Marriage Cycles

 The Six Stages of Marriage or "Couple-hood"*

By John E. Turner, LMFT and Sally Ratterman Connolly, LMFT

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There are six different relationship stages that couples go through during their courtship and marriage.  Some couples move through them very quickly while others stay "stuck" in one for a long time.  Read about them and see if you might find your relationship patterns.
Relationship Stage 1:  Romance, "The Honeymoon" or aptly termed  “Loving Under the Influence”.
  • Partners see each other as perfect and identical and are only slightly aware of any differences.
  • As external interests or renewed career goals emerge, they can be viewed as a betrayal of the relationship. The task for couples at this stage is to learn to accept the differences as enhancing their relationship rather than tearing them apart.

 Relationship Stage 2: Expectations, Compromise, Disappointment or Distress

  • Couples sometimes experience changes in each other and in the relationship as disappointment, loss, anxiety and self-doubt.
  • The job at this point is to draw a distinct boundary between themselves as a unit and the rest of the world that impinges on it.

Relationship Stage 3:  Power Struggles and Control

  • Partner’s interests diverge and develop independently.  Each may try to control the other. Many couples stay in this stage for years.
  • During this relationship stage, struggles are generally over nurturing each other and themselves as individuals.
  • The job at this stage is to recognize differences that they have and to learn how to negotiate them.
Relationship Stage 4:  The Seven-Year Itch or the Stage of  Competition
                        One or the other may be feeling the need to run from the relationship. “I want time for myself”. “I  need some space”.
                        May be affairs at this stage as partners look for space (regardless of time that they have been married).

Relationship Stage 5:   Reconciliation and Cooperation
  • As couples reach this stage, the are reaching toward intimacy. 
  • Couples recognize that they have a full identity to share.

Relationship Stage 6:  Acceptance and Collaboration

  •  Intimacy and mutuality. At this relationship stage, couples recognize that they can separate and reconnect without losing that identity.

* Adapted from "The Reinvention of Marriage" by Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today.

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