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The 3 Stages of a Relationship

1.  Romantic Love: An altered state of consciousness

2. The Power Struggle: Sleeping with the enemy

3. The Conscious Relationship: Break up or breakthrough?

There is not one word that creates anxiety in people more than the word “relationships.” Sometimes we desire them, sometimes we detest them. We obsess about not having one, followed by a strategy to get out of one. Extreme and difficult in the most normal of times, Valentine’s Day focuses a spotlight on these ideas and passions, making them even more unbearable and acute.

Harville Hendrix - Ph.D. in psychology and religion, says;

“We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship,”

“And we must heal in relationship.”

No matter how splendid a childhood we had, everyone acquires psychic wounds that keep us from being happy, fulfilled, and loving adults. However, we can use our adult relationships to heal these childhood scars.

When we are attracted to a potential love partner, we’re picking the perfect person to help us work through our wounds from childhood. We tend to be drawn to someone who is a reasonable facsimile of the person or people who wounded us in childhood. The combined traits, both negative and positive, of our male and female caretakers from childhood. These Caretaker Traits become our “love script” as we begin a search for a partner.

Once we have found our match, the relationship journey continues in fairly predictable stages. First is the “Romantic Love Stage,” which is generally fairly short, lasting six months to 2 years. This stage might be significantly shorter or a little longer depending on factors such as geographic distance, previous relationship history, or level of childhood wounding. An interesting note is that as people cycle through relationships, the romantic love stage seems to become shorter. This stage is followed by the “Power Struggle” phase, which can and often does last for a long time, generally ending in emotional and or physical separation. The third stage is the state of a “Conscious Relationship.” It is in this stage that we can maximize the potential of the relationship that our unconscious has methodically sought out.

1. Romantic Love: An altered state of consciousness

Most of us know too well about the Romantic Love Stage, the much-sought-after state of “falling in love” period. This stage is characterized by a state of euphoria, excitement, and ecstasy. With the injection of “Cupid’s Arrow,” we often slip into a state of unconsciousness, staying up late, wanting to play more and work less, spending money we don’t have, or calling our newfound “love” many times a day. The connection is the prime objective and all other agendas seem insignificant. We will often neglect our physical body, spend less time with family or friends, and have little or no interest in our jobs or careers.

This Romantic Stage of relationships is, in fact, an altered state of consciousness. Blinded by love, we enter a state of denial, which is necessary for the process to continue. We deny the negative traits of our new partner while magnifying the positives. Our friends might say things like, “Don’t you think she drinks a bit too much?” “Isn’t he a bit controlling?” or “He sure is mean to you.” You are all the while making excuses: “He’s had a hard week” or “She’s just having a rough day.” We are quite literally drugged by a surge of endorphins and adrenaline. The prime directive of this phase is in fact to get two people who are incompatible to be blinded long enough to make an intimate connection. Once the connection and some form of commitment are established, the couple has the potential to do some incredible healing and growth. There is only one problem. Most of us are unaware of the underlying relationship agenda to heal our wounds and become scared when the shift occurs.

As with all drugs, the effects of the drug of Cupid’s Arrow eventually wear off and we are faced with the realities of the relationship that we have created. It sometimes feels like someone has entered in the middle of the night and stolen the person that we first fell in love with. We often begin to feel that we have “married our parents.” If you have ever been in a relationship where you have thought or said things like, “You treat me just like a child,” “You act just like my mother,” or “You sound just like my father,” then you have successfully accomplished the initial stage of relationships. Congratulations!

The good news: Romantic Love is supposed to happen. The bad news: Romantic Love is supposed to end. Little or no healing or growth is likely to occur within a relationship when the couple is in Romantic Love. After all, how much growth can occur when someone is intoxicated? The drug itself inherently limits our capacities to grow. That is not to say that we don’t experience it as fun. In fact, our culture glorifies it; as a society, we have become “addicted to love.” Many people jump from one romantic love relationship to the next; disillusioned when the romance ends, they begin a new search for a new romantic high.

