what are the five relationship stages?

According to a study of hundreds of couples, carried out by Dr. Susan Campbell, every relationship goes through the following 5 stages:

Romance stage

Begins when we fall in love with someone.  It can last up to 2 years, then it ends as quickly as it began.  In this stage, we tend to ignore our partner’s flaws, we just don’t see them, our brain releases hormones, Oxytocin and Dopamine, that create love feelings, which make us feel good, but ignore what makes us feel bad.

You will only see what you have in common with your lover, the subconscious mind will hide your partner’s flaws.  You engage in many activities together, and there is high sexual activity within the relationship.  You try to only show “good” qualities to each other and avoid disagreement and fights.  You think you have met “the one” or have “can’t live without you” feeling.  Those love feelings can last from 2 months to 2 years.

This stage comes to an end once the going gets rough, when couples see their visions and dreams are not going to be realised as they had hoped.  Some couples would break up when this happens, only to discover that the same things repeat over and over again in their next relationship.  Others will move on to the next stage – Power Struggle stage.

Power Struggle stage

At this stage, the couple begins to realise that “you’re not who I though your were” or “we’re not who we thought we were”.  They start to focus on their partner’s differences and flaws.  They feel disillusioned, disappointed, or angry.  They are not sure what are their partner’s emotional needs.  They don’t understand why  his/her behaviours change after the “romance stage”.  One partner will pull away and withdraw, needing space …. and the other partner is needy, pusues and feels emotionally rejected.

In this stage, some people try to change their partner to be the way he/she was supposed to be or the way he/she promised to be.  For others, the belief that threat, force, manipulation, or domination, can get them what they want.  The power struggle becomes unconsciously a way of hurting their partner in retaliation for the disappointment one has suffered.

Couples can limp along miserably for years or the relationship can end abruptly because either or both partners are unwilling to confront aspects of themselves that maybe too scary or painful to face.  The power struggle stage is the most common stage for couples to get stuck.  Many couples decide to part ways at this stage  because they don’t know how to resolve conflict or seek professional help with a couple counselling. 

The goal of this stage of relationship is to be autonomous in your relationship, while maintaining the love connection with your partner.

  • Accept and appreciate each other’s differences.
  • Recognise who you are and what you have as a couple.
  • Give up your fantasies of harmony without struggle and pleasure without pain.
  • Look upon each other as free and unique beings.
  • Give up being perfectionist.
  • Surrender to life as it is.

If the relationship survives the power struggle stage, it moves into “Stability” stage – a more accepting, more peaceful stage. 

 

Stability stage

At this stage,  the couple accepts one another as individual persons and they learn mutual respect.  They realise that they cannot change their partner and give up the desire to.  They learn how to manage their conflicts, rather than being upset by them.  They set clear boundaries, negotiate differences and define role expectations.

However, if the couple becomes too attached to the hard won peace and stability, their relationship might stop growing and stagnates.  All growth involves risk, pain and uncertainty, it requires a change and step outside comfort zone.

Commitment stage

This is actually the stage when couples should marry and not in the infatuation period of the ‘romance’ stage. When you reach this level, you not only love, but you feel secure in your relationship.  You like each other, and choose to be together without needing to be together.  You are committed to your relationship, and realise as humans we all have flaws.

The Bliss or Co-creation stage

At this stage, the couple as a “team” moves beyond their personal relationship and their focus extends into the world; they may start a family, create a business or some other project together. These stages don’t necessarily occur in a particular order.  It is important for couples to remember to continue to nurture and not neglect their intimate relationship while focusing outward.

Five Different Love Language

What makes one person feel loved isn’t always the same for their spouse or partner. Every person demonstrates,  understands and receives love in a specific language. 

Understanding your own ways of expressing love, and your partner’s; and understanding how your expressions of love are different or similar,  means you know when you’re loving your partner the way you want to, and when your partner is loving in their favourite way.

What are these 5 different love language?

Words  of  Affirmation  – people with this love language need to hear their partner say  “I love you”  and give them compliments. This include leaving your partner a voice message, or a written note or talking to them directly with sincere words of kindness and affirmation.

Other affirmation saying can be: “thank you”, “that was nice of you” or “I  appreciate what you did”.  “That dress looks incredible on you”,  “you always make me laugh”.

