The Stages of Love
- Friday, October 17, 2003
Who, newly in love, preoccupied from morning till night with thoughts of love, can believe they will ever be out of step with their partner, that the feelings they are experiencing so strongly will ever fade? Certainly no bride or groom wants to hear that their flame will burn lower in time. But, in a sense, it will. The passionate love that begins a marriage cannot sustain a marriage. Newlyweds who equate true love only with passion are doomed to disappointment.
Marriage is a journey through predictable passages, or stages, of love. These stages - romance, power struggle, cooperation, mutuality and co-creativity - are sequential seasons of love in marriage. Each stage has its own challenges and opportunities, and each builds on each other, eventually bringing your love life to its full potential.
Stage One: Romance
The initial stage of love in marriage is romance, a time when couples nearly forget that they are unique individuals with separate identities. In this stage of enchantment, the couple takes complete delight in each other. Reaching out to fulfill their deepest needs for intimacy, they experience a kind of mystical union, and they celebrate the ecstasy of bliss and belonging.
Stage Two: Power Struggle
This stage, rife with tension, begins when idiosyncrasies emerge and differences become glaring. Two independent persons forming a way of life together eventually run into power struggles and must learn to adjust to each other's ways. The intensity and turmoil of this stage varies among couples, but almost every couple engages in this struggle.
Stage Three: Cooperation
This stage is like a breath of fresh air for couples who have stayed the course and successfully navigated the perilous passage of power struggles. Now a sense of acceptance and a willingness to change enter the relationship. A new depth develops as more healthy ways of being together begin. Couples in this stage realize that love is not so much about looking outward at each other as it is about looking inward at themselves and taking responsibility for their own personal problems. In this stage, couples relinquish the illusion that their partner needs to make them happy and they redefine love by coming to grips with their fears, defenses, projections, and hurts.
Stage Four: Mutuality
While a monumental change began in Stage Three, it was still a time when old problems and fears reemerged, especially in stressful times. But as love grows, couples eventually enter a new stage, almost unexpectedly, where mutuality becomes the fundamental way of being together. It is a stage of feeling at one with each other, where each feels a secure sense of belonging. Just when couples are wondering if they will ever escape old, unhealthy patterns, they discover a new reality - and are surprise by the joy of mutual intimacy.
Stage Five: Co-Creativity
In stage Four, the intimacy each couple yearns for and struggles to achieve is an experienced reality. But as partners become older, retire, and face the end of life together, they develop a more pronounced energy of co-creativity. The rhythm of intimacy comes to a new and final flourish. Love overflows. Secure in themselves and in their love, couples have an abundant flow of energy for action in the world at large.
This profound and peaceful period of love transcends all previous stages and results in a stronger and deeper love than any other. In co-creativity, couples realize that they are not just made for each other; they are also called to a ministry of love to everyone and everything. Thus, the co-creative couple develops a web of meaningful interrelationships that support the marriage and deepen its joys.
Love changes over a lifespan, but it becomes no less intimate, no less meaningful, no less important. For in the measure that young passion recedes, the vacancy is replaced with a deeper, more abiding sense of intimacy, care, and co-creativity. As the flame fades, deep-burning coals emerge.
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