I’ve been working on my new book and it’s thrown me back into the time I left my partner in 2007. As I re-read what I’ve written so far, it occurred to me that we had a ridiculously long honeymoon phase in our relationship. For most couples, the honeymoon lasts a few months to a few years. For us it lasted sixteen years.
Once the honeymoon phase is over, a couple is faced with a power struggle. That power struggle can last a few months, or it can last the rest of their lives, depending on how each person deals with it. There is a phase after the power struggle, but very few couples (maybe 5%) ever reach it. The last phase is what I call conscious relations. But first, you have to make it through the power struggle.
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The power struggle has five stages, and they are the same stages that a person goes through when faced with death. In this case, the death is not a person, but it’s the death of your romantic illusions. It’s the death of the happily ever after fairy tale. And it’s every bit as painful as if it were a real person dying.
The first stage is shock. You can not believe that your beloved is acting this way. Where’s the guy who brought you flowers every Friday night? Where’s the woman who cooked your favorite meal on Sunday? Who is this new person and what did they do to your beloved?
The second stage is denial. Maybe if you pretend you didn’t see (or hear) that it will go away. Denial can go on for a long time. In fact, I believe that a lot of older couples who’ve been together for a long time live in a permanent state of denial.
The third stage is betrayal. If you’re willing to move beyond denial and take an honest look at your relationship, you’ll move into this stage. You’ll feel like you’ve been duped. Your partner was obviously lying to you and hiding their real self from you. Most couples break up during this stage.
The fourth stage is bargaining. If you make it through the feelings of anger brought up by the betrayal, you move into this stage. You make deals with yourself, “If he stops drinking, I’ll make dinner more often.” You try to hang onto small morsels of hope to keep you going. Unfortunately, a lot of couples therapists feed into this by suggesting each partner make concessions in the relationship. By doing this without getting to the root of the problems, they just prolong the cycle.
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The fifth stage is despair. Things will never get better, no matter what you do or don’t do. It’s time to leave, or set up a parallel existence. A lot of older couples and couples who fear change set up a parallel existence, with each partner looking for happiness outside the relationship. It’s better than fighting, but everyone deserves better than that.
If you’re one of those intrepid souls, you might make it through despair into the beginnings of a conscious relationship. Both partners have to be willing to try, and each should understand that they’ve only just begun the journey.