The Stages of Relationships - questions and answers
1 Why do relationships go through ups and downs? Why do there seem to be times when everything is in sync? And why are there suddenly times when you feel distant, out of touch with one another or resentful?
‘Every relationship goes through ups and downs – not just romantic ones but family, friends and work relationships too. A couple will not always agree on the bigger picture like where they are heading and where the emphasis of their time should fall (e.g. career or on each other?) or smaller issues like sharing chores and who’s friends they should hang out with that weekend. Large or small they can either both cope well and together work out an issue or face a hurdle – finding synchrony even in disagreement. Or it can become the proverbial ‘straw’ that breaks their emotional connection for a time causing them to feel out of synch. This generates bad feeling and a sense that they don’t work together as they should. Such lack of synchrony doesn’t always have a bad outcome as they may learn from it what the pitfalls are for them as a unique couple the next time they’re faced with relationship stress.’
2 What 'stages' do relationships go through that define how in sync you are? Eg: honeymoon period, 'two' year itch (we have noticed that this seems to be a crucial juncture, rather than 7 years- is this true?! Is there research that shows there are certain 'yearly' junctures in a relationship when it is more vulnerable?
‘There are a number of key stages a relationship goes through beginning with the honeymoon stage where we have a huge capacity to ignore any faults in our lover. But those with the foresight to both see a new lover for who they are (warts and all) and still relish every moment with them is a good predictor of overall harmony and synchrony. Those who are completely blind to a lover’s faults (and their own) may fail to negotiate the next major hurdle they face when the honeymoon’s worn off. The next stage of adaptation comes at about 3-6-month mark often depending on how quickly things have been moving. In this stage you either adapt to each other’s unique personalities and way of relating or these things start to cause disagreements that you might find hard to manage. This phase of adaptation can signal future success or failure. If the adaptation is superficial, e.g., the woman who still holds out hope her lover will change in some crucial way, then the relationship will easily fail at any major hurdles. This is followed by the critical stage of acceptance that usually falls around the 2-3 year mark. If successful this stage is marked out by acceptance of differences across the board and, importantly, the acceptance of the way you two relate together. If genuine acceptance isn’t achieved this can be a dangerous time for a relationship with the sorts of pressures expected at this time – e.g., will we, won’t we move in? Will we, won’t we get married? Etc. It’s also a time when boredom in the relationship or frustration over certain issues are liable to come out. Finally there’s the renewal stage where couples often achieve newfound synchrony and communication for long-term success if any issues from the acceptance stage are sorted out or managed well.
3 What causes the different 'love stages'? (life situation, hormones, biorhythms etc...)
The different love stages are affected by major life events, e.g., the realisation you may want to have children within the next couples years (your biological clock starts ticking), external pressures, e.g., expectant parents who want to see their child settled down, to career decisions, e.g., if one of you has to move to secure a promotion. On top of these there are smaller considerations that still impact on your synchrony, e.g., your monthly cycle and how this makes you feel in terms of being loving or not, illness, staying connected to friends out of the relationship and how much you two may vary in your emphasis of this, etc.
4 What can couples do to become more 'in sync' with each other? What's the best strategy to get through tricky times?
Each couple is unique and need to devise their own strategies to cope with pressures and changes to keep in synch. However all couples can benefit from these strategies: always choose times wisely to discuss issues; select neutral territory (e.g. if you don’t live together then don’t choose one of your flats as the other will feel disadvantaged); begin with the positives you have and how you can ‘grow’ these; look at ways you’ve successfully negotiated issues in the past and use these again; seek compromise or ‘turn taking’; live by the old adage that it’s better to ‘be happy than right’.