The couple relationship is a process on-the-move usually going through different stages. From emerging to long-lasting relationships, the key-focus requirements are openness and adaptability.
“Being in love is not a state but a becoming”.Francesco Alberoni in ‘Le Choc d’Amour’ (The Shock of Love).
Since this referenced work, countless studies conducted by couple therapists have insisted on the evolutionary approach of the state of being in love. Whether they disclose three, four or six stages, these theses all agree that, from love at first sight to bounding and then to differentiation, love follows a timeline. This does not mean that all of our love affairs take place in one and the same scenario; each partner comes into the couple with their experiences, their weaknesses, their strengths, and it is on the get-together between these two stories that the nature and development of love will depend. Then, depending on the time they take before cohabiting or having children, depending on the attention they pay to their relationship, depending on their age too, the partners linger for a longer or shorter time on one of the above or more.
Likewise, the transition from one phase to another is not final: there are times of regression, acceleration or stagnation. However, all long-term love stories go through identical stages. Based on the various existing studies, here are three encountered. How are these steps the key to a happy and lasting relationship? How do you switch from one to the other? What are the consequences?
- The signs: “You are the one I was waiting for”; “We agree on everything”; “You and I are one”… Almost every relationship today begins with a passionate attraction. It is intense love, “symbiosis”, according to psychologists Ellyn Bader and Peter T. Pearson. For lovers, each separation is a heartbreak and each experience shared an opportunity to discover new similarities: it seems obvious that they were made to meet.
- The advantages: this step is essential when forming a couple since it creates complicity. Marriage counselor Françoise Sand adds that this is “one of the rare moments in life where you can mature without pain”: it allows you to get out of yourself, discover aspects of life that you had not considered before, all by yourself, or that you were afraid to see. Passionate love gives wings. Still, there are some traps about it: this passionate love is largely based on lures. Each one imagines that if the relationship is so intense, it is because the other corresponds perfectly to the image of the ideal partner that he carries within him. In other words, rather than seeing it for what it really is and as a whole, it becomes the support of our projections. The longing for him / her is so great that we idealize him / her: his / her faults are denied in favor of his / her qualities.
- Tips: make the most of this honeymoon, because it is as pleasant as it is flickering. It would last between two and three years, on average. And then what? The return to reality is self-imposed and this reassuring fusion gradually becomes suffocating, alienating. The need for air arises.
- The signs: “You are not who I thought you were”; “I do not understand how you can like this”; “You don’t know what I’m really thinking”… Along with the cohabitation, the sharing of everyday life and the responsibilities to be taken, the couple comes down from their clouds to confront reality. While they only saw what united them, the partners gradually discover their differences. The other reveals all the facets of his personality. Disappointment ? Ineluctably, since it is a question of saying goodbye to the idealized image that each had of the other, but also of oneself: life together allows us to discover aspects of our own character, which we had never had the opportunity to identify and that the other helps us to perceive.
- The advantages: this step is fundamental since it allows you to find yourself, to reconnect with your own interests and life goals. Without this step, the merging ends up being experienced as a straitjacket in which everyone’s personalities are denied… until the crisis pops up. On infidelity or sudden departure, more than one love affair ends before it had passed that stage.
- The pitfalls: it is not easy to break up with your fantasized vision of love and accept to live in a relationship that does not mean pleasure every day. A sign of our attachment to a romantic tradition or of the influence of a society that makes hedonism a final point: we tend to think that early enthusiasm is “the” definition of love. The other difficulty lays in the fact that this stage of the return to reality does not occur simultaneously with the partners: the one who still lives in the idealization may believe himself abandoned, less loved, while the other will not feel recognized in the relationship that has become stifling.
- The keys: air and communication. Getting fresh air means knowing how to get out of the couple to live out your leisure activities, serve your professional ambitions… It is to become “one” again, to define your territory which is not the same as that of your partner. To gain acceptance for this distancing, communication is essential: partners must dare to explain their desires and needs, in order to prevent this differentiation from being interpreted as an escape or a refuse in love.
- The signs: “I want to build my future with you”; “How about we buy a house?”; “I am ready to make an effort to make it work between us”… The previous step allowed everyone to redefine themselves, in their eyes and those of the other. This phase now consists of measuring the compatibility of their expectations and of thinking about the means that each one is ready to provide to work on the foundation of their relationship. It is no longer love understood as: “one + one = one” (the fusion), nor “one + one = two” (the distancing), but as “one + one = three”: you, me and our couple.
This third “couple” element will arise from the development of constantly updated joint projects, which, in the future, will give the relationship its dynamic and guarantee its sustainability. What do you really want for yourself and for the relationship? What do we expect from our life together? The opportunity is perfect to talk about marriage, children, house to buy… The advantages: In this time of coming together, love truly expresses its desire for the future. A certain loving serenity becomes possible. The lasting “contract” then established between the partners will not prevent disputes; but at this stage, the feeling of love knows how to admit differences and makes you want to find adjustments to overcome them.
- The traps: Consolidated by time and shared trials, this love tends to turn into friendship.
- The risk: to sink into a happy cohabitation, but where desire, passionate impulses no longer have their place, and weary one or the other partner in need of a more sparkling state of love.
- The keys: to perpetuate this solid love, the challenge is to step out of the comfort it offers from time to time. First, by knowing how to regularly question established projects and by developing new goals together. Then, sometimes shaking up the tranquility of his love to integrate passion into it: upgrade this madness that overwhelmed the first months of the relationship and dare to merge, surrender body and mind to his / her love… including over the weekend. It is in this subtle blend of reason and passion that the couple will give themselves the chance to invent a love that is as delicious as it is lasting.
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