In the 1970s, the divorce rate in the United States rose to 50% and that is where it has hovered for the last 40 years. Many marriage researchers report that marriage today has more pressure on it than ever before. Partners today expect their relationships to deliver not only the 50’s style financial security and the family/career division of labor, but entertainment, best friend status and growth. Too many partners don’t have the training and knowledge to deliver on these often unspoken expectations.The goal of any marriage or committed relationship is real lasting love. However, in order to have real lasting love one needs to have some essential truths about marriage. A lot of your time and energy is spent finding the perfect match. Many of us think that once we say I do, the work is over. The idea of having to spend time focusing and working on your most important relationship may seem strange. However, growing “real love” and creating the marriage of our dreams, does take practice and work. Like anything else, the more you put into it more to get out of it. Unfortunately, marriage and committed relationships do not come with a how-to manual. And it’s the rare couple that seeks out premarital education. It’s important to understand that there are 3 stages of a committed relationship or marriage. The more you become aware of these stages, the better prepared you will be once you enter them.
The First Stage Is the Romantic Stage.
In this stage, hormones are raging, and you seem to have everything in common, you’re very compatible, and you don’t disagree on much. When you see each other you’re excited and your heart palpitates. There’s flowers, shared meals, laughter, nice walks and little love gifts given to each other. You may spend hours looking forward to your next time together. Maybe you’ll see a movie or just hang out talking about everything and nothing. Each of you feels like you’ve known each other forever. You have fallen in love. For some it’s quick and for others it’s gradual. You begin to think about each other a lot. Being apart feels unbearable. You text and call each other frequently and you seem to know each other’s thoughts. You complete each other’s sentences. This early stage of romance brings out the best of people. Both homes are clean and tidy. Personal grooming is done with special care and neither one of you burps around the other. Before you know it, you are in love. Unfortunately this bliss does not last. Romantic love sticks around long enough to bind two people together. Then it rides off into the sunset. Relationship expert, author and creator of Imago Therapy, Harville Hendrix has said “in the throes of full-blown romantic love you can do no wrong. However when romantic love fades it feels like you can do no right.” Soon the person who was your greatest fan can now become your worst critic. Adoration is replaced by nagging. You start thinking “who is this person I have married? We used to be so compatible. We agreed on everything” You may also be tormented by thoughts like, ” How can my partner think this way, act this way, believe these things.” and “He fooled me into believing he was someone else.”
You have entered the power struggle stage . . .
Without the skills to navigate this stage, your dream marriage can turn into your biggest nightmare. When you are awakened from the dream of perfect compatibility, frustration sets in. Desperate to end the pain and disappointment many couples get divorced. Others, who decide not to divorce, stay together but wind up living parallel lives without any true connection. Inside they feel like something is terribly wrong. What couples don’t realize is that nothing is wrong. Romantic love is the powerful force that delivers someone who has the positive and negative qualities of your partner or caregivers. We are unconsciously drawn towards a special someone with the worst and the best character traits of our caregivers combined. Your partner may not look like your parents and on the surface they may not act like your parents. However you will end up feeling the same feelings you had as a child. This will include both a sense of belonging and love but also upset, confusion or frustration of not getting your needs met. This result of not getting your needs met is your childhood wound. Simply uncovering this childhood wound is the first step in your own personal growth. Those who can recognize this should thank their partner for helping them realize their inner pain. During the power struggle, you have the opportunity to heal these wounds by having someone with the traits like our caregiver learn how to give us what we needed and missed out on in childhood. This design helps heal each of our childhood wounds. In fact, most of the upset that gets triggered in us during our relationship is from the past. Dr. Hendrix likes to say that 90% of the frustration your partner has are really about their issues from childhood and only 10% is about you. Romantic love delivers us into the passionate arms of someone who will ultimately trigger the same frustrations we had with our parents. However doing so brings our childhood wounds to the surface so it can be healed.
Real Love . . . the Beautiful Payoff
So as you can see romantic love and the power struggle are just two stages in the journey towards real love. Real Love which is the final stage of our relationship journey. Bear with me while I explain how real love is worth all of the pain and conflict the two of you endure during the typical, even inevitable, first two stages. Hendrix defines real love as the intimacy that you hoped for; the communion created from a relationship built on mutual caring and respect. It is the process of transforming the energy of conflict into growth. You become your partner’s healer and they become yours. You start listening to your partner in a new way and you begin to realize that your partner’s needs are a blueprint for your own healing and growth. Similarly, your needs are a blueprint for your partner’s healing and growth. Identifying each other’s blueprints to healing requires that you help each other name your childhood wounds (unmet needs), clarify what you both need to heal, stretch yourselves into becoming each other’s healer, and become stronger and complete in the process. In this stage of relationship partners commit themselves to meeting their partner’s needs and offer their partner unconditional love. That is, they specifically target their behavior to meet their partner’s needs without asking for anything in return. To move into the real love stage is to become a mindful couple offering unconditional love to each other. It is an ever evolving journey not a destination. If you would like to explore how you and your partner can grow together rather than apart, please contact me at 619-990-9032 or email me at craig@craiglamberttherapy for couples counseling. You can also consider attending one of the workshops I give throughout the year.