Romancing Your Life - Surviving the 5 Stages of Relationship

Romancing Your Life – Surviving the 5 Stages of Relationship

Romancing Your Life - Surviving the 5 Stages of Relationshipaffiliate disclosureIn a recent conversation, a friend said “I’m flirting with the idea of changing my exercise routine, but we aren’t dating yet and definitely aren’t ready for marriage!”

Interesting way to look at it....

Frankly, good old-fashioned dating in its broader sense is by far the best way to explore and care for any kind of relationship.

That’s right - any kind of relationship. Sure, dating applies to romantic relationships whether you are single, married, in a relationship, or looking for a relationship. It is ALSO true for your other kinds of relationships - family and friends, colleagues, even your own health and wealth and happiness. Here’s why:

Romancing your relationships is the secret to a happy healthy life.

When we date, we are exploring whether or not we are compatible. Then if it turns out we are, nurturing that compatibility through dating to see whether we want a more permanent relationship. We put our best self forward. We are open to possibilities and willing to try something new. We commit to giving it our best shot, to feeling everything it brings our way. We commit to enjoying the process.

In most cases, to say we “show up” and are “in the moment” would be a massive understatement. In fact, we can hardly think of anything else but this shiny new thing. We are fully engaged. Our senses are practically tingling with possibility.

We go through this same little ritual any time we meet someone new whether we think they are a prospective friend, colleague, or lover. We also go through it every time we discover a new interest.

• Janet has recently been introduced to Nia. She has been thinking about switching up her exercise routine and felt instant rapport with this mashup of dance, yoga, and tai chi. She not only makes room in her schedule, she learns everything she can, tells her friends, and adjusts the rest of her life to welcome her new interest. Janet and Nia are dating.
• Roger and Nick met at a business networking event. In the course of the conversation they realized their products and services are very complementary. They also realized their strengths and skills balance each other. They have been meeting every week to continue the conversation and see where things might go. Shared leads? Referrals? Partnership? They are open to the professional possibilities. Roger and Nick are dating.
• Susan had dinner recently with Elaine, a great cook who loves inviting friends over when she tries out new recipes. At the dinner, she met Audrey and they discovered a shared love of movies. They decided to become movie buddies and have since discovered many other shared interests. They are well on their way to becoming lifelong best friends. Susan and Audrey are dating.

When we first discover a new interest - person, hobby, career - there is a romantic, almost idealistic, aspect to the togetherness. We are so focused on sharing and building that we are nearly blind to anything that doesn’t suit us. We are courting, wooing, romancing, and receiving courting, wooing, and romancing in return. Everything is fresh and new. We love every minute of it.

Until routine sets in and the bliss begins to fade. As the newness wears off, active romancing begins to take a back seat. Suddenly, faults and flaws that had been invisible seem in our face. How did we miss them before?

At that point, we have choices. We can focus on those faults and flaws, sinking deeper into unhappiness and maybe even ending the relationship. Or we can inject some TLC and find new ways to continue romancing the relationship and maintaining our happiness. We can continue dating. (Of course, some interests just run their course and that’s OK, too.)

Some people date in order to marry.
Others marry in order to date.
Dating brings you together and keeps you growing.

Every relationship, whether it’s with a person or an interest, goes through the same 5 stages. What we learn as we navigate those normal stages can teach us how to permanently romance our relationships or can be the end of them.

1. Romance – OK, let’s call it what it is – infatuation. Everything about life sparkles. It’s shiny and fresh. You feel giddy, ecstatic, and brimming with possibility. Your senses catch a new gear – colors are brighter, music is sweeter, laughter bubbles. Feel-good endorphins flow and you feel a warm combo of contentment and exhilaration. You only have eyes for all the ways this person, this interest, is a perfect match. You know it’s a bit of a fantasy, but such a nice fantasy it is!

2. Power Struggle - The fantasy begins to crack as reality and routine re-enter the picture. The belief that the romance will last forever is fading - was it only an illusion? Euphoria is getting replaced by disappointment, annoyance, and even anger. Fragile relationships may blow up at this point. Instead of perfect match, you see more and more differences and flaws. Surely you didn’t choose wrongly! So you get to work trying to change your love back into who or what you thought they were. Or maybe you punish them for not being that in the first place. Or both. Surely everything would be fine if they would only change! For their own good, of course! When differences arise, one of you has to lose. Neither of you can see a way to reconcile the difference otherwise. If the tug-of-war continues, one of you will probably pull away while the other needily chases. Where before you were inseparable, you now crave more freedom and fear losing yourself and your individuality. Boundaries seem like a reasonable response and you dig in your heels. Your feelings become wishy-washy, torn between wanting to reconnect with the euphoria and a desire to get out of Dodge. Many relationships don’t survive this stage, but those that don’t run away from the hard work of addressing this stage can move forward into happier, healthier times.

