The Five Stages of Married Love

The Five Stages of Married Love

There are five stages in a love relationship. The five stages progress from that early feeling of romantic love that flies away all too soon, to the highest stage known as reality love. These five stages apply to that couple that married in the throes of that wonderful, energizing first stage, and then wonder what happened to it. Let’s start at the beginning and go through all five stages.

Stage one: Romantic Love. Romantic love begins with attraction and moves rather quickly to attachment. A young man simply can’t live without seeing his beauty, and she can’t live without his strong presence. The development of love at this early stage is wonderful. The sun shines brighter, birds sing louder, and world peace is just around the corner. Yes, another characteristic of this stage is an altered state of consciousness. The young love birds can only see the positive traits of their lover, and they are carried away with hope and ecstasy. It is often during this stage that a young man and woman marry, and the feeling lasts for a bit longer. But, it can’t last for ever, and soon, there is stage two.

Stage two: Power Impasse. In the power impasse stage you finally realize the perfect package you married actually has some imperfections. They snore too loudly. They burp at the table, something they never did while you were dating. One or the other has never done laundry, and has no plans to start now. And worse. Ecstasy now gives way to frustration, irritation, fear and anger. The illusion is now over, and instead of seeing only the positive traits as in romantic love, all you can see now are the negative traits. You may even purposely look for the bad things in your spouse, and you vilify their attitude, actions, and character. Instead of accepting them as they are, fear and anger drive you to try to change them with coercion, threats and manipulation. Some spouses even become abusive. The love of your life has become your adversary. If you stay at this stage for too long you will likely divorce, or hurt each other badly. Fortunately, for those who will hang in there, better days are coming with stage 3.

Stage three: Awareness. Stage three doesn’t mean everything gets better right away, but it means your love is maturing. Instead of just judging your spouse you now begin to look at yourself to see how you may be contributing to the problems. You start to feel a degree of differentiation. In romantic love you were absorbed in each other. In the awareness stage, you realize you are two separate people learning to become one. You’ve changed your name and living arrangements, but now you need to change your hearts. You may feel anxiety over the state of the relationship, even grief and remorse at the loss of romantic love. But, you also have clarity of thinking, and that will help you move further along the continuum to stage 4.

Stage four: Transformation. You now begin to accept that your spouse may never change some of his or her annoying ways. You realize you can fight them for the next 50 years, or accept them. You release control, meaning you don’t try to manipulate or coerce your spouse to live up to your expectations. If anything, in the transformation stage you become the one who changes. You pray and work for patience. If your spouse adamantly refuses to ever do a load of laundry, you start to notice some of the other chores he or she is willing to do, and you appreciate that. You are practicing more positive attitudes and behaviors, and you are working on yourself. In the first two stages love was reactionary, both in the attraction to your spouse and later in your frustration. In stage four it becomes intentional. You think, pray, and act out of commitment.

Photo compliments of Amy Free Photography

Stage five: Reality love. If we can endure long enough, we can reach this most rewarding of stages. At this stage, we have survived the illusion of romantic love, the frustration of power impasse, the anxiety of awareness, the freedom of the transformation stage, and we are now ready for the joy of reality love. At this mature level we don’t attack our spouse for problems in the relationship: instead, we work with him or her to address the problems. We have become the one of Genesis 2, so that our individual efforts have merged to form a synergistic effect. We accept and appreciate our mate, faults and all. Our goals and passions are traveling the same direction, together. Our love is also our friend, and our joy together can be celebrated in a passionate embrace or simply holding hands during a movie. There is integrity to the relationship, meaning it now has depth, substance and the concrete it needs to hold it together no matter what. This is reality love, and it only comes to those who hang in there through all the ups and downs, joys and woes, that two people in love can experience.

I urge you: hang in there. It’s worth it.

Warren Baldwin

(Note: I received this list of five stages of love from one of my professors, Dr. Charles Siburt. I don’t know where he got it from).


Amy said...

Wonderful blog post. Thank you!

Warren said...

Thank you, Amy. See you guys at Red River!

Lindsey said...

Warren, I always enjoy your wisdom. I believe these stages, based on clients I've seen, are very true-to-life. In my previous marriage, we didn't make it through stage two. I think this is where many couples get stuck. We desperately need the Holy Spirit at the foundation of our relationships if we ever hope to make it to stage five. Thank you for sharing. Love reading your blog always!

Warren said...

Thanks for the visit and nice comment. Stage 2 can be tough. I'll bet you see that a lot in your counseling work. I know you are helping a lot of couples. Thanks for checking in. WB