2. The Power Struggle: Sleeping with the enemy

Once the drug has significantly worn off for one or both partners, the second stage of relationships begins. Say hello to the “Power Struggle.”

During the Romantic Love phase, we generally see our partners from a positive perspective.

We tend to be blinded to the negatives, or at least discount them enough to remain connected. When the Power Struggle begins there is a tendency to negate the positives and see mainly the negatives. In fact, the very traits of our partner that caused us to fall for them in the first place will likely begin to drive us crazy in the Power Struggle Phase. The man I originally admired for his “calmness, stability, and groundedness” during the Romantic Love phase, I might suddenly be wondering what I saw in this boring dork. If you were attracted to that lively, outgoing woman you met at the Rainbow Club, you may be feeling embarrassed by how loud and pushy she suddenly seems.

Elation and excitement have flip-flopped to frustration and often despair. The experience of people in the Power Struggle stage is often reported as like walking in a minefield–or being a minefield, Our triggers and buttons are being pushed every which way. Issues that we overlooked in the Romantic Love stage become frighteningly apparent.

These land mines feel very real. What couples don’t yet realize is that the mines were planted many years ago and are a result of those unmet needs and childhood wounds. The potential in intimate love relationships is to locate these land mines and disarm them. To locate them, however, it is generally necessary to trip over them first. If unaddressed, the Power Struggle becomes a continual bombardment of exploding mines, often resulting in some missing arms and legs–or at least some further wounding of all those hurt parts of our psyche.

If the Power Struggle continues unchecked, there are fairly predictable outcomes. Many couples adopt by living a parallel relationship. On the surface, these relationships may appear non-conflictual and fairly peaceful. They are sometimes the couples that are in long-term relationships but rarely connecting. In reality, the couple has adapted with an “I do my thing, you do yours” attitude, an unspoken agreement of “don’t stir the pot.” They may live in the same house and sleep in the same bed, but true connection rarely occurs. The communication is generally limited to the essentials of day-to-day living. Problems are not addressed, conflict is avoided.

A second outcome is what we call the hot relationship, with an endless cycle of explosive fighting and reconciling. These relationships have the potential of being very intense, both in the conflict of separation and the passion for reconciliation. Unconsciously, one or both partners may be picking fights so that the reconnecting energy might occur. Although this results in at least momentary closeness (and sometimes great sex), the intimacy proves a transitory illusion as the cycle continues once again.

A final way to adapt to the Power Struggle is to end the relationship. Many couples go through years of ongoing, low-level conflict, pain, and distance, which they never address on a conscious level. This ongoing negative energy creates a variety of defensive postures which further separation. Usually, one partner reaches a threshold and terminates the relationship.

We may have unconsciously picked our partners to recreate the hurtful patterns and damage of our original caretaker, so that we may heal these old bruises. But, being unconscious, when the pain and land mines start in, the most common response is … defense! Different people defend themselves either by fight, flight, freezing, or submission (roll over and play dead). Although these forms of defense are attempts to gain safety within the relationship, they don’t address the origin of the pain, and generally, just produce distance.

There are certain times of real danger when distance is necessary to secure one’s safety. But most of our defensive reactions are out of proportion to the real threat. In general, these defense postures were learned many years ago in our childhood when they were actually effective. Unfortunately, these same postures now limit and sabotage our adult relationships.

We create what we defend against; defensiveness always creates more defensiveness unless the other party has the consciousness to stop the attack. If we see our partner as the enemy, we will likely treat them that way, and be treated that way in return. This cycle must cease if the relationship is to move in a healing healthy direction.

We also need to understand that divorce does not solve the problems of the relationship. We may get rid of our partners, but we keep our problems, carrying them into the next relationship. Indeed, divorce is incompatible with the intentions of nature.

