Hello, Love
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Hello, Love

Where Is the Love? — The Four Stages in a Romantic Relationship

Both you and your partner will change in a relationship. And that is OK.

Lessons in love

As human being we experience ourselves largely through the eyes of other people. Only in relation to other people do I have a sense of myself for example as humorous, loving, attractive or interesting. How do I know? Well, I know I am humorous if someone laughs at my jokes or I know I am attractive if another person looks at my longingly. Frequently, it is our reflected image in the eye of the beholder that gives us a sense of self. And the most important image is the one that gets reflected by the one who matters most, the person we love and who loves us.

Your partner is not your parent

However, your partner is not your parent. You may over a course of time develop a sense of disappointment with your partner, missing certain behaviours that you loved at the beginning of the relationship or getting irritated with behaviours that seem new and strange. You start to realise that your partner is not quite the person you thought they would be. And you notice that the mirror that reflected back a perfect image of you might look a little bit cracked. Instead of the fire and warmth that was there at the beginning of your relationship you are now entering more temperate or even arctic climates. Every relationship changes over time as both partners mature and develop as individuals. Over time you also realise that you may need to adjust your old relationship templates as they don’t serve you well anymore.

Stage 1: The spark — romantic beginnings

In this honeymoon stage you are in paradise: (almost) everything about your partner is perfect, life is beautiful and both you and your partner are happy to give and receive love in abundance and with pleasure. The expectation is that your partner can fulfil most of your wants and needs. You marvel about all your shared tastes and focus on your similarities (‘wow, you like this film too — it’s my all-time favourite’). You may experience being one with each other and both have a wish to be in physical contact all the time. There is no or very conflict in your relationship at this point. This stage is often portrayed in movies and shapes our idealised views and fantasies about relationships.

Stage 2: The chasm — reality check

So, your partner is gorgeous, but do they do the washing up on a regular basis? Your partner is still seen in a largely positive light but minor conflicts start to occur in the relationship. You are likely to experience a slightly more critical appreciation of your partner. Previously unacknowledged differences make an appearance and an occasional sense of disappointment or even a slight anxiety emerge: are they the right person for me? There may be a sense that your idealised partner does not quite turn out to be the way you wanted them to be. At this stage the couple begins to realise that they are two separate people with different and at times clashing agendas.

Stage 3: The power struggle — trouble in paradise

The initial enchantment has worn off at this stage and your rose-tinted glasses are clear now. Where there was agreement and oneness before there is now conflict and separateness. It is often at this stage that the two separate partners with their separate identities and different needs may drift further apart. Frequently this stage in the relationship coincides with arguments about children and career developments. You may experience your partner as unavailable, unresponsive, aggressive, withdrawn or even as hostile.

Stage 4: The union — maturity in the relationships

Couples who weathered the storm in the power struggle and individuation phase have managed to balance safety and security with independence and separateness; they can tolerate intimacy as well as letting go and allowing their partner to grow and develop independently. Maturity in the relationship allows both partners to be depended on as well as depending on the other. Couples at this stage have accepted their partner’s differences and see those as a strength to the relationship as a whole.

Both partners at a different stage

Your partner and you are not always on the same page. Often you may be at a different stage in terms of the developmental aspect of each stage: for example your partner may still be in the honey moon stage feeling as one with you while you have set out on the road to more independence. It would be useful for both of you to reflect where you are situated in relation to separateness and togetherness and what these issues bring up for each of you. For example a couple which is not able to move on from the early symbiosis and feeling of ‘we are one’ may consists of two anxious partners who live in great fear of abandonment due to earlier childhood experiences. Any attempt by one partner to develop more independence will be met with fierce resistance.



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Angela Dierks

Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Couple Therapist, Clinical Supervisor and University Lecturer, London— Weekly , free podcasts: therelationshipmazepodcast.com