We've all heard of the five stages of grief according to the Kübler-Ross model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Believe it or not, grief and intimacy mirror one another—the intensity, the dullness, the gains, and the loss.
Although there are no typical couples, every relationship goes through intimacy stages. And just like with grief, these stages do not always happen in this particular order.
Take a look. What stage is your relationship in?
"OMG, I just met the love of my life."
"He is perfect. I want to marry him."
"I can't believe we have so much in common."
"He is great in bed."
"I cannot wait to see him again."
"Oh, I should eat something. I'm going to vomit."
Oh, the sweet, syrupy stage of infatuation. It's so wonderful and so difficult to resist. Hormones and logic rarely coincide, so we find ourselves doing things like checking email 12-24 times an hour, not eating, going to get our nails done at midnight, buying pajamas to match our bedsheets, and so on.
Infatuation makes your dopamine levels soar, producing a full-body euphoria that causes humans to seek out sex again and again. To wit, brain scan studies show that the brain during orgasm is 95 percent the same as the brain on heroin. Your brain cannot, biologically, maintain the high of infatuation; you will fry.
The infatuation will ebb and flow at different points. The sex will not always be that good; it may get better or it may get worse. But all those lovely feelings are that of a first swim in the cool, crisp pond of falling in love.
How many movies could we watch about that? Billions. It's pure poetry; love magnified; a revisit to the warm womb of security. Then the negotiation between security and autonomy, that life-long struggle, crawls in and we begin to land.
The landing from that fantastic flight can feel scary, as we see things a lot more clearly. There is a great article in Psychology Today along the lines of, "The day you wake up and say you have married the wrong person is the day that your marriage truly begins." It means that this is the day where the veil of infatuation lifts and the 20/20 vision of everyday living comes in.
"Wow, she is neurotic."
"OMG, he tells the worst jokes."
"I didn't think about him at all yesterday. I hope we are OK."
The landing can feel light and sweet, or rocky and discombobulating. But eventually, the clock strikes midnight and Cinderella must run home before the stage coach becomes a pumpkin and her dress returns to rags. Landing! Oy, so bittersweet.
This stage happens when all the to-do lists of life come toppling into the relationship. Before you know it, conversations focus on things like who's doing the laundry, your boss, or the crazy mother-in-law.
During the burying stage, other things—like, oh, life—begin to encroach on your beautiful oasis of a relationship. Burying is not always bad; it's a sign that the relationship is real and weaves into your everyday existence.
The important thing to remember here is to "unbury" yourselves. Take tango lessons, go relive your first date, go have sex in public, buy some sex toys, tie yourselves to bedposts, or grab the whips. Do something that allows real life to take a break and the gentle, sweet intimacy to resurface, bringing us to the next stage.
Resurfacing is the stage where you turn to your partner, and say to yourself, "Wow. I forgot how hot he is," or, "She is stunning," or, "I love him so much."
Resurfacing is a relationship resolution: "She is a mixed bag, but so am I," or "He sits on the toilet for an hour reading comics, but I pluck my chin hairs." You start thinking things like, "I can't wait for our next date," or, "I can't believe I have such a sweet person in my life who always has my back."
A massive problem that you two resolved, a great date, an especially good night of sex, almost losing the other person, or good couples therapy can all trigger resurfacing. Anything can jolt us awake, a death in the family or even a birth.
This is what it's really all about, right? The part where we look across the dinner table, fight over the remote, or go on a great trip to Chinatown and think, "Oh, I have it really good," "I'm blessed," or "I love him/her more than I could ever imagine."
Here, the sex is (usually) better than it's ever been. True love blossoms around year five; the rest is a rotation—sometimes rapid and sometimes slow—of the other stages.
Zoe Hicks, LMFT: www.zoerosehicks.com