Romantic love is supposed to end. It serves as the glue that initially bonds two incompatible people together so that they will do what needs to be done to heal themselves. The good news is that although many couples become hopelessly locked in the power struggle, it too is supposed to end. Real love does not give birth to marriage; marriage is born in the glow of romantic love, fuelled by the anticipation of our needs finally being satisfied. Real love is born in the heart of the power struggle. It is there when illusions fade, that we discover the real person we married. Now bonded by nature’s trick, we are challenged to respond to the real needs of our partner, to grow beyond our self-interest, and give the love they need. Real love, if it exists at all, is born in marriage.

3. The Conscious Relationship: Break up or breakthrough?

To make this transition from conflict to healing requires a dramatic transition from an unconscious marriage to a conscious marriage. To achieve this new state of mind we must understand the goals of the unconscious in marriage and make them the conscious agenda in our relationship. That will challenge our old defenses and habituated way of relating, for it is these very defenses that wound our partner and catalyses their childhood situation with their parents. To break the cycle of wounding will call forth resources we did not know we had. For our partner needs nothing other than that we become like the parents they needed and give the nurturing they did not get. To surrender our defenses feels like the loss of the self, a descent into the valley of the shadow of death. But that descent gives birth to new aspects of ourselves, for what our partner needs calls us to develop traits in our personality that atrophied in our childhood. As we love, because our old brain cannot distinguish between itself and our partner, it interprets the love we direct to our partner as directed to itself. We are transformed by the love we give. The goal of a conscious marriage is a relationship that will activate our deepest wounds, arouse our strongest defenses, and catalyse our maximum growth.

A conscious marriage is not for the cowardly or timid. We must stretch to become the person our partner needs us to be. We must put aside defensive behaviours such as criticizing, crying, anger, or withdrawal and learn more effective mechanisms. We change to give our partners what they need, no matter how difficult it is and no matter how much it goes against the grain of our personality and temperament.

In order to achieve the valid and important objectives of the old reactionary brain, we need to enlist the aid of the neo-cortex brain -- the part of us that makes choices exerts will, and knows that our partners are not our parents. We need to take the rational skills that we use in other parts of our lives and bring them to bear on our love relationships.

Once you become skilled in couples dialogue and other strategies, you will make an important discovery: in most interactions with your spouse, you are actually safer when you lower your defenses than when you keep them engaged because your partner becomes an ally, not an enemy. Through the integration of old-brain instincts and new-brain savvy, as well as lots of hard work and effort, it is possible to gradually leave the frustrations of the power struggle behind and grow toward a conscious partnership that is safe and passionate.

10 characteristics of a conscious marriage:

1. You realize that your love relationship has a hidden purpose: the healing of childhood wounds.

2. You create a more accurate image of your partner. As you begin to see your partner not as your saviour, but as another wounded human being, struggling to be healed, you begin to recognize his/her truth alongside your own.

3. You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner

4. You become more intentional in your interactions

5. You learn to value your partner’s needs and wishes as highly as you value your own.

6. You learn to invest more energy in meeting your partner’s needs

7. You embrace the dark side of your personality

8. You search within yourself for the strengths and abilities you are lacking

9. You become more aware of your drive to be loving, whole and united with the universe

10. You accept the difficulty of creating a good marriage, realizing that a good marriage requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change

As you begin to see your partner not as your saviour, but as another wounded human being, struggling to be healed, you begin to recognize his/her truth alongside your own.

If you want to be coached through the end of the power struggle and:

· Transition from an unconscious marriage to a conscious marriage

· Transition from conflict to healing

· Create a conscious agenda in your relationship

· Challenge your old defenses

· Feel safer when you lower your defenses

· Break the cycle of wounding and call upon resources you didn't know you had

· Surrender your defenses and give birth to new aspects of yourselves

· Be transformed by the love you give

Please click here to book a FREE 15-minute consult to discuss your individual relationship needs,

Become skilled in couples dialogue and other strategies


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