Every year we go through seasons, which occur in predicable sequence. Marriages, likewise, go through predicable seasons, or stages.
Researcher Rita DeMaria has described the stages couples usually experience during the first years of marriage. Understanding these stages and how to navigate them makes it easier to keep the relationship healthy.
•The Passion Stage comes first. Couples see themselves as newlyweds, and there's a wonderful sense of excitement and discovery as they focus on their new life. Couples can best use this time to strengthen their sense of unity by taking time to make time for each other and leave work at work.
•Eventually, however, the hormones we experienced when we first “fell in love” start to wear off and the Passion Stage begins fading. Then the “Realization Phase” arrives. You suddenly realize the perfect person you married is not only flawed, but they can be absolutely irritating.
This begins the time when marriages experience their highest divorce rate. Couples erroneously begin thinking the marriage was a mistake because they don't “feel” in love anymore. This is typical, even for those who eventually have wonderful, lifelong marriages. It is part of the marital “growing pains” from young love to mature love, because you're each beginning to see the other's “real strengths and weaknesses.”
It's only when we accept the person we married, and love them despite all their quirks and irritating habits (just as they begin to love you despite your quirks and irritating habits) that mature love begins to develop.
DeMaria explains this is when couples should talk about the expectations they brought into the marriage and whether those expectations were realistic.
It also helps if you acknowledge that your spouse is not a mind reader. If you don't tell them about your thoughts, expectations, hopes and dreams, they won't know. DeMaria warns that keeping quiet to keep the status quo will “leave you resentful and angry and keep your spouse in the dark.”
•About 3 to 4 years into the marriage spouses often begin to rebel against each other. The Rebellion Stage is characterized by thinking: “If only my spouse would change, everything would be wonderful again.” This is often a time of bickering because you both want things done “my way.”
This, too, is normal although many couples do “cruise through this stage without drama or frustration.” DeMaria tells us that, during this stage, couples need to “learn how to negotiate and keep agreements, because keeping agreements builds trust.”
And, stick with it! Try to appreciate each other, “warts and all.” When disagreements arise, try what DeMaria calls “the win-win waltz.” Trade ideas and information back and forth until you truly understand each other's position. Then brain-storm ideas until you come up with a solution that works for both of you. This helps you act like a team in solving problems.
•Eventually couples learn that cooperation is better than rebellion. The Cooperation Stage can last for decades and can be the source of great joy. Couples begin acting like friends who are also business partners, but also happen to be lovers. This works best by keeping the marriage a priority and your passion alive. Having regular date nights and having fun on them helps.
The cooperation phase is when your marriage can really flourish because you've been married long enough to really know each other.
Sadly, too many couples give up too soon and too easily. Stick with it. Each phase of your marriage can be challenging, but it can also be fun, and helpful for building the healthy, intimate marriage you wanted all along.