Psychologists Sydney / Relationship Counselling / The Relationship Growth Cycle
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The Relationship Growth Cycle

Committed relationships often follow a predictable path, passing through several stages. While relationship specialists disagree about the exact number of phases, most agree on the nature of the journey. Knowing the path can help you become more realistic about your expectations and develop an understanding of the processes at play in your own love life. You may also want to consider getting professional help for your marriage or relationship.

Stage 1 – Romantic love

Romance or euphoric love is the feeling of having everything in common, sharing all your feelings ‘as one’, developing a deep connection, a special understanding. You have found someone who meets your every need and desire. Passions are high, affection abounds and there are no real disagreements. For most couples this stage lasts from a few months up to 2 years.

Stage 2 – Reality sets in

This is the stage where your romance tends to suffer from a reality check. You realise that you are in a relationship with real person who won’t always meet your needs and expectations. Personality traits that you used to think of as charming, cute or sexy now start to annoy you. Differences in opinion and desire start to make themselves known. Quite simply, the gloss wears off the relationship and you come down from your endorphin-induced high. You begin to feel disappointed by the reality of your relationship.

Stage 3 – Big fights, big silences, or both

This stage is characterised by a power struggle. The differences you identified in the previous phase become intensified. You start to feel that your partner is unreasonably frustrating you; that their habits are unacceptable behaviour. You probably start to yell, accuse and blame your partner. You become sarcastic or withdrawn and start a long tally of resentments. For some this is the beginning of the end.

For others this is the phase where the individuals in the couple truly grow. These couples learn to listen to each other and to manage their own their own anxiety about their partners reality needs. They learn to come to terms with their partner’s shortcomings and they negotiate with each other for better outcomes.

To manage this phase and your growth you may need to learn new skills. You may need to learn to truly take turns to listen, you may need to learn to manage some of your fears, anxieties and frustrations and you may need to be willing to better understand yourself and your partner.

Stage 4 – Peace and calm

This stage is far more peaceful than the previous one. Whilst many couples never make it to this stage, those that do find that they feel better connected to, and more trusting of, their partner. This is because they have now re-evaluated their relationship and agreed to accept it for what it is – for all it’s disappointments and frustrations. You find that these disappointments aren’t as threatening as they used to be and you are able to resolve differences and feel great security and assurance in your relationship.

For some people, this stage brings with it a feeling of loss as they come to acknowledge their reality and relinquish their fantasies of the perfect partner. For many others though, feelings of deeper love and friendship are able to fill this gap.

During this stage, individuals within the partnership tend to rediscover their individuality. They might redevelop friendship or hobbies that take them away from the relationship. This is often very healthy for the relationship, although there is some risk that the couple will drift apart or become bored with one another.

Stage 5 – Loving commitment

This is a stage in the relationship where both individuals have come to deeply understand each other – the good and the bad – and have made a conscious decision to be together. Resentment (so much a part of the third stage) is absent from your relationship because you now accept your partner entirely. You and your partner are now truly best friends – a collaborative team. You have worked together to overcome issues, you accept each other without regret, you support each other wholeheartedly. Your relationship has reached the stage of genuine partnership.

Every couple will go through stages that look similar to the 5 described above. Many will not make it past the first few stages but the lucky couples who do will continue to strive for a supportive and loving relationship. Understanding these stages provides us with direction on our own journey towards a committed and fulfilling long-term relationship.

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