What are the Three Stages of Relationship and why are they important?
In a previous post I wrote about “The Psychology Of Why We Choose Our Partners” (click here to read it) and the “Imago”, the idealized blueprint for relationship that we carry in our unconscious mind. Imago is Latin for image.
Today I will write about what happens when we find that “Imago Match” and start a relationship with them. There are three stages in a Love Relationship. The first one is The Honeymoon Stage, the romantic stage. We’ve all experienced that, haven’t we?
That’s when everything our partner does is perfect, is cute, is adorable. So cute the way he leaves the toilet seat up and I fall in. So adorable the way she lost my car keys and I can’t go to work. We focus on the positive qualities of our partner and ignore the negative ones.
This is because our body is creating some very potent chemicals that are influencing our brains. It’s God or Nature or Evolution making sure we can stay together long enough to perpetuate the species.
Our brains drug us with neurotransmitters like PEA (phenylethylamine) and oxytocin. PEA acts like methamphenamine, while oxytocin acts like heroin. So physiologically speaking, romantic love is a chemical reaction. Not such a romantic notion though.
With these love hormones and neurotransmitters surging through our bodies, we don’t feel the need to eat, we don’t need to sleep, we want sex all the time. Literally, we are drugged into a euphoric, elated, exhilarated state. In Imago, we call romantic love “nature’s anestheisia.”
Eventually we build a tolerance to the drugs flooding our system. It usually takes 3 months to 2 years (if you’re really “lucky”), and as it wears down we are left in the second stage of relationship: The Power Struggle
Now we begin to see who we’re really with. And we begin to see those negative qualities in our partner that we previously ignored or didn’t care about. At this point, many couples can’t handle what they’ve gotten themselves into and they break up. Others just white-knuckle it and hope it will improve. Some seek professional help.
Those that break up, generally will find themselves attracted to someone who shares many common characteristics with their previous relationship(s).
And there’s nothing wrong with that, because from an Imago therapist’s perspective, this is supposed to happen. Conflict is supposed to happen. It gives us an opportunity to deal with our childhood issues and wounds. This is nature/God/evolution’s way of giving us an opportunity to grow, to heal ourselves and our partner of our childhood wounds. Most of us don’t know how to do it, but it IS possible. There is a natural progression through the three stages of relationship.
As we begin to work out some of these Power Struggle issues, we enter the third stage of relationship, which is called: The Conscious Relationship
Here, we are more at peace with ourselves and our partner. We are clear about what we want, how to ask for it, and how to be there for our partner as well as ourselves.
And the passion can be even deeper, richer than the honeymoon phase!
For couples that are stuck in the Power Struggle stage, professional support is what I would recommend. If you could work through the three stages of relationship on your own, I have no doubt that you would have done so by now. This is the work I do with couples, to help them navigate through the power struggle phase and to create that conscious relationship of their dreams.
Whatever of the stages of relationship you are in, if this makes sense to you and you’d like my support, please feel free to contact me.
I wish you the best,
Dr. Adam Sheck
If you’d like to know more about the three stages of relationship and my work with couples on how to have a successful relationship, please click here to schedule a complimentary 20 minute, “Create A Better Relationship Now!” session by telephone or Skype.
Hello Adam and Happy New Year!
You explain it so simply and yet it can be a bit complex. The bottom line is that we’ll get the same lesson in a different skin over and over again until we have that Satori moment and can release the stuff from the past once and for all. It’s taken me 52 years to get there – but I am now at a great place – aligned with myself and loving myself enough – I am ready for the partner that also loves himself.
Thanks for your New Year’s wishes and I wish you the best in finding that partner in the new year! Yes, the stages of relationship are “simple” to explain, yet like most things, living through them, learning our lessons and growing are always the challenges of life.
Thanks Adam, your theory makes sense, however, is it possible to vacillate between the stages? how is that sometimes one feels they have arrived third stage but at some points feel the power struggle still rages on.
would love to hear your comment.
I understand your feeling and life really isn’t static, anymore than the stages are. We may be conscious in certain areas, yet get triggered into a power struggle in other areas. OR, when life is especially challenging, we may regress back to old behaviors which will instigate a power struggle. The work is continue on and be as conscious as possible in moving through.
As the joke says: there are three stages of marital sex. Kitchen sex–everything is hot–it’s on the stove and table. The second step is bedroom sex–two maybe three times a week with toys if you are into that stuff. In the third phase we devolve to Hallway sex–walk by each other in the hall and say “sc**w you”
Actually I put together a video, “7 Types of Sex” which extends the joke a bit, perhaps in a kinder way. It’s on my old passion101 site, haven’t moved it here yet:
Well, i can certainly identify with the first 2 stages. It took 6 months for my filipina bride to get her visa to join me in the US. 9 months later our daughter was born. By the 1 year mark, we were in Christian counseling. The Power Struggle had set in. I hung in there for 11 years, but I felt that someone was going to die if I didn’t break us up. As the Biblical head of my wife, I was not about abdicate the leadership role to her. As the manipulative Eve, who desired Adam’s position of authority, she was not about to submit. And our poor daughter was caught in the verbal and emotional crossfire. My ex-wife has BPD and Christian counselors are not trained to handle that. Anyway, glad for your articles and success with some couples.
I’m so sorry for your pain, perhaps the best course for now is to focus on being the best father you can be. I would agree that while Pastoral Counseling has value, many are not trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders. The best ones know enough to refer to psychologists like myself and other mental health professionals when appropriate. Couples counseling is challenging enough, adding other issues needs the best of training.
Thanks for sharing your experience,
This post answers my question from the previous post I commented on. This is the beauty of relationships, no matter how bad –> we are brought together to learn, grow and heal with each other.
Coming from an abusive childhood, I’ve had some “unfortunate Imagos” in my lifetime. =)
I’ve learned to embrace them all and continue to evolve as woman.
Good for you for continuing to move forward and not let the past run your life.