Evidenced by the high divorce rate in western countries, most relationships don’t work out. Statistics indicate that 40% of relationships end within 3 years.
If you’re curious as to why most relationships fail and what you can do to prevent relationship breakdown, please keep reading. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to manage the different stages of relationships so you can keep the peace.
Stage 1: Initial Attraction
This is the most exciting stage of a relationship as we generally feel the most intense romance at the beginning of a relationship. The grass is greener; the sky is brighter. Our future looks bright and glorious. We are falling in love with someone.
At this stage, you are so attracted to the other person that you would do anything for them. Focusing on the best in them and looking toward a positive future, releases feel-good hormones which work well until the reality of your day-to-day choices start to rock up…
Relationship Challenge: Failure to Adhere to Personal Boundaries
When you are romantically excited, your brain is constantly producing dopamine and oxytocin. This is what leads to feelings of euphoria and connection.
Unfortunately, this level of happy hormone production won’t last for the lifetime of your relationship because every person’s brain has a protection mechanism which requires the perception of safety. As we progress through the different stages of a relationship, the feeling of safety will be compromised at times – either by ourselves or by our partner.
The most common mistake at the first stage of a relationship is failure to adhere to your own personal boundaries. This includes your ethics, morals and values. When you are initially head-over-heels attracted to someone, your personal boundaries can fly out of the window as you try to fit in with that other person’s life. This can lead to a loss of your self-respect, self-esteem and then attraction as you start losing yourself in choices that don’t feel right for you.
For instance, if one person is very health conscious due to previous health issues, and the other talks big about eating healthily, there will be certain expectations in the relationship. When they have entered the following stages in their relationship, resistant situations would arise when the partner who is less strict about eating frequently buys junk food to share.
How to Keep the Peace at Stage 1
This first stage of relationship is when you set up parameters for your partner so they can have realistic expectations of their relationship with you.
No matter how connected you feel early in a relationship, it’s important to communicate how you live your life and your preferences honestly. Let the other person see who you are without any false pretences.
It’s important to maintain your individuality as this is what initially creates attraction. Be clear on your boundaries and aim to make wise (instead of emotional) decisions when you can.
Respect your differences and focus on being the best version of yourself to maintain healthy attraction. This is how you can make your relationship sustainable in the long term.
Stage 2: Power Struggle
“Power Struggle” doesn’t sound very pleasant in a politically correct world, but it happens in most relationships. After the initial honeymoon phase, couples calm down and begin to look at the real dynamics in their relationship.
At this stage, many couples try to change each other in order to fit their own wants and needs. If you’ve been there, done that, you probably know what this looks like. However, not everyone is aware of what they are doing.
In his book The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene claims that trying to influence others is actually human nature, so everybody wants to do it and there is nothing wrong with that.
Although that point sounds valid and reasonable, this is the most dangerous stage of a relationship, because of this challenge…
Relationship Challenge: Failure to Mold Each Other in the “Right” Way
Many people try to mold their partners into an ideal or perfect partner due to a wish list inspired by desires identified from previous failed relationships. That’s why many couples break up at this stage and never go on to enjoy Stage 3.
The reality is that many partners eventually become lax in their efforts to relate. They stop focusing on their partner’s positive attributes and start focusing more and more attention on their unwanted traits. This leads to ongoing feelings of resistance and arguments, and is generally why relationships begin to breakdown.
At this second stage of a relationship (Power Struggle Stage), as both partners battle to feel heard, to be understood and to have their needs met, tension and tempers can rise. What appears to be a small issue to one partner can quickly escalate and be blown out of proportion by the other when something hasn’t been clearly articulated or understood. This often leads to blame and or false accusations.
How to Keep the Peace at Stage 2
It’s important to be in control of your emotions and influence your partner in the right way to develop and maintain a happy and healthy relationship.
If your partner doesn’t understand you, or appears to repeatedly make the same mistake, aim to support them (as you would in Stage 1 Relationship) instead of assuming they are not trustable and are trying to sabotage your relationship!
Deal with your own emotions as they are triggered to make sure your communication remains open, sincere and straightforward. This is the best way to understand each other and know what you can both work toward in the long run.
Yes, a relationship can be a lot of work, but it won’t feel like hard work if both of you choose to communicate effectively. This includes respecting each other’s values and ways of doing things and working together as a team.
Stage 3: Harmonious Love
After you have gone through the Power Struggle Stage, you may safely arrive at Stage 3 – Harmonious Love Stage. This is when you have for the most part figured out how to get along well with each other in almost every area of your life.
For example, both you and your partner agree that one person does most of the cooking because they enjoy cooking, and the other will do the dishes. Both of you agree that having sex 3 to 4 times a week is ideal. You both agree that having a date night once a week is a good thing.
Although this may sound like a flawless relationship, there is still a common problem at this stage.
Relationship Challenge: Lack of Excitement and Spontaneity
As your relationship becomes stable, it can also become boring.
