Psychologist Paul Tournier once observed, “I’ve been married six times – all to the same woman.” Tournier explained that his marriage transitioned from one stage to another. I’ve experienced this truth first hand since I’m now in my 34th year of marriage to Martha – and during that time I’ve been married to several different versions of Martha and she’s been married to different versions of Ronnie along the way as well.
In our UPLIFT service on Wednesday night I plan to talk about this and here is an advance look at the various stages of marriage. I will be asking this question: will your marriage weather the storms and stages of life? It can, for sure.
All healthy marriages experience change and transition. And while not all marital stages are predictable, there is a general sense of progression that occurs. However you describe it, the essential point is that a marriage is a process. It evolves. It helps to know what to expect at the various stages. Otherwise, normal transitions may be misinterpreted as loss of love or a lack of interest.
The absolute best analysis that I’ve seen on the stages of marriage is presented in the book, The Seven Stages of Marriage by Sari Harrar and Rita DeMaria. Understanding the different stages can help couples recognize what is normal and when there’s a problem. Here are the seven stages of marriage as presented in that excellent book:
Stage One: Passion
This is the honeymoon stage, and it is very strong and significant. It is a wave of feel-good brain chemicals orchestrated by Mother Nature to make the two of you forsake all others and take action to ensure the survival of the species. Couples begin to establish the trust, respect and emotional intimacy that will support their relationship forever.
Stage Two: Realization
In this stage, a more real vision of the rest of your life begins. In this stage, you discover your spouse is not only human, but also has occasional halitosis. Disappointment and early conflicts are the hallmarks of this difficult, unavoidable period, as the two of you make the first steps toward accepting each other for who you really are. What’s the goal in this stage? No less than laying the groundwork for a long future together based on acceptance, respect and openness to change. You’ll need to assertively discuss and emphatically listen as you both introduce your deepest personal needs and wants.
Stage Three: Rebellion
She wants to go out with her girlfriends and he wants to play softball five nights a week. Each may want to focus on a career. Learning the art of the good fight is the mission now – and often it is how you fight, rather than the substance of the discussion, that leads to trouble.
Stage Four: Cooperation
In the cooperation stage, marriage takes on a business-like personality. Set in the sidebar all that love and emotion and personal-realization stuff because there are mortgages to be paid, investments to be handled, careers to be directed, health to be managed, and – first and foremost – children to be raised. The mission here? Ruthlessly make time for each other each week.
Stage Five: Reunion
If you have children, the cooperation stage often lasts 20-30 years – then suddenly it is gone. For happy couples, it is a time to appreciate each other again, not as parents and providers but as lovers and friends, thinkers and seekers. The embers of passion need stoking and the roles and expectations of the marriage need recalibrating.
Stage Six: Explosion
In the explosion phase either you, your spouse, or both of you are dealing with major, life-shaking events that could affect your relationship for a day, a year, or the rest of your lives. Perhaps a health issue, job loss or a major move can shake things up. While the other stages tend to occur in order, the Explosion stage can happen at any time in a marriage though it happens most as we pass through our 40s and 50s. Confronted by a personal crisis, your marriage can be a source of solace or it can be severely tested by the unexpected pressure of new roles, new limitations and new fears.
Stage Seven: Completion
Many surveys find that marital happiness soars after several decades of a shared life. A couple in the completion stage has ongoing stability and security. Together, a couple in this stage can appreciate one another and the life they have created for themselves. During this stage a couple can benefit from creating even more of a sense of meaning and purpose. For example, volunteering together or starting a side business just for fun may help a couple establish a new sense of purpose for themselves.
What your marital stage now? Although in real life, people don’t always move through these stages in a simple, linear fashion, it can be helpful to identify which stage you identify with the most. Then take a look at your relationship and how you can adjust accordingly to keep your marriage strong. Successful couples are able to navigate through the changes by evaluating their relationship and working together to maintain communication and intimacy.
What’s my prayer, dream and hope for you? That you will enjoy the journey and always see one another with the kind of eyes that never age with the look of love.