Quality  Time  this language is all about giving your partner your undivided attention. This is about being together,  paying attention to each other,  sharing something meaningful together and listening and communicating. That means  no TV,   no chores,  no mobile phone.

Other examples include:  preparing a meal together,  while talking and eating together, sharing plans for the future, making love, or creating something together.

Gift Giving  this person thrives on the love,  thoughtfulness and effort behind the gift. The act of choosing and giving a gift that shows you know and understand your partner, and you cared enough to think about him/her. A gift can be a bunch of her favourite flowers … or cooking their special dish .

Acts  of  Service  – this language expresses itself by doing things that you know your spouse would like,  or to make life easier for him/her.  Basically actions speak louder than words.  For example,  vacuuming or grocery shopping,  making breakfast in bed or walking the dog to demonstrate you care about your partner and your life together.

Physical  Touch  – people with this love language,  thrive on any kind of physical touch: holding hand, hugs and pats on the back, touching their arm or hand during a conversation; offer to give a neck or back rub. Physical touch is the most direct way to communicate love,  it calms,  heals and reassures.

It’s worth remembering,  not everyone expresses their love in the same way, so being aware of the different love languages can help you better understand your relationship

Tips for a happy relationship

Change your usual conflict patterns or styles
Do the opposite to how you would normally act in an argument. This includes tone of voice, how you react, and the setting of the argument. For example, if you normally yell in an argument, use a quieter tone of voice, if you normally argue in the kitchen, move to another room in the house.

Do a 180: Change your usual “pursuer- withdrawer” pattern
This refers to how you react in the relationship to conflict, by either pursuing your partner or by withdrawing from your partner. Basically, when conflict arises, choose to react differently to how you would normally. Find a suitable time to sit down and talk over what’s bothering you.

Catch your partner doing something right
Speak to your partner about things they have done right in the recent past. By praising them, they will feel more positive about the relationship and you will find that you will appreciate them more.

Unpack vague, blaming, and loaded words; instead, use action talk
The use of action talk focuses on the behaviour of your partner rather making negative blaming statements towards them. For example, instead of saying “You think all my ideas are stupid,” you could say “When you don’t respond to my ideas, I feel as though I am not worthy of a response.”

Change your complaints into “action requests”
Action requests should be used to tell your partner what behaviour you want them to change. For example, instead of saying “You don’t like to do anything with me,” you could say “Why don’t we make a date night of Wednesday, once a week.

Make a specific plan for change
It is a good idea to develop a specific plan with your partner about how change will occur. Documenting the process will make it more concrete and give you something to compare your results with.

Focus on how you (not your partner) can change, and take responsibility for making that change
You need to assume responsibility to make changes in your relationship. This should occur in situations that aren’t harmful or destructive.

Blow off your partner’s stereotype of you
Find out what your partner’s stereotype is of you and try and do the opposite (in cases where it may be negative). For example, your partner thinks of you as being lazy so do the opposite of this and make an effort such as helping to clean the house.

Compassionate listening
Stop and listen to your partner and try and see where he or she is coming from. Don’t interrupt or try to correct what they are saying.

ten ways to promote relationship success

Tips to promote relationship succes
  • Work toward your emotional calm; think objectively and clearly; speak and act constructively.
  • Express appropriate emotional needs, i.e. “I need you” rather than the expectation of “you must take care of me”.
  • Don’t be a victim of other people’s emotional state and avoid take on their anxiety.
  • You are responsible for your own happiness.
  • Changes your ineffective behaviours without expectations of the other, i.e. be less needy or be less critical
  • Be empathetic, look for reasons behind the anxiety of others, so you can be less reactive, and be more responsive.
  • Don’t take on the emotions of the people around you. You have a choice.
  • You can’t be loved, liked, approved of, accepted or nurtured by everyone.
  • Focus on you at least 51% of the time, it’s important to self-care.
  • Make important relationship decision calmly and thoughtfully instead of making them based on impulsive feelings.
  • You can’t rewrite history but you can write a new narrative.
  • Focus on the future.

How do you know if the therapist is right for you?

finding the right therapist

Finding the right therapist can be difficult and challenging, but it’s worth your effort to search for the right one.  Study after study shows that the most important factor in the success of your treatment is the therapeutic relationship you have with your therapist,  your experience of feeling understood.  A therapist’s credentials and modalities might look great on paper, but if you don’t feel connected with that therapist or you feel you can’t trust the person, or you are not comfortable talking about difficult or intimate subjects, then therapy won’t be effective.