International best-selling author Ginie Sayles argues in her book How to Marry the Rich: The Rich Will Marry Someone, Why Not You? that what you have in common builds rapport, whereas your differences make the relationship interesting.
Clearly, lack of excitement at this stage may lead to boredom, and that’s when some individuals begin to cheat on their partner.
How to Keep the Peace at Stage 3
We are naturally motivated by variety and mystery. In order to keep the peace at Harmonious Love Stage, you must introduce novelty back into the relationship.
For example, you can travel together and create new experiences that you share with your partner. Shared experiences are the foundation of a deep emotional connection.
Growing together is the key to a long-lasting and happy relationship. For instance, attending personal development seminars, reading books and even starting a business together. In this way, you both grow in the same direction with lots of interesting things to do together.
However, it’s also important to maintain your own pursuits which fulfil each of you as individuals. This provides a natural break for you to again desire each other and ensures fresh content for conversation.
Stage 4: Commitment
After two people complete the Harmonious Love Stage without too much interference, they commit to each other by beginning to explore a more serious relationship. Hence, they have entered the fourth stage of a relationship – Commitment Stage.
Commitment isn’t just having an exclusive relationship by not dating other people; it’s more about having a shared vision that is compelling enough to bond a couple. Having a shared vision is the strongest glue to hold a relationship together.
This stage of a relationship is best characterized by devotion to the cause, having a long-term blueprint, living together as a couple and being accepted by your social circle as a couple.
Though this looks amazing, there is often a taboo topic within the dynamics – money.
Relationship Challenge: Financial Dispute
In western culture, money is probably the No. 1 taboo topic in a relationship. We start off by being polite and then it just doesn’t ever seem the right time to bring up the topic of money. Consequently, many couples avoid talking about money until it becomes a problem.
That’s why financial dispute often arises at Stage 4, after a couple have already moved in together. Some people even get married at this stage and then are dismayed to discover they have a financial dispute.
Now you may be wondering… why are financial disputes a problem?
Well, let’s have a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs first:
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is represented as a pyramid with the more basic needs at the bottom. These are physiological needs (e.g. food and shelter). The second level of human needs is safety (e.g. financial security or emotional security). The third level of human needs is love/belonging (e.g. an intimate relationship).
Consequently, when the second level of human needs is in danger, e.g. financial security is a problem, people become more easily triggered and emotional reactions can spiral out of control. Constant arguing then leads to the feeling of safety being compromised, which can undermine the trust and security of your relationship. This in turn, makes you feel separate and alone.
While many experts say the No. 1 reason for divorce in almost every country is money, relationship breakups are generally caused by the associated damage that occurs when people’s emotional reactions are out of control. It just happens that finances are one of the most common emotional triggers among couples.
How to Keep the Peace at Stage 4
Make sure you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to money. Have an honest discussion with your partner about money and make sure you understand each other’s values and obligations in this regard.
Maybe one person wants to save a large percentage of their income, whilst the other person wants to enjoy a facial and a massage in a luxurious spa once a week. Without a healthy discussion, that could become a problem in the relationship.
Therefore, a couple should talk about their preferences in an openly candid way and find a solution that works for both partners.
A potential solution is having a crystal-clear financial plan that can be implemented immediately. For example, a couple decide to save 30% of their income and use 10% of their income as “play money”, i.e. this amount of money can be spent guilt-free.
Stage 5: Complete Trust
Now this is the blissful stage every couple looks forward to where you are both feeling more relaxed, happy and content. If you’ve reached this stage of a relationship, congratulations!
At Stage 5, you completely trust your partner. Neither of you keep any secrets, you’ve shared everything together and you both have the desire to keep sharing your journey in the future.
You’ve gone through all those ups and downs in life together, so you’ve built real, true love.
Is there any potential problem at this stage? Yes.
Relationship Challenge: Taking Each Other for Granted
Now that you can easily predict each other’s decisions and behaviors, your partner may have become boringly predictable. Worse still, your relationship may also have become predictable and lack romantic ambience.
This is when people generally become complacent and begin to take their partners for granted. They may no longer take care of their own personal appearance, or rarely put in additional effort beyond what is expected.
There is little consideration for the other person’s desires and genuine appreciation of each other appears to have fallen away. This can make either or both partners feel redundant in the relationship.
When complacency is the norm, all attraction can be lost, which is why some couples get divorced after being married for several decades.
How to Keep the Peace at Stage 5
The key to a peaceful long-term relationship is bringing the courtship back.
Start to impress each other with your efforts to bring life back into your relationship. Give each other gifts and write or text a meaningful message during the day. Tell your partner how wonderful they are. Kiss each other every morning and every night passionately, just like Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak’s love story from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Look into your partner’s eyes with curiosity and uncontrollable attraction, just like when your eyes met theirs for the first time. Practice this regularly and you can reignite your early attraction and desire for each other.
The Bottom Line
Going through these five stages of a relationship isn’t easy. But so long as you implement these and other strategies and work together to keep the peace, your effort will pay lasting dividends in your love life.
Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com