Guest Writer: Michele Weiner-Davis
As a long-time observer of relationships, I can tell you that, like children, marriages go through different developmental stages and predictable crises. But because people are unfamiliar with the normal hills and valleys of marriage, these predictable transitional periods are often misunderstood, causing over-reactions. Those who manage to weather these universal stormy periods usually come out the other side with greater love and commitment to their spouses. That’s why I want to offer you a Marriage Map.
Stage One- Passion prevails
Head over heels in love, you can’t believe how lucky you are to have met your lover. Much to your amazement, you have so much in common: you enjoy the same hobbies, music, restaurants and movies. You can finish each other’s sentences. When you pick up the phone to call your partner, he or she is already on the line calling you. When little, annoying things pop up, they’re dismissed and overlooked.
At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well being and physical desire for each other as intense as it is during this romantic period. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates the production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes and heighten sexuality and sensuality. While in this naturally produced state of euphoria, you decide to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. And marry, you do. But soon, your joy gives way to an inevitable earth-shattering awakening; marriage isn’t at all what you expected it to be.
Stage Two- What was I thinking?
In some ways, stage two is the most difficult because it is here that you experience the biggest fall. After all, how many miles is it from bliss to disillusionment? Millions. For starters, reality sets in. The little things start to bother you. You realize that your spouse has stinky breath in the morning, spends way too long on the toilet, leaves magazines and letters strewn on the kitchen counter, and never wraps food properly before it’s put in the refrigerator.
Although you once thought you and your spouse were kindred spirits, you now realize that there are many, many differences between you. You’re confused. You argue about everything. When you remind yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity.
Ironically, it is in the midst of feeling at odds with your once kindred spirit that you are faced with making all sorts of life-altering decisions, such as whether and when to have children, where to live, who will support the family, who will handle the bills, how your free time will be spent, how in-laws fit in to your lives, and who will do the cooking. Just at the time when a team spirit would have come in mighty handy, spouses often start to feel like opponents. So they spend the next decade or so trying to get their partners to change, which triggers stage three.
Stage Three- Everything would be great if you changed
In this stage of marriage, most people believe that there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way, also known as the Right Way. And rather than brainstorm creative solutions, couples often battle tenaciously to get their partners to admit they are wrong. That’s because every point of disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Over time, both partners dig in their heels deeper and deeper.
Now is the time when many people face a fork in the marital road. Three choices become apparent. Convinced they’ve tried everything, some people give up. They tell themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person and they divorce. Other people resign themselves to the status quo and decide to lead separate lives. But there are still others who decide that it’s time to begin to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Although the latter option requires a major leap of faith, those who take this leap are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.
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