Before you begin actually working on your relationship, you need to start by understanding relationships in general. You have probably heard couples say, “We knew the moment we saw each other across the room that this was THE ONE and we have been happily married for 45 years.” Although we all wish we could experience love this way, the reality is that for most of us, relationships go through certain stages. Relationships and marriages that evolve successfully generally go through five phases of development: Honeymoon, Accommodation, Challenge, Cross Roads and Rebirth.
Phase 1: The Honeymoon (Love- ain’t it great!)
This is the romantic, passionate, stars-in-the-eyes phase. The sex is good and there is never enough of it. This doesn’t happen for all couples but as a rule, this strong attraction stage is laced with thinking about and wanting to be with, your new love.
Phase 2: Accommodation (O.K, so love isn’t perfect)
Even Romeo and Juliet had they been married, would have had to deal with the day-to-day realities. In the Accommodation Stage roles are established, expectations are set and compromises are made. It is here that disillusionment sets in and power struggles become evident. The other person’s habits, needs, anger and withdrawal patterns become uncomfortably clear. Intense conflict has the potential for developing during this stage. It is most advantageous to learn about problem solving, conflict management and communication during this stage.
Phase 3: The Challenge (Trouble in paradise)
A couple doesn’t really know how strong a relationship is until they deal with the challenges that life brings. Whether it is starting a new job, unemployment or the unfortunate occurrence of an accident or family illness, we all face challenges in life. The Challenge Stage lets the partners know what they can expect from each other during these demanding times.
Children and family crises are important factors during this stage. Each partner sets their own rules and expectations for raising children and how extended family issues should be handled. The challenge here is to be aware of this fact and find a successful compromise in meeting each other’s rules and expectations.
During the Challenge Phase there is a certain amount of disillusionment. The relationship is not what it was dreamed to be and one or both partners may be increasingly attracted to other people of the opposite sex. Sometimes, there is fantasizing about past loves. This is a time when the relationship is very vulnerable to unfaithfulness. How couples deal with this phase will determine the direction that it will take in the Crossroads Phase.
Phase 4: The Crossroads (What do I do at this stage of my life?)
Once couples reach this stage they have already experienced some challenges (e.g. medical or money problems) and now other life decisions will have to be made (e.g. to have children, where to live, how to spend money). This stage is different from the Challenge Phase because a number of challenges have already occurred and the couple has learned how each other responds in these situations. The emotional patterns of each are clear and they have established patterns of dealing with their differences. It is common for problems to arise in this stage, but because you have already experienced a great many shared challenges, you stand the best chance of working through these issues and getting to the Rebirth Stage. The three most common negative patterns for individuals to engage in during this stage are:
Being resigned to sticking with the bad decision of staying in the relationship;
Trying to force the other person into being different.
Phase 5: Rebirth (New marriage)
It is estimated that only 15% of all couples reach this stage. At this point, folks have figured out “the real person” they have married. To achieve it they will have successfully dealt with the Accommodation, Challenge and Crossroads Stages. In this phase, couples learn how and when to compromise and they truly (not on the surface) accept areas of differences with minimum resentment. In this stage couples learn to re-appreciate and re-love each other and:
• Focus on what is right with each other;
• Give each other the benefit of the doubt in conflict situations;
• Successfully manage and truly accept frustrations, disappointments and hurts;
• Agree to disagree and fully value each other even if they are totally unable to see things the same way;
• Have a give and take sexual relationship on a regular basis;
• Communicate in such a way they really listen to and hear each other;
• Can disagree with each other and be O.K with that;
• Recover from their disagreements within a short period of time;
• Constantly find things to appreciate about each other;
• Spend time relaxing and having fun on a weekly basis;
• Spend time talking about issues that come up in their relationship.
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