have been sweet-hearts ever since, their mutual love and respect for one another simply glowed. For a few minutes, my mind revisited the 5 Stages of a Relationship ~ and I thought of how this couple (although still young at 27) has successfully navigated through two of the most difficult stages. 

Although there are hundred of books written on this topic, I am going to keep it simple...and short. The first Stage is the easy one. Most of us sail through this one!

Most of us are familiar with Stage One - Passion and Chemistry.  This one does not need much
explanation!  We are intensely attracted!  We are swept up! The other person can do no wrong! We cannot get enough of the other person!  He or she is perfect in our eyes! Life couldn't be better, and even if things become difficult, love will conquer all! After all, we have found our soul mate. On a serious note, this is an exciting time in a relationship.  Life feels good.  It is good. And interestingly, it is a time when both partners are typically working hard at pleasing the other.  Each one is navigating from a selfless position, wanting to be the best for his/her partner.

Being Selfless!
After the initial honeymoon period, we move into the first of the two difficult stages:  Stage Two - Power and Control. Although certainly there can still be a strong romantic connection, at this stage partners begin to move back into their roles and re-establish their routines. The outward selfless focus turns inward as individuals become more comfortable and secure with the relationship. This is when characteristics that you thought were 'cute' and 'adorable' are now annoying and bothersome. This is when you start seeing flaws more clearly and begin questioning the motives, patterns of behaviors, and qualities of your partner. And as the realities of life (jobs, finances, children, schooling, bills, cooking, cleaning, etc.) resurface, couples tend to pull away from one another as they do the dance of power and control.  Who is responsible for what? When is he going to start paying for this or that? When is she going to get a real job?  Why does she nag so much?  Doesn't he get that I hate sports?!  And so on.  Remember, this is  normal!  In fact, this is where most couples get stuck! And one important reminder as we move toward resolution - returning back to Stage One (even for a brief time) won't fix this!

Stuck in Stubbornness
Couples who grow together in their relationship work hard as they enter into the challenge of  Stage Three - Problem Solving and Compromise. Assuming there is no significant underlying pathology, when I have worked with couples who come into therapy because all they do is argue and fight, they are usually stuck in Stage Two -Power and Control. Sometimes, there is a tremendous amount of resentment and bitterness towards one another which must be worked through. Many times, one partner has taken an unhealthy stance towards being in control - being the boss - and more severe interventions are required. But for most couples, they each have been hurt by the other's selfishness and have stopped communicating effectively.

Listen and Learn
First, in therapy I teach them to communicate in respectful and timely ways. Secondly, couples work on expressing their feelings and their needs in healthy ways. As couples are doing these exercises, they are also learning to become reflective empathic listeners which enables them to leave their selfish position and move into a selfless stance. This in turn, not only helps them to problem solve and compromise, but as each partner desires to do what is best for the other (and for them as a couple) while still  honoring one's integrity and truth ~ they naturally flow back
                                                         into Stage One - Passion and  Chemistry.

Don't get me wrong! This is hard work! But it can be done! And, of course, as our relationships grow and change and as we experience life's transitions, we will be tested.

It's typically not what we do with the challenge that impacts our relationship, but how we treat one another in the process that makes all the difference. 
For now, think about your relationship. How ever long you have been in your relationship, do you move from a position of "what serves you well"? Or, do you think about what pleases your partner and what is healthy for the relationship? Are you a good listener? Are you communicating  face to face on a regular basis? Are you overly set in your ways, or are you willing to problem solve and compromise? Are you taking from the relationship, or are you giving to it? Think it over. Be honest with yourself.  If you need some additional encouragement, I have authored a short e-book with some great tools and exercises in it for reconnecting.

Betrayal Proof Your Relationship: What Couples Need To Know and Do     

Next time, I'm going to give you a couple of exercises for healthy communication, and I'll explain the last two Stages of a Relationship.


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