Trust your instinct – if there is no trust or connection, find another therapist. A good therapist will respect this choice and should not make you feel guilty.

Here are some suggestions of what to look for in a therapist:

  • The ability to relate to their client
  • Provide a safe and caring environment for their clients
  • Has a clear and genuine interest in their client
  • Listen empathically without judgement
  • Being present
  • The ability to perceive and interpret their client’s emotions and respond to them
  • Use the relational skills to challenge their client in a safe and supportive environment
  • Don’t settle for simple, incomplete answer from their client
  • Believe in their client’s ability to make changes and their will to do even when it’s hard
  • Approach any feedback, especially negative feedback, with a non-defensive attitude and openness that validates their client’s feelings and concerns

Once you find a good therapist, be prepared to work hard. They’re working with you through the issues that you’ve been avoiding. We avoid things that hurt us for a reason, but sometime the best way out is working through it.

Psychotherapist, Psychologist, Counsellor - What's The Difference?

In Australia, it can be difficult to understand the differences of various types of mental health professional and how they operate in their chosen field.

Psychotherapist

Psychotherapy or the “talking cure”, has been shown to improve emotions and behaviours and to be linked with positive changes in the brain and body.  Psychotherapy deals with the deepest folds of the personality and recognises that symptoms in the client’s life now can often be tracked back to deep wounds, splits in the personality, or trauma that occurred years ago. By virtue of the depth and scope of work, psychotherapy can be a transformative treatment and is traditionally a long term venture.

A psychotherapist usually has a minimum of an undergraduate degree in a health related area, typically 3-4 years and is a member of a governing organisation of psychotherapists/counsellors, such as PACFA or ACA.  Additionally, 350 hours of undergraduate training and 750 hours of post-graduate client contact are required for full registration, which is 4.5 times more contact hours than a psychologist.

Most psychotherapists also undergo a period of personal psychotherapy to ensure they have suitable levels of self-awareness. As part of their membership to a governing professional association, they are required to have regular clinical supervision.

Psychotherapists are trained to treat people for their emotional problems and work with individuals, couples, groups or families. They focus on assisting their clients to understand how past experiences influence and shape their current responses to life events. The aim of psychotherapy is to empower the individual by freeing him/her from the grip of unconscious triggers or impulses through increased self-awareness.

Currently clients accessing counselling services through psychotherapists are not able to claim Medicare rebate as this only applies to psychologists and psychiatrists. Medicare also restricts the number of therapy sessions up to 10 individual sessions per calendar year and requires a GP referral.

You don’t need a referral from a GP to see a psychotherapist and there’s no limit to how many sessions you can attend.

Psychologist

A psychologist has completed a 4 year undergraduate degree in psychology. To be a registered a clinical psychologist, and they must have completed a Master’s or Doctoral degree plus a required period of supervised practice.

Most psychologists will use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as a basic therapeutic model, however many extend their training and experience to utilise additional approaches such as psychodynamic work and integrated well-being approaches. Psychology is regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency (AHPRA).

A registered psychologist is eligible to provide Medicare funded sessions for treatment of depression /anxiety, however you need a referral from a GP for a mental health plan.  Medicare rebate is available for 10 individual sessions per calendar year.

Counsellor

Counselling is a very generic term used to describe the process of discussion, assessment and generally.  Counsellor training can vary widely from a short correspondence course or have attended a college for a year or more. Generally counselling focuses on short-term solution focus strategies for dealing with specific problems, such as bereavement, relationship counselling, domestic violence etc…

A counsellor learns to listen empathically, provide non-judgemental feedback and guide the client toward finding the best solution for their particular problem. Counselling frequently takes place in shorter time-frames.

Both psychologists and psychotherapists have the skills and experience to provide counselling approaches as appropriate to a particular client’s needs.

How to progress next after your first date?

How to progress after your first date

Wow, you have finally met “the one” or “soul mate” – you are excited and nervous, what’s next? But as everyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that it takes more than chemistry, GSOH etc… to make a relationship progress to the next stage of commitment.

First Date

You went out on your first date and had a great time. You felt that you have many shared interests, same sense of humour and definitely some attraction. Good start but remember to slow down!

While it’s good to be open, but to disclose too much about yourself, past relationships and what you are looking for too soon can be overwhelming for your potential partner and can be a major turnoff.

