Every relationship goes through certain stages and cycles, each one different to the next. To be aware of these stages in our relationships can be very rewarding and it also demystifies the idea that our relationship has to be a 100% at all times.

We all go through these times and with the right knowledge, we can master the up’s and down’s a lot better...so in this column let us have a look at the many different faces of our relationships.

Visionary Phase – We are one!
At first, we picture a satisfying future for the relationship.  We feel “in love,” bonded by our similarities - which we emphasise.  Our differences (in values, age, interests) we ignore or find fascinating.  We see what we want to see in each other, and we like what the other person seems to want for the relationship.  We place few demands on each other during this honeymoon phase.

We change our lives to include our partner, delighted that we make a difference to them and share something special.  Expectations and optimism are high.  As we establish our couple bond, we often deny aspects of our relationship that interfere with the vision we have.

Differences Phase – I’m not the same as you!
Differences emerge, and we struggle with disappointment, guilt, or disillusionment about ourselves or each other.  Similarities do not provide enough new energy, and our differences annoy or infuriate us.  The shock of conflict can frighten us and make us question.

Many relationships end with the first fight.  Others remain in this phase for long periods, in bitterness and pain.  We might lose empathy for each other, and try hard to change the other person, to “improve” them so they fit our vision of them, or to make them more like us. 

To learn from this phase, we need to acknowledge, accept, and express our differences, and establish a successful “fight style.”

Dormant Phase – I want to be “me” not “us”!
Here, we live more peacefully with each other, even if this covers discontent.  We might perceive it as a sacrifice when we give to our partner, so we feel defensive and stubborn.  Our relationship offers us a fairly lifeless connection, although our lives may be very busy, building a career, setting up home together, or raising children. 

If we began the relationship with the purpose of having great fun and sex, we may think our partner has changed or let us down, when it’s our purpose that has changed.

To move on from this phase, we need to consider what the purpose of our relationship is now.  This phase can be a necessary preparation for renewed energy, challenge or growth.

Vital Phase – You, Me, and We!
This phase often grows out of some form of challenge to the relationship as it has been.  We are faced with a question about the relationship’s value to us and its resilience.  A time of high stress may be caused by job loss, a health scare, a spiritual crisis, or falling in love outside the relationship.  This may wake us out of the dormant phase to make active choices.

At this point, we commit our time and energy again, with eyes wide open.  We have well-defined separate identities, we grow as individuals, but we’re willing to be influenced by the other.  We dance between periods of intimacy and independence.  We both take responsibility to make the relationship work and to be mutually supportive. 

We see that our differences make us complementary, we give up trying to force change, and we learn how to express our needs honestly, and still appreciate each other.  We acknowledge our interdependence and realize we are better together than each of us is alone.  We experience a paradox – committed togetherness actually nourishes our separate identities.