Why do some couples break up after a couple of years yet others last a lifetime? Here's a model that's considered pretty accurate amongst psychologists when it comes to the stages that all relationships go through. It's not rigid but there are many aspects that most of us recognise. Wondering what stage you're in right now?
1. Dream stage
This is the first stage of love, the 'Oh My God, he is PERFECT!' stage. When you're so infatuated you can't eat, sleep or concentrate on what anyone is saying to you. Your head is filled with crashing thoughts about nothing except her. Hormones thrash around the brain and all logic is thrown out the window. You can't concentrate on work, you dump dates with your friends and you check Facebook, emails and texts 24/7.
This is the wonderful infatuation stage. So difficult to resist as dopamine levels soar to new heights making you seek out sex over and over again. Studies confirm this as they demonstrate how the brain is similar to as if you'd had heroin. Of course you can't maintain this level of hormonal activity but you try until you're exhausted. Still, the adrenaline rush will keep you needing less sleep than a new mother.
This stage lasts between six weeks and six months. During this time the sexual pleasure will decrease and you begin to calm down as the hormones become less extreme. Then you begin to feel like you're in the womb all cosy and safe. You make initial decisions about how you've searched for this perfect person all your life. This stage is what all the poetry and love songs are written about. You are finally with the One.
2. Disillusionment Stage.
Once you begin to wake up from the dream, you get some clarity: 'Oh, he leaves the cap off the toothpaste' or 'Oh no, she's dumping me for her friends'. Suddenly his jokes aren't funny and you begin to worry that the hasty wedding might have been a little reckless.
This stage is whenthe focus goes from blurry to 20/20 vision. You question the relationship and if they are, indeed, who you thought they were. You go back to every day life which seems so dull but, in a way, a relief. You notice the other person withdrawing; where did the person you fell in love with disappear to? The conversations turn to to-do lists and visiting in-laws and you secretly think the single life you left behind wasn't so bad.
3. The Tractor And The Bog Stage
Now the power struggle takes a hold filling you with a primal panic that you're trapped by the person you thought was going to make you happy. It's as if one person is a bog pulling the other person, the tractor, into a rut. You attempt to get all your needs met by this one person and find yourself angry, disappointed or abandoned when it doesn't happen. You want them to be the same as when you first met and you overtly or covertly punish them for not being that person anymore.
Of course, the other person is doing exactly the same to you and, before you know it, a small disagreement ends in a full blown argument. Both of you feel misunderstood and hurt, believing that the other person is deliberately acting maliciously and you have to walk on egg shells just to keep the peace. Or, you withdraw in an attempt to protect yourself from harmful retorts. Either way, you think of leaving because your relationship no longer feels safe. You turn away from the relationship to seek solace elsewhere.
4. Interdependent Stage.
It's at this point that you re-connect with the rest of the world and you begin to recognise that you've been asking a lot of the other person who is, after all, only human too. It becomes less important that your lover meets all your needs and you begin to accept that your relationship is not perfect.
The balance of power establishes itself as a workable partnership. You realise how much you like him as well as how much you love him. You make a choice to be with her and so come to accept her frailties and humanness. You also accept your own 'yes he leaves the toilet seat up but I leave a mess in the kitchen'. A new flow of give and take lifts the relationship into a fun, loving bond which offers both of you freedom and creativity.
5. Dream Stage.
You re-enter the dream stage where you think to your self 'Wow, I got lucky, she is amazing.' You become satisfied you made the right choice of partner. The great sex is back and better than ever. Real love blossoms.
It's only now that you are a real team. You move into the outside world to make new friends or work on projects together. Community work or other contributions boost the energy and creativity. Your relationship becomes a gift to your family and friendships.
The lessons of the past remain reminders of how hard you've worked for this relationship. Although you sometimes move back into other stages of the relationship, they become great lessons that you learn about each other and that deepen your relationship. The arguing lessens and the acceptance surges creating harmony and bliss.
In this stage you become two people who have chosen to be together and your relationship becomes a gift to the world.
We all harp back to the glorious first Dream Stage but that stage of enmeshment just isn't sustainable. So, nature forces us apart with the power strugglesand this enables us to live a more realistic life and establish new boundaries which offer a more healthy shared power balance.
Many relationships break up during the Tractor and the Bog stage but if you make it through this stage you are rewarded with a magnificent opportunity to build a life long relationship.
And finally, these stages are not simply stepping stones but more of a spiral, circling upwards.