We've all heard jokes about marriage ruining a perfectly good relationship. You might even know a situation where that seemed to happen--maybe it even feels like that in your own relationship. Why does something that starts out feeling so good seem to go downhill once you take that step of commitment?
Relationships go through predictable stages, although the intensity may vary. We commonly talk about the "honeymoon period" being over after we settle in to a new job or relationship and start having more frustrations.
So why does the love seem to go away? One of the culprits is that couples get stuck in one of the early stages and are no longer moving through them. They begin to feel trapped in frustration and disappointment. Take a look at the basic stages.
This stage often feels so good that you want it to last forever. In fact, you expect it to last forever! Everything seems perfect at first. You feel energized, alive, and filled with new dreams. Your heart is filled with love and you know that this person loves you. When you're apart, you are thinking of one another.
When human beings fall in love, a peptide, PEA (phenoethalymine) is produced in the body. PEA increases energy, feelings of well being, positive outlook, and diminishes pain. It increases sexual desire. You stay up until 4 am and go to work the next morning as if you've had a full night's sleep. You can get so caught up in being with the other person, that you miss a meal and don't really notice. If you usually tend to be anxious, PEA may help you feel calm. Usually depressed, you might see things more positively. You believe that it is this other person that brings the best out in you-at last you've found the one! And to some extent, that may be true, but some of it is increased PEA!
I like to call this stage, "The Invitation to Growth." One of the biggest illusions in our culture is that Romantic Love will last forever, if you just find the right partner. We hear that love is supposed to continue happening "naturally" and if you have to work on it, it must not be real love. When people get stuck in this stage, they believe they just made a mistake in choosing. He or she isn't the right one.
One reason for the let-down feeling is that PEA production begins to decline. And because we see the other person as the source of our good feelings, we blame them when we don't feel as good--not realizing that part of it is simply biological. People who go from relationship to relationship are caught up in trying to feel those PEA produced feelings.
Some of your illusions begin to die. You are both burdened by unmet expectations of yourself and the other. It sometimes feels like love is dying. You might keep trying to pretend that the disappointment, frustration, and hurt are not really there, or that you shouldn't be upset. You may try to explain things away. This is called denial.
Denial gives way to bargaining: "If you would just..., then I will...." Certain topics are avoided. Little things turn into great big things. Frustration and hurt builds on both sides. Often there is conflict about issues like control, neatness, doing one's part, closeness or space, feeling unimportant or alone, etc. Winning and being right becomes more important than working together. You've tried everything you know and it seems the only option is to get out--temporarily or permanently.
GOOD NEWS! You are not meant to live in distress! This stage can be the door to deeper connection, intimacy and a fulfilling relationship. This conflict and distress hold the keys to mutual growth, healing, and fulfilling your potential as individuals. It is the point where you wake up, decide to become conscious and intentional, and begin a whole new chapter in co-creating the relationship you both dreamed of.
You not only recognize that there are some areas that can use improvement in your relationship, but make a conscious commitment to do the work of transforming your relationship into one that is fulfilling for both of you.
You start being the change you want to see. You gain new information and insights about yourself, about your partner, and about the nature of marriage or relationship. You learn and practice new tools and skills to help you move forward. Where do you get this information and skills?
Focus on your OWN behavior. Look at some of the things you do that are not helpful to the relationship. What are you putting into that space between you and your partner? Begin taking one step at a time to change those things that don't cultivate your relationship.
Go to a counselor and/or workshops that focus on teaching relationship skills. For example, Imago Relationship workshops like "Keeping the Love You Find," are based on the work of Dr. Harville Hendrix and teach people how to move in their relationships from light-headed romance to real, mature love.
In this stage you commit to becoming more intentional, instead of reacting. You practice the skills you are learning about communication, stretching into new behaviors, creating emotional safety, etc. You hold in your mind and heart the vision of the relationship you want and you work each day to make it a reality.
This is the stage of deep respect and appreciation of one another as separate and unique individuals. Know that this Real Love is possible for you if you are willing to do the work it requires. Make your relationship a gift for yourself and your partner.
©Dawn Lipthrott, LCSW, 2000
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