You can’t rush a relationship just because you are ready to commit. Let the relationship develop at its own pace, so that a solid foundation for friendship and trust can be established.

Being a Couple

Once you have acknowledged mutual interest and ready to progress to the next phase of your relationship – being a couple; you can then self-disclose more; discuss your physical and emotional needs and your dreams and expectations etc…

Here are some tips on how to grow your relationship successfully:

  • Make time for each other – relationship is like a living plant, it requires tender loving care to grow and blossom. Show your partner how important they are to you by making time to connect and spending time together.
  • Establish clear boundaries and expectations – your partner is not a clairvoyant! Be clear about what is and is not acceptable in your relationship. Check out each other’s expectations, how realistic are they? What can each of you compromise on and be happy with the decision?
  • Don’t take your partner for granted – it’s easy to let yourself slip into the complacent zone once you have settled into coupledom and you stop making each other feel special and important. Acknowledge your partner verbally or with eye contact when they are speaking; let your partner know that you appreciate the small things they do each day for you; and be considerate to one another.
  • Inflexible expectations – of course there will be some adjustments in a new relationship, compromises and changes may be required from both parties. However if you are inflexible in your expectations of your partner/relationship and you think that it’s his/her job to make you happy/fulfilled or that you can change him/her, you will create resentment / disappointment in your relationship sooner or later.
  • Giving each other space – everyone needs space to recharge their energy or just some alone time. A healthy relationship is knowing that togetherness does not mean you have to lose your individuality/independence.
  • Don’t stop being you – you don’t have to let go of your friendships, interests and hobbies just because you are in a relationship. It’s important to maintain your sense of self and not become too reliant on your partner.

What is a Codependent Relationship?

Co-dependency can occur in any type of relationship, including romantic, peer, family, friendship and work. There is a clear distinction between thoughtful, caring, loving behaviour or feelings that are normal and healthy to those that are excessive to an unhealthy degree by putting other people ahead of yourselves.

A healthy relationship is ‘inter-dependent’ – when partners take care of themselves and each other. A mutually satisfying relationship is where people give, receive and rely on each other equally. Of course, there will be times when one person will carry a bigger load but overall all parties contribute equally to the relationship.

A co-dependent relationship occurs when personal boundaries between individuals are broken, unhealthy or don’t exist. Co-dependent people focus on pleasing and accommodating others instead of focusing on themselves. They have a diffuse sense of self, characterised by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance or control patterns.

Co-dependent people are constantly in search of acceptance; they like to feel they are “needed”. They often find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of a rescuer, supporter and confidante. They often depend on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs.

Co-dependent relationships are fraught with resentment, anger, criticism and pain. Here are some signs of a co-dependent relationship:

1. You minimise your needs and preferences.

2. You enable the other person’s unhealthy behaviour and they enable yours.

3. You feel guilty when asserting yourself.

4. Your mood and self-respect are dictated by the other person’s mood and behaviour.

5. You feel devalued or disrespected by the other person.

6. You tolerate mistreatment or abuse from the other person because you love them too much. You feel frustrated / angry but you don’t speak up. Instead you rationalise your behaviour between fights or flight; keeping your feelings to yourself.

7. You repeatedly tell yourself that if you hang on long enough, the other person will change, see the light, and finally love you the way you deserve. You tell yourself that it will be worth it at the end but in the meantime, you are living in hell.

8. You feel as if you can never stop the other person from hurting you but you put up with this treatment because you think that you might even deserve it. You are in denial of the bad times and hope that the good times will make them go away, which won’t happen

9. You have mixed feelings about the person on a regular basis. You simultaneously love and hate them. Or you feel empowered yet disempowered by the relationship.

10. You’re depressed or sad for no reason. You cry uncontrollably for no reason. You have gotten so out of touch with your emotions that you can’t identify your feelings anymore.

11. You feel ashamed and embarrassed about what’s really going on in your relationship.

12. You start to develop addictions that you did not have before.

A co-dependent relationship can impact on your identity and wellbeing and have an unhealthy short-term and long term consequences. By giving up your own needs to over cater the needs of the other person can result in you being burned out, exhausted, resentful and neglectful of other important relationships.

Recovering from co-dependency requires you to examine the way you see yourself, how you value yourself and how you respond when others treat you with disrespect. You can start your co-dependency recovery by setting clear boundaries about what is acceptable to you; communicating respectfully and effectively about your feelings and expectations of your relationship to the other person. Find happiness as an individual.

