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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Relationship Stages-Part I

by Toni Coleman, LCSW

Relationships have stages. We have all read articles and books by authors who have come up with their own unique number or names for these. I will try to take a very basic approach to this and keep it simple and as universal as possible.

Attraction

This is the first stage. It is physical, intellectual and emotional - on a very surface level. Girl sees boy and vice versa. They flirt, talk and get a very basic sense of the other. They are usually responding to a physical pull. She is cute, funny, charming, interesting to talk to, etc.

Without attraction, first dates wouldn't happen. It can therefore be assumed that the other person finds us attractive if we have gotten to a first date.

In a way, this is the easy one. We are unknowns to each other. Things progress from this point or they do not. Hurt feelings are minimal. We usually chalk up rejection to; "I'm not his type". There is no need to analyze or wonder what went wrong.

If both people feel a strong enough level of attraction continues to exist after a few dates, they usually move along to stage two. However, if one finds the other has unattractive characteristics or behaviors, this can lead to an abrupt change in the relationship.

Remember, these behaviors or characteristics would be ones that would manifest in the very early stage of dating.

Some examples: frequently late, never offers to pay, dresses or grooms sloppily, rude to waitress, etc.

Romantic Relating

In this second stage, couples begin to test out the idea of themselves as a unit. Dating is no longer brand new. It is more comfortable and predictable. Sharing romantic dinners and exciting special interests are typical dates during this new and fun time in a growing relationship.

During this stage, flowers are given for no special reason and loving cards are slipped back and forth with words like "thinking of you". It's a happy carefree time, when lovers tend to idealize, romanticize and overlook that which can be right in front of them. The relationship seems effortless and spontaneous. Affection is shared openly and frequently. One's partner seems perfect. There is rarely conflict during this period. The partners often share the unrealistic belief that their relationship is so special and unique that it will always stay this way.

This stage can last from three or four months up to more than a year. It is actually the shortest stage that any long-term relationship goes through. It is also the one we wish we could hold on to forever and long for when it is gone. This is the stage that love poems speak about. It is also believed (falsely) by many that this is what long-term committed love will always be like.

Many relationships begin to stumble at the end of this period. For that is when reality begins to set in. As partners begin to experience some disagreement, conflict and/or shared challenges- the relationship shifts as do the dynamics between the partners.

Though many relationships move past this stage, a number do not. Why? There are many reasons. These can include:

  • lack of readiness for the challenges of the next stage
  • issues with commitment and fidelity
  • immature beliefs about what relationships should be
  • being stuck on an idealized, romanticized notion of love
If one of the partners is not ready for a less than perfect and more demanding stage of love, they will exhibit this in their behavior, language and overall level of openness and availability towards the other.

This is when the couple begins to think more seriously of a future with each other. The focus tends to be; how well do we get along, do we share similar interests and do I want to date this person exclusively?

To be continued...

Look for "Relationship Stages Part II-Growth Through Negotiation" tomorrow.

3 comments:

CupidsReviews Heidi said...

Waiting patiently for part 2. I believe my current relationship may fall somewhere in there. All is going well, but advice is always welcome.

DeeDeeYee said...

Intersting.
Stage II, please!

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