The Five Stages of a Committed Relationship
Everyone knows that relationships grow and change. What we don't always realize is that their growth always tends to follow a natural progression. As our relationship develops, we naturally move from one stage to another. Although some of these stages are more pleasant than others, they are all essential to the ultimate fulfillment of every partnership. Understanding these natural stages helps us to work with them in the most constructive manner possible.
The Romantic Love Stage
This is the first stage of a committed relationship. We are deeply inspired by one another and the bonding hormones are in full flush. We see the beauty in one another's souls and are inspired by each other's dreams. We see the other person as the fulfillment of all that we have ever dreamed of. It is the beautiful honeymoon stage when we are building important levels of trust and commitment and investing in the relationship as something of great value. This stage usually lasts between 6 months and 2 years. The trust and commitment built in this stage helps us to overcome the challenges of the stage to follow.
In this stage we do all we can to make sure that the relationship succeeds. We often put our partner before ourselves and do whatever we can to please him or her. This is a natural response. Often without even realizing it we are both on our best behavior because we are so inspired by the dream that is "us".
The Power Struggle Stage
In the first stage we have automatically bent over backwards in certain ways in order to please our partner. We put the "we" before the "I". The power struggle stage begins when each person begins to ask, "What about me?"
Having bonded together we now begin to fear that there may not be enough room for "me". There may still be some things that we have wanted out of our lives or out of the relationship that do not seem to be forthcoming as of yet. If we haven't yet gotten certain things in the relationship that we were previously willing to wait for or too "polite" to ask for, we now being to feel more demanding about it all. We may also begin to feel that there are some ways in which the relationship is getting in the way of other areas of our lives - other goals, callings or desires.
We want more room in our lives, we want more from our partner, but at the same time we are less willing to compromise ourselves. And our partner is going through the exact same thing!
Since it is an equal level of childhood wounding that always provides the most compelling source of attraction between two people, in the power struggle stage our need to deal with and resolve the childhood wounding that was one of the most profound forces drawing us together now surfaces with a vengeance.
Part of what made the romantic love stage so compelling was the unconscious promise we each felt that our childhood wounds could be resolved through this person and the love that we always sought as children could be fulfilled. In the romantic love stage we deeply believe that this is possible - and we are right! But we have to have the skills to meet the challenges of the power struggle stage in order to fulfill that promise.
This stage is about negotiating a place for "I" in the midst of "we" and about learning constructive methods of dealing with the old childhood emotional wounding that inevitably surfaces in every relationship. We ask, "Why are you acting just like my mother?" (or father) and we might feel as though we have been ripped off.
We don't realize that the subconscious mind is incredibly wise and that it chose our partner exactly so that we could confront those things that we are now feeling ripped off about. On the other side of that old pain is the fulfillment of true love.
Most people do not realize that the power struggle phase is a natural and inevitable one. They think that its arrival signals the failure of the relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth. People who give up during this phase never know the joys of lasting and fulfilling mature love. Others may remain committed but still be unable to find their way out of this phase. Resentments build up and become an enduring part of the scenery of the relationship.
Neither outcome is necessary. To successfully navigate the second stage of relationship we need to have a commitment to consciousness. We can learn the skills necessary to have fulfilling lives together as individuals. We can learn how to deal constructively with the old childhood pain as it surfaces so that each possible confrontation takes us forward both as individuals and as a couple.
Eventually the struggle between "I" and "we" is resolved, leading us into the third stage of a committed relationship:
The "Doing" Stage
Here is where life purpose becomes really important and the couple can begin to truly build their dreams. Of course, we are usually "doing" things all the time and in some cases much of this work may have been done during the previous stages. But it is much easier to do things when we are not intoxicated with limitless possibilities, as we were in the first stage, or struggling under the burden of balancing the relationship, as we were in the second stage.
In this third stage we really begin to work as a team. 1 + 1 = 2, but when we reach this third stage we have all the room we need for the personal "I" and also work together seamlessly as a team. The "I" very naturally and easily serves the "we". The "we" naturally and automatically serves the "I". We have deep reverence and respect for one another and this strengthens our effectiveness in every area of our lives. As a result our equation becomes 2 X 2 = 4. We can manage our lives with at least twice the effectiveness each of us could muster if we worked alone as a single unit.
The sky is the limit when we are truly joined together in the pursuit of our dreams and life missions. This is one of the things couples in the first stage are hoping for, and it is a part of the picture. Understanding that the second stage is a necessary part of the journey of getting here can make all the difference.
In this stage as long as we remember to continue nurturing our reverence, respect and consideration of one another we shall triumph as a unit. "Doing" can have its frustrations which we must be careful not to take out on one another. Constructive means of dealing with inevitable temporary roadblocks are also essential.
The "Being" Stage
In this stage we reap our life's harvest. We are fully bonded and fully actualized as a unit. We can stop and smell the flowers. Here we can revisit the romantic love stage on a higher level and taste the wine of life. We may be challenged in the art of keeping our love alive in the face of a diminishing sense of life or relationship challenge. Mature love finds a new way of being. Romantic love thrives on adventure. What keeps it alive is the process of discovery and exploration of the inner self and/or the outer world.
With great respect and reverence for one another as individuals, the only challenge is to keep the flame of love alive. When we have met that challenge we enter the fifth stage.
Here we have learned to explore together - the limitless inner reaches and/or the outer world. Life remains a constant adventure. For many couples the spiritual world opens up a new form of shared glory. While we still live in the real world that has its problems and challenges, we have met, mastered and continue to draw expanding riches from our partnership.
Back to Articles