A number of key stages can be recognized in any relationship. These are an adaptation of the relationship model originally developed by Susan Campbell in her book “The Couple’s Journey”.
Stage 1 The Honeymoon
The first stage of any romantic relationship is when we fall in love. Our initial attraction to somebody grows rapidly to the point where we feel delicious feelings of connection and love. It seems we have found the love of our life and we will readily believe that this relationship will last forever. The honeymoon stage is a wonderful life experience and shows the potential of the relationship for love and joy.
We may be tempted to make long-term commitments in this stage without really knowing our partner. This in itself is not a problem providing we recognize that more challenging stages of the relationship probably lie ahead and have a willingness to deal with any issues that come up.
To fall in love with somebody is the most beautiful experience in life and one to be enjoyed fully! Be prepared though for more challenging times ahead as the relationship develops. Don’t panic when this happens – stick with your partner and try to work through the issues described in the next two stages. Always remember the feelings you have in this stage – you can always find them again in the future if you commit to building a better relationship.
Stage 2 The Power Struggle
For most relationships the honeymoon stage eventually ends, typically after six months to one year. We begin to see aspects of our partner which make us feel uncomfortable. They may react to situations differently from us, act in ways that we find difficult or begin to lose interest in us. During the honeymoon stage we and our partner deliberately (though subconsciously) hide the negative aspects of our personality and behavior and focus on giving and receiving love. As we become more familiar and closer to our partner the negative traits are revealed. This can come as a huge disappointment because we realise that they are not as perfect as we thought – worse still they think the same about us! The sense of unease causes each partner to withdraw and this sets up a vicious circle and damaging pattern for the relationship.
Some of us will act out our power struggle through arguments and rows, while some of us will use much more subtle forms of competition such as withdrawal and moodiness. You will know you have entered the power struggle if you are feeling anything less than true love for your partner! We might begin to doubt if our partner really is the right one for us and if this carries on, may choose to end the relationship, or find that our partner leaves us. This is often far too soon to make such a decision. Amazing as it may seem, the very traits that we find so undesirable in our partner are the same ones that we have failed to deal with in our own minds – that is why they annoy or disturb us so much. In the power struggle it is not unusual to see negative personality traits that we associate with our parents appearing in our partner. The bad news is that we also have these traits, but the good news is that with our partners help we can deal with them!
The important thing to realize in the power struggle stage is that both partners are competing to see who will meet the emotional needs of the other. We chose our partner because we believed they would take care of our unmet needs from childhood and now we find that, not only do they fail to do this, but they have exactly the same needs as us. We feel let down and so do they – this is the key to working through the painful power struggle stage. Recognize that it is your shared sense of unmet needs, a feeling of being emotionally incomplete that is causing you to have differences. The power struggle is in fact an opportunity to heal your insecurities and fears and build a better relationship. The power struggle tends to make us draw away from our partner both physically and emotionally. Therefore we must have the courage to move towards them and express our feelings no matter how painful they seem. If this is done with love and sensitivity (ie. talk and own your own feelings – do not impose them on your partner or judge them) your partner will feel safe to express their own emotions. You will soon find that you have re-connected and will begin another honeymoon stage!
Stage 3 The Dead Zone
If we are unable to work through our shared issues that cause power struggles, a relationship can still survive, but at a cost. The relationship will gradually sink towards what has been called the Dead Zone. This is a time when we may become bored with our partner and life in general. They may bury themselves in work or a pastime and take little interest in us. At the heart of the Dead Zone is withdrawal and emotional dissociation.
In the Dead Zone a relationship loses its sense of connection and the feelings of love. Love may remain as an idea rather than a feeling – you will know that you love somebody but the emotion has lost the delicious sensations that you experienced when you first fell in love. We subdue our emotions in this stage because we are afraid to deal with the fears and negative feelings that might come up if we were to communicate our insecurities to our partner. We are afraid that they will not love us, think us bad and even abandon us if we were to be totally honest about how we feel towards the relationship and about our self. Unfortunately we are largely unaware of these feelings as they are hidden in the unconscious mind.
Both the Power Struggle and the Dead Zone that usually follows are caused by a fear of intimacy – one of our greatest repressed fears. We fear that if our partner gets too close to us emotionally, that they will see aspects of our personality that would make them reject us. Paradoxically, our fears and behaviour around this issue make it much more likely that they will leave us. The key to getting out of the dead zone is to commit to your partner to move towards them emotionally so that you can once again begin to feel and share your full spectrum of emotions. It is not feeling emotions that destroys relationships and robs us of life’s joys. Although sharing fears and insecurities in a heartfelt way with a partner, especially after many years together, can be frightening, it will always leads to more honesty and love in a relationship. As your hearts open again you will become much more emotionally aware and healing will automatically occur. You will once again begin to feel those powerful feelings of love that bought you together in the first place.
Stage 4 Partnership & True Love
Partnership is a relationship based on love, communication and trust. If you have ever fallen in love you will already know what partnership feels like. Imagine a long-term relationship feeling like those first heady days! This is not a dream – it can be yours if you are willing to work with your partner on the emotional issues that make you withdraw from each other. By always choosing to move towards your partner with a feeling of love and compassion, even when they are in pain or behaving badly, allows the insecurities and fears that you both have, to rise to the surface for healing. You may have to do this time and again as many layers of pain come up from deep within your mind, but each time you will experience a new honeymoon stage.
Even if you return to the power struggle or dead zone now and again, your growing confidence in working with your partner on your issues and the wonderful sensations that come from re-discovering true intimacy will provide the incentive to keep going. Relationships are rarely fairy tales – we must be willing to continually work at them. If we have the courage to do this, then the rewards are assured. Remember – If you are feeling negative feelings or difficulties in your relationship, always move towards your partner and join with them with feelings of forgiveness, love and compassion – do this with an open heart and it never fails.