THE THREE STAGES OF RELATIONSHIPS

Stage One: Romantic Love

Falling in love is effortless. Our world lights up in Technicolor and we are sexier, smarter, funnier, more generous. The novelty, the increased vitality, and the stimulation of sexual desire are unlike any other human experience. Connection is the prime objective and all other agendas seem insignificant. We have trouble sleeping, spend less time with family or friends, and often have little interest in much of anything other than being with our new beloved. Importantly, we delight in all the things we have in common and minimize - if we even notice - the differences we have.

Most of us believe that these feelings will last forever and why not? The feelings are intoxicating (literally) and leave us feeling more alive and hopeful than we ever have. The good news is that Romantic Love is supposed to happen. The bad news is that it is not meant to last and eventually we move into the next stage of love, the Power Struggle. This is the stage in which together we begin to meander through a rocky stretch of self-discovery in order to facilitate deep personal healing and growth.

Stage Two: The Power Struggle (Where Did Our Love Go?)

While all may have appeared "perfect" during the Romantic stage, over time our idiosyncratic differences re-emerge. Predictably - often when we make a deeper commitment, which increases expectations - things just start to go wrong. For some couples, the Power Struggle is very intense and for others relatively mild but for everyone, it is an inevitable, normal and indispensable stage in all relationships.

During the Power Struggle, the promising relationship we once had begins to feel exhausting and painful, often taking a back seat to frustration and blaming. There is a tendency to overlook the positive in each other and to see mainly the negative. Small disagreements escalate into angry, unresolved arguments or battles over who is right and who is wrong.

The end result is that we are left feeling unloved, misunderstood and disappointed, wondering if we are still in love or if we are with the wrong person. Unfortunately, without understanding what this stage is about, lacking the skills to navigate out of the Power Struggle or waiting too long to get help if needed, couples often feel hopeless to restore the connection and come to believe that there is no other option other than to break up.

Although many couples become deeply locked in the Power Struggle, sometimes for years, it too is not meant to last. Rather than a deep divide that cannot be crossed, this stage is meant to be used as a bridge to growth, to the third stage, the Conscious Relationship. This necessitates commitment, hard work and resilience - the formula for a vital, long-lasting relationship – and most importantly, a willingness to learn and practice the skills that Imago therapy provides on how to manage relational stress and conflict.

Stage Three: The Conscious Relationship

This is the stage that culminates in deeper respect and greater acceptance of one another. With that as a foundation for mature love, there is a deepening of what is truly possible. You and your partner have good reason to feel optimistic. You have worked hard for this. Conflicts no longer feel like threats, like downward spirals. Instead they now offer opportunities for renewed connection and a relationship that is now more harmonious and balanced.

One of the greatest learning’s of Imago is the discovery of two distinct worlds. Whenever two people are involved, there are always two realities. These realities will always be different in small and large ways, no matter what. And the reality of the other person can be understood, accepted, valued, and even loved but not made to be identical to our own. In a Conscious Relationship, we learn that even with two different perceptions, we can stay connected and avoid the gridlock that anchors us to our past.

When we love maturely and with intention, the rewards can be immeasurable. Ultimately, we gain the safety, closeness and deep feelings of joy that love is hoped to be. Passion is fueled by new emerging feelings of intimacy; understanding and patience deepen with acceptance; and commitment is redefined by the determination to communicate and soften rather than to leave. This is not romantic love. It is lasting love.