3. Reevaluation and Stability - The Power Struggle stage may leave you feeling battered and bloody, but it is possible to graduate when you begin to accept and appreciate each other as you really are, not who you seemed through rose-colored glasses. It dawns on you that even harmony has a price and the result is worth it. You take baby steps toward surrendering to life as it is, not as you fanaticized. And that’s OK. Often in this phase, the parties retreat to their own corners to lick their wounds and reflect. Usually, if one partner quit during the Power Struggle phase it was because they were unwilling to face something challenging or scary in themselves. If you are both still here, congratulations. You may just have the courage to look within. This stage is about rest and reflection and experimenting with a new form of togetherness that also embraces individuality. The drama of the Power Struggle phase begins to subside and is replaced by stability. One of the great gifts to survivors of the Power Struggle stage is learning to disagree in ways where everyone gets to win. When acceptance brings respect, safety, and comfort, it can initiate the return of love. If so, that love will be deeper and more sure-footed than in the Romantic phase and will be more ready for meaningful romancing. There is still danger. In some relationships, acceptance means resignation. They stay together, but only by inserting more distance. Perhaps they move into parallel lives where independence is more valuable than connectedness. For couples, that can lead to the “roommate syndrome” where they continue to share a home, children, and other joint interests, but lead largely separate lives. One or both may immerse themselves in work or a hobby. They may become bored with each other and the relationship. The relationship may be stable, but there is no sanctuary. The risk is great for one or both to cheat.

4. Commitment – At some point, the reflective distance in stage 3 will cause you to either build a new bridge or burn the old one. If you choose to stay together, it’s with the knowingness that you are human, individuals with past connections and experiences that shaped you into the person who was the object of that initial infatuation. You have learned to like each other, warts and all, and are happy with the real person – no projection, distortion, or cover-up needed. You recognize both strengths and deficits and accept them as part of the total package. You choose to be together, intentionally, with eyes wide open, no longer blinded by infatuation or angered by the power struggle and its aftermath. You can honestly say, “I choose you knowing everything I now know.” Romantic warmth returns, but this time it is balanced and radiates from your core connection. If you have survived this far, you have finally reached the jumping off point for life as a team. Of course, that means your work isn’t yet done.

5. Co-Creation – Call it bliss, reconciliation, or haven, this stage is where you finally become a committed team. You are each capable of standing on your own two feet while loving, supporting, and nurturing each other. There is a healthy balance between individual freedom and mutual connection. You each bring your unique talents to the relationship and have faith that your partner has your back and can help fill in your gaps. There is no more competition for who is smarter or more gifted....or right. All your resources are pooled and available for the betterment of the relationship. You have figured out how to peacefully resolve differences by looking for solutions where both win. Warmth, peace, and respect are hallmarks. You feel safe and whole. You are now ready to radiate your love beyond the two of you, sharing, healing, and warming others. At this stage, couples often decide to work on something together, some collaborative creation that contributes to the betterment of the world. They may have children together, start a business or charity, volunteer, or simply be a steadfast friend-team. The choice itself doesn’t really matter. They understand at some deep level that love is meant to be shared. They also understand that sharing into the world is no excuse for neglecting their relationship. They finally understand that the stages are cyclical, not linear, and they must constantly nurture and romance, never forgetting the lessons learned to continue growing together without falling back into previous stages.

These stages are exactly the same whether we have met someone who may be a lover or friend or colleague, or we’ve discovered a new interest. Sure, the language gets a little tweaking for those other applications, but the basic principles remain rock solid.

Evolving through the stages gives us greater understanding and better tools to romance all of our relationships, every day, in every phase. Then, our return to romance, to dating, will radiate from our deeper love. Once again, we will  put our best self forward. We are open to possibilities and willing to try something new. We commit to giving it our best shot, to feeling everything it brings our way. We commit to enjoying the process. And we commit to doing it together.

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