“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Most couples have never participated in marriage education of any kind except what they read in newspapers and magazines. No one told them when they married what adjustments they would need to make in the early years of marriage nor did they realize the myths about marriage that they would likely come to believe. Few of us know on our wedding day that our relationship will go through predictable stages as we adjust to being husband and wife.
Jeffry Larson believes that most marriages develop through three main stages, in this order:
Stage 1: Romantic love
Most couples get married in a state of romantic love that many describe as ecstasy. That is, our love at this stage in our marriage is primarily sexual, passionate, irrational, and based on physical attraction. You intentionally, although somewhat unconsciously, show your partner only your good side. Our expectations of our partner and the relationship are also irrational during this ‘honeymoon’ period. We may expect our partner to meet all of our needs for acceptance and love. In this stage of marriage, couples report, “Oh, I love him so much—he’s perfect for me!” “I want to make you the happiest woman in the world!” “You have made me the happiest guy in the world!” It’s like whirling around in a tornado of romance.
Stage 2: Disillusionment and distraction
Over time challenges begin to appear in our personal and couple lives. Daily life is stressful by itself. Learning to share the bathroom, working out marital roles, the stress associated with balancing careers and still making time for each other all take a toll on us physically and emotionally, and the vitality of our relationship suffers. These occurrences are not inherently bad—they are an unavoidable part of life. In addition, some of our fantasies just do not come true; for example, we are surprised and even shocked at realizations like these:
- He isn’t always thinking of me.
- I thought she was going to work too. Now I have to make all the money, and there isn’t enough.
- Wow, does he have a temper when he doesn’t get enough rest! Where did that come from?
Personality traits not revealed during courtship or the honeymoon start to appear when you’re under stress—anger not seen before, depression on certain days of the month, or irritability that sometimes goes on for days.
This natural but painful difference between fantasy and reality (discovered months after the wedding) commonly leads to disillusionment.
Stage 3: Dissolution or adjustment with resignation or contentment
By the time couples get to the end of stage 2, they know there is something wrong with their marriage.
You have three options:
- You can give up, dissolving the relationship through separation or divorce.
- You can just keep on trying to survive, day to day, in an unsatisfying marriage—I call this adjusting with resignation. There is little love in such a marriage.
- You can decide to be more content. Adjusting with contentment occurs when you still love each other but your love has become more like a good friendship with some passion thrown in. Altruistic love may have developed by now too. This is the self-giving kind of love that is kind and patient, not demanding. Real love of a real person, that survived the loss of illusions created in our minds by the myths and memes of romantic love.
From Love never fades
from ‘Overcoming Myths about Marriage’ by Jeffry H. Larson