What Stage Are You in Your Relationship?

by Maggie Barton-McRae

Being in love is magical. You feel great, you're happy, you're more loving towards people, and life seems to take on a magical quality. You feel complete being in love. You see the beauty of your lover: you love the way he smells, his eyes and the touch of his hair. You just glow being around him. Life just seems to exist for you and him. You just can't get enough of each other. At times you act childish. You give each other names: "Buffy", "Mittens", etc. and you giggle together about this. When you are apart from him it is painful. You feel that part of you is leaving. As a couple you feel invincible against the trials of the world.

You then decide to get married - it just seems so logical. You spend your honeymoon nestled together, vowing always to love each other like this. After the honeymoon you set up home together and everything is just great. Married life is made in heaven you tell your friends and co-workers. They look at you with that look, but you think that they're just cynical and jealous. Then it rains - something happens. You get upset...he's late! He resents you for talking on the phone with your girlfriend for so long. Something creeps into that invincible feeling. The honeymoon is over.

Your disappointment is the first test in your relationship. Passing the test means, as a couple, learning to compromise your individual needs so that you can maintain the balance and experience closeness. If you have difficulty compromising, your relationship becomes stuck. You may then separate or stay together, which means frustration and tension. Having learned to compromise your marriage begins to flow. You fall in to a pattern of understanding each other. It is not the passion that it was but it seems okay.

The next test is the discovery that you are keeping a scorecard: you have defined love in terms of what the other does for you. If you become locked into a power struggle you will be putting a great deal of energy into trying to control your partner. Plain and simple, you are not happy unless you get your own way. If you stay in the marriage your partner will sooner or later become indifferent. "Yes, Dear", he says with that syrupy smile, "anything you say." However, if you and your spouse can resolve this hurdle and give up the power you will find yourself in the next phase.

Outside interests and activities become a part of your life. You may have lost closeness and intimacy but you are experiencing feelings of security and the bonds that have been created will sustain you. Your passion is replaced with external tasks. At this phase of your marriage you may still feel disgruntled. Your solution may be to turn to individual pursuits instead of seeking gratification with your spouse. This can help or hinder the relationship. If two people remain stuck at this point then the situation is two people having parallel existences together. You may appear as a couple but really you are just two individuals being independent with each other instead of two individuals being interdependent with each other. However, becoming more independent in a relationship can benefit the relationship and from this your relationship can be strengthened.

The next step in your relationship is the challenge of letting go of any fantasies and illusions about your partner. This can be a painful undertaking. To be able to see your partner for who he is, no more/no less. It is the commitment to be with your partner, rather than to be with the idea of what you want him to be. Your energy needs to shift from an investment in an idealized relationship to actually relating to the real person that you are married to. If you are not able to meet this challenge the relationship breaks down. You might separate or stay distantly together.

The final phase in this process is to be able to accept. To be able to renounce the expectations to be fulfilled by your spouse. This means to be responsible for your own gratification, for your own difficulties; in other words, for your own life. It means being attached to your partner from choice, not from needs or expectations or fantasies. It means experiencing a partnership with your spouse and taking the pleasures as they occur. Not holding on to past experiences or creating fantasies about the future. The passion that you once experienced is replaced by the glow of friendship and concern for each other. Both you and your spouse need to be active in this process.

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