According to a study of hundreds of couples, carried out by Dr. Susan Campbell, every relationship goes through the following 5 stages:
Romance Stage – begins when we fall in love with someone. It can last up to 2 years, then it ends as quickly as it began. In this stage, we tend to ignore our partner’s flaws, we just don’t see them, our brain releases hormones, Oxytocin and Dopamine, that create love feelings, which we make us feel good, but ignore what makes us feel bad.
You will only see what you have in common with your lover, the subconscious mind will hide your partner’s flaws. You engage in many activities together, and there is high sexual activity within the relationship. You try to only show “good” qualities to each other and avoid disagreement and fights. You think you have met “the one” or have “can’t live without you” feeling. Those love feelings can last from 2 months to 2 years.
This stage comes to an end once the going gets rough, when couples see their visions and dreams are not going to be realised as they had hoped. Some couples would break up when this happens, only to discover that the same things repeat over and over again in their next relationship. Others will move on to the next stage – Power Struggle stage.
Power Struggle Stage – at this stage, the couple begins to realise that “you’re not who I though you were” or “we’re not who we thought we were”. They start to focus on their partner’s differences and flaws. They feel disillusioned, disappointed, or angry. They are not sure what are their partner’s emotional needs. They don’t understand why his/her behaviours change after the “romance stage”. One partner will pull away and withdraw, needing space …. and the other partner is needy, pursues and feels emotionally rejected.
In this stage, some people try to change their partner to be the way he/she was supposed to be or the way he/she promised to be. For others, the illusion of power, i.e. the belief that threat, force, manipulation, or domination, can get them what they want. The power struggle becomes unconsciously a way of hurting their partner in retaliation for the disappointment one has suffered.
This stage can go on for years or the relationship can end abruptly because either or both partners are unwilling to confront aspects of themselves that maybe too scary or painful to face. If you are stuck at this stage, get professional help.
The goal of this stage of relationship is to be autonomous in your relationship, while maintaining the love connection with your partner.
- Accept and appreciate each other’s differences,
- Recognise who you are and what you have as a couple.
- Give up your fantasies of harmony without struggle and pleasure without pain.
- Look upon each other as free and unique beings.
- Give up being perfectionist.
- Surrender to life as it is.
If the relationship survives the power struggle stage, it moves into “Stability” – a more accepting, more peaceful stage.
Stability Stage – when comes to this stage, the couple accepts one another as individual persons and they learn mutual respect. They realise that they cannot change their partner and give up the desire to. They learn how to manage their conflicts, rather than being upset by them. They set clear boundaries, negotiate differences and define role expectations.
However, if the couple becomes too attached to the hard won peace and stability, their relationship might stop growing and stagnates. All growth involves risk, pain and uncertainty, it requires a change and step outside comfort zone.
Commitment Stage – in this stage, the partners truly surrender to the reality that we are all human, there’s no ideal partner or ideal relationship. They give up trying to “remodel” each other to be an ideal partner and be agreeable at all cost. They can love one another, but not necessarily like certain behaviours in each other. They can handle tension and conflict in their relationship, they feel free to challenge and question their partner without getting into a Power Struggle. They can experience the freedom of choosing to act, by honestly say to their partner – “I don’t need you, but I love you and choose you, knowing all the good and bad about you.”
The pitfall in this stage for couples, is thinking that all their work is done. While this is true on an individual level, but the work in the world of the couple is just beginning.
This is the stage, where couples are ready to get married. However, most people tend to get married in the Romance stage, when they are blind with love and before they have learned to deal with differentness and conflict. As a result they struggle in Power Struggle stage.
Bliss / Co-Creation Stage – in this stage, couples apply what they have learned in the previous four stages and as a team move beyond their partnership to the world. They often engage in shared creative project aimed at making a contribution to the world in some way i.e. a business, a charity or a family.
A potential pitfall of this stage, is the tendency of some couples to focus so much attention on their relationship to the outside world, that little energy is left to nurture their relationship.
If you don’t accept the fact that each person is different and learn how to fight in a way that achieve a win-win outcome, you will be stuck at the Power Struggle stage. The same goes for couples that argue about the same things over and over, it’s probably because they haven’t overcome the Power Struggle stage.
Material adapted from The Couple’s Journey: Intimacy as a Path to Wholeness by Susan M. Campbell