What stage are you at? Research has identified that the lifespan of many relationships can be divided into different stages. Of course, there is no such thing as an average or normal relationship. We are all uniquely different and our relationships are also uniquely different.
What’s important to remember is if your relationship is struggling, please seek professional support to get you back on track.
Below I have identified five of the most common stages a relationship may experience.
The Foundation Stage. (“HONEYMOON PHASE”)
This initial stage is very strong and powerful to our emotional state of mind. It’s when we begin to fall in love and cannot think of much else. During this phase we spend a great deal of time together, and may focus more on our partner, and less on our friends and family. We tend to engage in many activities together, and sexual desire is very high.
Throughout this phase, we tend to be on our best behaviour and show our partner our good qualities. Any differences or negativity in our partner is often overlooked and instead, we focus on the positives our partner has to offer, and any similarities we both may have. This stage may last for many months and years and is the foundation stage where we are strengthening our relationship for the long haul. Research has shown the longer a couple are in this phase, the more successful their relationship may be.
For some couple’s, circumstances such a pregnancy may interrupt this foundation stage early, and conflict can develop and change the foundation landscape. This is where relationship counselling can certainly support and re-establish connection.
Cohabit Stage – Living together/Marriage.
After a couple of years together, we will observe our relationship has changed from the foundation stage. The lust and sole focus on each other has decreased, and we are probably spending more time with outside influences, such as family and friends. We are now beginning to identify the differences, such as our values, beliefs, and the different ways we both do things – like money management.
We may start to challenge our partner, which can evolve into conflict. This is inevitable in all relationships. We are all uniquely different and it is important to learn how to express ourselves clearly, and with respect and empathy toward each other’s own values and beliefs.
During challenging times, some individuals reflect back on stage one, and compare and judge their current situation with the euphoria initially experienced in the relationship. Its important to keep in mind love is a behaviour, and in demonstrating love, we need to include empathy and understanding of our partner’s needs in order to achieve a successful relationship together.
Relationship with children.
For many couples, parenting can place one of the greatest strains on any relationship. Our relationship patterns begin to change. The level of responsibility increases, therefore fuelling stress levels in both partners. Couples tend to do less together and focus their time and energy on their children and their children’s needs.
For some couples, differences in child rearing can fuel dissatisfaction and may result in conflict, putting a wedge in the relationship. During this stage, it is quite common for couples to become emotionally distant and feel undervalued in the relationship.
For couples without children, it is important to maintain their own identity however, working on a project or an activity together will support & strengthen communication ties. It’s important to remember, without new energy coming into the relationship, it may become stagnant.
All couples need to take the time to reconnect and listen to their partner’s concerns and needs, spend quality time together away from children, and begin to explore the changing roles of each other.
The Stabilising Stage
By now, our children are becoming older and less dependent on us. Their needs have decreased, and although they may still be at home, we, as individuals, are starting to discover we have more time for ourselves and new interests.
During this stage it is not uncommon for couples to become more like companions and engage automatically. Conflict may occur, as both partners partake in more individual activities. Some couples may have been emotionally distant for some time, and are now questioning common factors in the relationship.
It is important to explore the changing roles and expectations of each other as we evolve into the fifth stage, and to take time to connect by spending quality time together, and discovering new patterns and behaviours in our relationship.
The Later Stage
Okay… so, it’s just the two of you again!
Congratulations. You made it!
For couples, this stage incorporates many changes and these include:
*Seeing the children leave home.
*Taking care of elderly parents.
*Developing plans for retirement.
*Sexually active as a couple again.
This feels like a new start for many couples. Some will spend more time together in retirement while others will explore individual activities. It is important to support each other during this time, and use our problem-solving skills we have developed over the years, to address any new challenges we will face together.
Use the strategies that have worked for you in the past, be aware of the ones that haven’t, and, of course, continue to communicate openly.
Well, there you have it. The five stages of a relationship. While not all couples will encounter every stage as documented, many couples may experience difficulties and challenges as their relationship evolves. It’s important to remember that communication of our feelings is powerful in any relationship.
As a counsellor, I tend to see clients whose relationships have reached crisis point. Don’t let this happen to you. As soon as you feel there are cracks please seek some professional support, it will be well worth the effort, and if you are struggling to get back on track, I have some strategies that can help.
If you need professional support don’t hesitate, book an appointment with me today. P: 0422 311 089