All romantic relationships go through predictable cycles. If you understand what they are, you can more easily let go of the ones that aren’t in your best interest. You can work through those that you want to hold on to. So, let’s take a look at these relationship stages.
The question is, “What is this?” Is this friendly? Is it romantic? Do I sense a spark? Do you feel one too? What’s happening here? What do I want to happen here?
It’s a good idea to get clear on what you want as well as where the other person is. If you are fantasizing that someone likes you and she doesn’t, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. When you have sex when what you want is affection, you’re probably going to be unhappy. If you’re just bored, but go along with a flirtation for the fun of it, you’re setting someone else up for disappointment. When you are clear on what’s what, you’re off to a good start.
When two people have a meeting of the minds, and they both want to be together, you’re at this stage. There are many modern relationships that aren’t relationships. They are friends with benefits or just random hook ups. There is nothing wrong with this as long as both sides agree. If you go along with something that you don’t want, you will be disappointed. If you imagine that it’s something that it’s not, you will be disappointed. They say love is blind because many times, we are the source of our own disillusion. Keep your eyes open and choose. You will avoid a lot of heartache this way. If you don’t have a clear “yes, I want to be with you under these circumstances,” you could be fooling yourself.
At this stage, both parties tend to be blissfully happy. They put each other first, are on their best behavior, and hide their flaws. This is easy because they feel love and want to be lovable. Lots of people love this giddy, swept away feeling. When it ends, as it will, they can feel that they aren’t in love anymore and will move on. If you get beyond this stage, mature love has a chance to blossom.
Reality happens for three reasons. The first is boredom. Even the best things get old after a while because we all need novelty. The second reason is that the day to day realities that have been put on the back burner can’t be ignored anymore. We have to work, sleep, spend time with our friends and family, or get back to our hobbies. The third reason is that we just relax. We might not make the effort to hide who we are anymore. Our annoying habits come to the forefront. We are more truthful. We are less guarded.
All this is normal. This is where you start to get to know each other as real people. Maybe your partner isn’t who you thought she was. It could be that your lifestyles or values really aren’t that compatible. Or perhaps you discover that your big picture goals don’t lead to the same place. A relationship has to be able to live in the ordinary world outside of the honeymoon bubble. If it doesn’t have the strength, dedication, or compatibility it won’t make it.
And this is okay. Most of us date lots of people before we find “the one.” Not everyone is going to be a match. Breaking up is part of dating. It’s better to break it off with someone who is not right for you than to settle.
As a relationship matures and becomes more predictable, they travel different paths. How the relationship has been lived so far determines the path. These are: maintenance, stagnation, or termination. The maintenance path is about doing things to nurture the relationship like date night, couple’s retreats, maintaining family traditions, and day to day intimate contact. (This doesn’t mean sex necessarily, but any connected activity like eating together, snuggling, or eye contact while talking).
Stagnation is about going through the motions. It could be out of convenience, finances, being happy with what is comfortable, or even necessity. There is no joy here, but it’s not particularly hard either. Some view this as a sell-out or failure. Others accept it as a phase of a long term relationship. It’s true that all long lasting relationships have periods where things aren’t vibrant and alive. However, if left long enough without an injection of new energy, relationships will become stagnant.
Termination is where relationships end. This tends to happen when one or both partners has been in a state of emotional withdrawal for too long. There is nothing left to give to the other person. This can happen when there is unresolved conflict, hurt feelings that haven’t been repaired, or the realization that the partners can’t be their highest and best selves if they remain together. Termination doesn’t have to be “failure.” Sometimes it is the best thing.
Life moves in cycles. We’re always moving from a place of order to chaos and back again. That’s the way of the universe. It happens in relationships too. If you want your relationship to be happy, connected, and intact, work with that energy to keep it growing. You can’t hold back the chaos, so use it to take you to a higher place. You can’t hold on to happiness either. Life ebbs and flows. Know that your relationship will need infusions of love, time and care to get over the lulls. And if it’s time to end it, let go gracefully.
A living, growing relationship will always move from reality (as you discover new things about each other and go through new phases in life like child rearing and retiring) to choice and back again. Go with the flow. Be there as your highest and best self and you’ll get through okay whether you stay in the relationship or not.