For the past few weeks, we’ve been concentrating here on tips and ideas that let you heal yourself and your relationships without an expensive therapist. A couple of weeks back, in the first installment (though we didn’t call it that!) we talked about three specific ways that couples can better communicate. That is, the healing power of words. Last time, in the second installment, we talked about the healing power of love; how love is a verb even more than it is a feeling.
This entry shows you another way to heal yourself without a pricy therapist. If we all were conscious about the five progressing stages of our relationships – the five stages that all love relationships will inevitably pass through – we’ll both be better able to communicate and to express our love as a verb. The writer Maggie Crawford talks about these stages in some depth, but I’m going to add some crucial practical tips.
These tips are good whether you’re a long-time married couple, a new couple or anything in between.
Stage One: Sweet Storm
Crawford calls this first stage the “Cautious Stage,” but I prefer to think of it as the Sweet Storm. There’s nothing in the world like new love. Nothing. Your heart is soaring, your hormones are going nuts in the best possible way, your heart pounds when you just think of the guy or girl, and you’re head over heels, obsessing, and crazy jealous all at the same time. It’s thrilling. Meanwhile, this is also the getting-to-know you stage. In love, as in real life, we’re reluctant to show or admit those parts of ourselves that we don’t think are admirable. We want the other person, so we want the other person to idealize us. It’s natural, just as the instinct to idealize our new partner is natural. If there was no idealization, who of us would ever commit to that crazy thing called love? Thrilled as we are, we’re cautious about our self-revealing.
To negotiate this stage of the Sweet Storm, I encourage all my clients to reveal as much as they can. Not that a new relationship is a confessional! But if there are things that are important to you in life – whether it is children, sex, making money, whatever – it makes little sense to hold these back. Basically, if you care about something? Don’t shut up about it.
Stage Two: The Honeymoon
You’re with your newly beloved, your newly beloved is with you, and all’s right with the world. Welcome to the Honeymoon. The world is perfect with the two of you, and perfect around you. Sure, other people might be grossed out by your Public Displays of Affection, or that you two are holding hands all the time while they’re not touching their spouses, but so what? You’ve found your person, and your person has found you. This isn’t so easily achievable in this world, so revel in it. How long does the Honeymoon last? Who knows? Recent social research by Acevedo and Aron indicates that for a non-trivial subset of couples, it can last a lifetime. We can only hope!
While we’re in the Honeymoon, the best way to have a shot at becoming one of these lifetime Honeymoon couples is to continue your self-revelation, and have some sympathy for those around you who are not so lucky. To build a life together, you’re going to need both to know each other and to have friends, family, community, church or synagogue, and the like. In the Honeymoon, it may feel like the two of you is all that you need. Life will tell you otherwise.
Stage Three: Companionship
Crawford called this stage The Comfortable Stage, but I think it’s better seen as Companionship. It’s when your relationship settles down and back into the world around you. Typically, this tends to happen after a couple of years of being together, and there are all kinds of complex physiological and psychological explanations for why this happens. No matter what the reason, it tends to happen a lot. You love your partner, but your heart might not beat so fast when s/he enters a room. Your conversations are more about the details of life than about the depths of your hearts and souls. Life happens. And to tell the truth, you aren’t on your best behavior anymore. If you’ve got bad habits, they get out there. Things that you once were able to keep squashed come up like Whack-a-moles at the Salt Lake County Fair. Gas gets passed. Indigestion is had. Secret love for the Bee Gees and chick flicks gets revealed. Romeo and Juliet get transformed into Mike and Molly.
The key here to healing yourself without a pricy therapist is to appreciate the comfort and realize that the Honeymoon is and has been one of the real building blocks of your couple. The blessing is that you are finally being yourself, gas and indigestion and the Bee Gees and all. Most important of all, the two of you are building a history. Don’t fear the present. You’ve got someone who – hopefully – can accept you just as you are. If you make love into a verb with that person, you’ll accept them, too.
Stage Four: Aarrgh!
“Aarrgh!” Who among us in a long-term relationship has growled “Aargh!” at something our partner has said or has done? Crawford calls the stage of predominant aargh-ing the Frustration Stage, but I prefer to call it by what it is. Aarrgh! Your partner is impossible. You can’t take it anymore. One more belch, one more fast food wrapper left on the passenger sheet, one more towel on the floor, one more late night at the office, microwave dinner, or cuddle with your eight year old instead of a cuddle with you….
The list goes on. And on. And on. And on.
Some people can say “aarrgh!” and go on. For others, too many arrghs can put the relationship itself in jeopardy. The stronger your acceptance of yourself and your foibles, and the stronger you understand that what works for you may not work for your partner, the stronger your chances of getting through the “Aarrgh!” stage with your relationship intact.
I know that blog is about healing yourself without a pricy therapist. But if things get bad in this stage? A few sessions with someone like me can set things straight, and I promise that we won’t spend weeks discussing your mother’s relationship with her own mother.
Stage Five: Life Partners
Some might call this “The Serious Stage.” I don’t. I call it “Life Partners.” Because the two of you have committed to each other in the real world. You’ve managed the Sweet Storm, You’ve lived through the Honeymoon. You’ve enjoyed Companionship and had more than a few Aarrgh! moments. You’re together for life. You’re life partners.
Being life partners, though, doesn’t mean being without issues. Healing yourself without a pricy therapist at this stage means knowing that your life partnership is strong enough and resilient enough to take on any discussion. Sex? Talk about it. Money? Talk about it. Family? Talk about it. And then, go out and do something for your life partner. Because no matter what, love is still a verb.