The Stages of Marriage
This is a follow up to last month’s article, Talks About Us: The Essential Conversations to Have Before You Get Married. While last month’s focus was on getting ready for marriage, this month I detail the stages that marriages go through. Whether you are newly married, or have been married for a while, this article is for you.
I believe in commitment and the union of marriage. I think marriage is the strongest bond that two people can enter into because it involves a man connecting with all the parts of a woman’s essence – her thoughts, emotions, and physical body. Marriage demands a higher level of commitment than the one required for dating. With marriage, you’re all in and it is much harder to exit the relationship if unexpected challenges appear.
I also believe in the value that marriage offers and what it provides. Studies show that people who are happily married live longer and healthier lives than either divorced people or those who are unhappily married. Scientists know for certain that these differences exist, but we are not yet sure why. In my personal and professional experience, one of the factors that make for a happy, fun, adventure-filled and long-lasting love affair is a sense of emotional awareness and maturity that grows over time. Another factor that contributes to marital happiness is an awareness of how a marriage will change over time.
If a couple stays married long enough, they will experience all of the stages of marriage, and knowing these stages helps a married couple stay grounded and understand the state of their relationship at different times. All marriages will experience both the highs that come from sharing life’s journey with one other person, and the lows that come with the trial and error of trying to figure both how your marriage and your spouse work. All couples will experience disagreements and rough patches because it is in our nature as humans to express our opinions and perspectives, and it is unreasonable to think that you and your spouse will always be 100% aligned on all things.
Marriage is a wonderful experience, but marriage can also be challenging, even more so if you are not aware of the different marital stages. Even the strongest couples will have disagreements. You could say it comes with the territory, and it may feel like any shifts in your marriage are unique to you. However, just being aware that you are not the only couple that experiences change and the growth it brings, and also struggle and then resolution, can help a lot.
As individuals, we all experience many changes throughout life, some of them welcome and planned out, with others occurring as unwelcome or unpleasant surprises. When two people are both connected through marriage and also growing and changing as individual people and dealing with their own “stuff”, it can feel all too overwhelming and leave you wondering if the changes your marriage goes through are normal or not.
So, keeping all of that in the background, let’s explore the stages of marriage:
The first stage of marriage is the obvious Honeymoon Stage, where the bond of your mutual attraction leads you towards commitment and the beginning of your life together. This is an intense period of passion and pheromones and other chemical reactions happening in your brain. This is nature’s way of saying “Pick me, pick me!” and where trust, respect and intimacy are established.
The Awareness Stage is where the honeymoon stage ends and you get real as your life together truly begins. This unavoidable stage is where you discover the difficulty of each other’s real “quirks” and where letdown and conflicts appear. The opportunity here is to lay the groundwork for your future together based on respect and making room for each of you to grow. In this stage you begin to openly communicate your desires and needs to your partner.
Then comes the Power Struggle Stage, where you each begin to prioritize your individual wants and needs to grow over the interests of the relationship. This is where the groundwork you did in the Awareness Stage about how you overcome challenges and conflicts guides you through the ups and down and rebellion expressed in this stage.
Couples that make it through the preceding stage then enter The Working Together Stage, where you must come together united as a team to meet new complications as careers and personal and professional commitments grow deeper. This is usually the stage where children first show up. This is where couples discover they are in it together!
It is in The Harmony Stage where each of your marital roles and careers are established, and if you have children, they most likely are gone to begin their own life as adults. Now it is just you and your spouse and it is time to be together again and appreciate each other in ways other than as co-parents. This is where you as a couple expand with friends and travel, adventure and freedom. The challenge is to throw some fuel on the passion in your marriage.
The For Better or For Worse Stage brings major life events that seem to come one after another as parents pass away, financial markets go up and down, health problems become more likely and middle age sets in. Many of these events could affect your marriage for an unknown amount of time. When challenging life events happen, successful couples turn to each other for comfort and support. The goal during this stage is to deal with life’s changes as best they can as a couple.
Lastly comes the Fulfillment Stage, where true happiness is found after living life together for several decades. After this time, you and your partner know each other at a deep level. As couples enter the fulfillment stage, they appreciate the here and now, and look forward to each day with their life partner. They are fulfilled by having spent life with their person and meeting life’s challenges together.
A good marriage is good for overall health, and understanding where your marriage is in the marriage life cycle can lead to less stress and a deep sense of partnership, no matter which stage you are in. Researchers Lois Verbrugge and James House of the University of Michigan state that an unhappy marriage can increase your chance of serious illness by roughly 35%, and even shorten your life by an average of 4 to 8 years.
What I know is that no two people, or couples, are alike. There is no one perfect way for couples to interact with each other in order to have a happy marriage. Different personalities play a role in how married couples interact. Take, for instance, me and my husband. We have a happy marriage, but we have completely different styles of communication. With my Cuban heritage I am very passionate and for lack of a better word, loud, about certain things. On the flipside, he tends to go inward and think before communicating. Both communication styles are fine as long as it works with one another and you don’t expect your spouse to simply mirror your style. It’s about embracing and respecting each other‘s differences.
As married couples move through time together, they will experience times that are amazing, and times when it is not so amazing. In some stages we will yearn for our partner’s intimate touch and understanding, and other times we find we want nothing to do with them. All of that is natural and a part of marriage.
There are times when life includes really hard situations to deal with and you are not close with one another. In other times you cling to each other to both give and receive love and support. It all happens in a marriage, and the ones that last have room for it all. It’s about figuring out what way and style works for you and your partner. It’s about having lots and lots of grace and forgiveness and loving one another, even when you feel like giving up.
Long-lasting marriages will go through all the stages and having a person to go through life with Is a pretty special thing. Whatever stage you are in, understand what is needed and what you can give to your special union. My wish for you is to understand these different stages and understand that you and your partner will change too. And that’s all ok.
My hope is hat you will continue to evolve and change throughout your marriage and find your special ways to stay connected through all that life sends your way. My hope is that you always remember, no matter what circumstances you are in, to come back to one another and hold the highest regard for your person, your lover, your husband or your wife. Love is such a beautiful gift to give one another! Love, laugh, respect and forgive!
Well, ladies, that’s what I have for you this month. I hope this description of the stages of marriage help you navigate your own relationship or prepare you for what is to come if you are headed toward your own marital bliss. I always think the more you know about a subject, the more empowerment you can bring to the party. I hope these words allow you to tap into your own empowerment.