Healthy relationships involve speaking your truth, being vulnerable, asking for help and receiving support.

For further reading: Co-dependent No More by Melody Beattie and Facing Co-dependence by Pia Melody.

How Do You Know Your Relationship Is In Trouble?

How do you know your relationship is in trouble?

While no relationship is perfect and couples can expect to have their fair share of conflicts, however it’s how you resolve conflicts that matters. If issues are not resolved properly, they become insurmountable and resentment can build up over time. Here are some warning signs signalling your relationship is in trouble:

Arguments do not get resolved.
Most couples have issues that can be resolved over time as their relationship develops, but when key issues are not resolved and they keep re-surfacing – then your relationship will struggle.

Feeling like you are “walking on eggshells” around sensitive issues.
When you feel the need to avoid conflicts and protect yourself from further conflict, this signals a lack of safety in your relationship.

You are unable to reach out to your partner for emotional support.
A romantic relationship without emotional engagement will be drained of any vitality. If you are unable to show your emotional vulnerability to your partner then it is a clear sign your relationship is at risk.

You find you are spending less ‘couple time’ with your partner for no particular reason.
When for no good reason, you both choose to spend less time together and this pattern continues over a long period, you will drift apart. Couple time is a crucial resource for sustaining intimacy and connection in a relationship.

Arguments include criticism, defensiveness, and contempt.
If one or both of you engage in character attacks, mind-reading, insults, name-calling, or counter-complaining, the emotional security of your relationship will be injured.

When you or your partners no longer depend on one another.
By no longer sharing vulnerability and leaning on one another for support, your closeness and the importance of your relationship will be lost.

There may have been anger and frustration in the past, but now there is just apathy.
When you become detached from your relationship, you will tell yourself… “it’s too hard, I don’t care anymore… I give up!”

Trusting your partner is too hard, so you try to control circumstances instead.
Controlling actions is a common way for partners to respond when trust is lost or they are fearful, but it undermines efforts to rebuild trust.

Fear of criticism prevents you from sharing personal thoughts and feelings.
When you withdraw from your partner because you feel insecure and/or fear a lack of care or concern on the part of your partner. The impact of your withdrawal can seriously threaten a relationship by depriving it of life energy in the long term.

If you recognise two or three of these symptoms present in your relationship, then it is time to seek couple counselling.

How To Build A Loving Relationship

How to build a loving relationship

It’s easy to fall in love but to keep your love alive and enduring requires work.  According to Dr. John Gottman, the guru of healthy and happy relationships, we need to be aware of our negative behaviour patterns, called the “Four Horsemen of Apocalypse”:

Criticism

Attacking your partner’s personality or character with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong, i.e. “you always…” “you never…””you’re the type of person who…””why are you so…”

Contempt

Attacking your partnet’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her.  Insults and name calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”. Hostile humour, sarcasm or mockery.  Body language & tone of voice: sneering rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip.

Defensiveness

  • Seeing yourself as the victim, warding off a perceived attack.  Making excuses that external circumstances beyound your control forced you to act in a certain way.  “It’s not my fault…”;”he/she made me do it…”
  • Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own; ignoring what your partner said.
  • Disagreeing and then cross-complaining – “that’s not true, you’re the one who…” “I did this because you did that…”
  • “Yes… but” – start off agreeing but end up disagreeing.  Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying.  Whining “it’s not fair.”

Stonewalling

Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict.  Partners may think that they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness.  Stony silence; monosyllabic mutterings; changing the subject; removing yourself physically; silence treatment.

Healthy solutions:

  • Make specific complaints & requests –  “When you said or did this, I felt…; I want… “
  • Conscious communications – speak the unarguable truth and listen well.
  • Validate your partner.  Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying;  let them know you understand what they are feeling, see through their eyes.
  • Shift to appreciation – give 5 times as much positive feeling & interaction as negative.  Take responsibility: “what can I learn from this?” and “what can I do about it?”.
  • Re-write your inner script.  Replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimisatin with thoughts of appreciation, responsibility that are soothing & validating.
  • Practice not to be on the defensive.  Allow your partner’s comments to be what they really are – just thoughts and puffs of air.  Let go of your own perception / stories that you are making up in your head.