In each stage of love, there are positives and negatives. Yet, despite the negatives, people continue to try and get it right, make their love last, with the hope of creating and maintaining a healthy relationship — all this while understanding, accepting, and honoring individual differences.
Dynamic and ever-changing,relationships present people with some of life’s greatest challenges.
Which stage of love are you and your partner at?
1. The Romantic Stage
This first stage of love lasts from two months to two years. Think champagne and rose-colored glasses! A common word used to describe your loved one is “perfect.”
The “feel good” neurotransmitters that are fired off at a rapid rate, during this stage of love, go to the same place in our brain as drugs do — increasing attention and focus, obsessiveness, a strong and powerful desire to be with our new love, and thinking of nothing else.
It’s difficult to get any work done. We are high on love! All is wonderful in your world. You think, “Where have you been all my life?” There is a great emphasis on similarities and sameness.
For instance, a typical conversation can look like: “You like to club? That’s great! I love to club, too!” Even differences between the two are viewed as strengths. You think: Who wants to be the same anyway? Boring!
The downside? You might have neglected other relationships in your life to spend time with your new partner — sometimes to excess. An overly enmeshed relationship prevents maintenance of your own identity and for some, co-dependency.
Boredom may occur if you realize that beyond the initial feelings of lust, there are no common interests.
Then, after months of going full speed at 80 mph, there is a shift. It feels like you have hit the brakes and have come to a screeching halt! The drugs have worn off! You are no longer high on love and you have moved into the Power Struggle Stage.
2. Power Struggle Stage
The rose-colored glasses have become a little less “rose-colored” and more clear. The illusion that romantic love will last forever dissipates and is replaced with anger and disappointment. This is a challenging time for couples. There is a shift in focus from your similarities to your differences.
Behaviors that were once “cute” have become little annoyances. Sometimes we try to change the person back to who we thought they were or created them to be in our own mind.
Arguments or disagreements may increase and miscommunication occurs due to different communication styles. Clarity in communication is vital at this stage as this will determine if the relationship can survive.
Some couples don’t survive this stage and break up. To prevent this, place importance on accepting and appreciating your differences. Learn to share power, relinquish your fantasies of constant harmony, andrecognize the strengths of your relationship.
Also, reinforce clear boundaries and make mutual respect prevalent. The relationship, then, becomes more realistic, rather than idealized and a “fantasy.”
The goal of this stage is to establish your autonomy without destroying the love connection between you. How you manage your differences and those annoying quirks often shape how the relationship moves forward.
The relationship can become strongerand grow if each person can manage their own feelings, becomes open and receptive to improving their communication, and can handle disagreements amicably.
3. The Stability Stage
When a couple moves into this stage, there’s a greater awareness of each other’s behaviors, differences, and annoyances. Both have worked through establishing roles and independence and have moved away from the power struggles that once monopolized the relationship.
Disagreements are just that —disagreements. They do not necessarily turn into arguments. But if they do, they are manageable. There is more peace and a rhythm to the relationship with a greater feeling of relaxation. You can see a future with this person.
However, the danger in this stage is the increased risk of boredom or a boring routine. This can lead to apathy or infidelity. People often start taking the other person for granted and do not work on the relationship. They believe it can rest on its laurels, but it cannot.
Some people start to move away from their partner, rather than towards them. Yet, the paradox is that despite the boredom or routine of the relationship, it is peaceful, safe, and secure.
People can feel grounded and safe yet move away from the relationship in healthy ways, without the relationship feeling threatened.
If you are able to master and feel comfortable during the boring times, then the relationship can continue to grow. If you are delighted and prefer their company even when things are not exciting, then there is a greater chance of allowing each other to grow with the relationship.
4. The Commitment Stage
This stage can take anywhere from one to ten years. You and your partner can make clear choices for yourselves and each other. You recognize both of your shortcomings and have accepted them. You have been able to manage the bad times and embrace and celebrate the good times.
Despite the bad, you can rise above and still prefer the other’s company. You don’t need the person, you choose to be with this person. There is a balance between power, freedom, love, and belonging.
Some questions people ask are: Can you see yourself with this person long-term? Do yo have shared interests and goals? Does this person add, not take away, from your life? Is this person the total package? Do you work as a team?
These questions are a reminder that relationships need continued work, attention, and commitment.
Learning to recognize and embrace the stages of love can help both individuals and couples better navigate the expected twists and turns of a relationship.
Understanding and preparing for the challenges that relationships bring can help people identify the triggers and learn to be proactive rather than reactive and work through them instead of giving up. This will help create the bridge that connects, not the bridge that divides.
Communication is key. How will you communicate about your differences? How will they be managed? Can you talk about your differences in a way that encourages healthy communication strategies and understanding and honoring both your similarities and differences?
Relationships are challenging and tricky at times. People are complicated. Sometimes a little more time together can help determine your future. Navigating through the stages of love is not a linear process. For example, a life transition (empty nest, child) can put a couple back in the Power Struggle Stage.
If needed, consult with a marriage or relationship therapist. Having a third party to help you navigate your relationship challenges, could be the key to saving your relationship!