7 Stages of Marriage - Divorce Help
Creating a life of happiness with your spouse is a lifelong challenge. The building blocks of a successful marriage aren’t all available when you and your spouse tie the knot – they will be encountered along the way, along with obstacles and rewards. All marriages have different factors that set them apart from the rest, but the ones that last can be separated into seven different phases. Understanding the stages of marriage can be greatly beneficial in keeping the bond between you and your spouse strong and unbreakable.
1. The Passion of the Honeymoon Stage
Ah, the sought-after young stage of your relationship when your spouse’s soon-to-be annoying habits amuse you, the romance is palpable and the attraction is intense. The honeymoon phase begins immediately after the ceremony, when wedding bells can still be heard off in the distance. Unfortunately, this passionate stage of marriage is usually the shortest of them all, as it only lasts between one and three years depending on outside factors, such as if and when the couple has children and at which point in their individual lives they have tied the knot.
This stage is pivotal to the future of the marriage. Chemicals in the brain are released, and make the spouses’ relationship in the marriage the most important thing to each partner. This leads husbands and wives to begin to establish trust, respect and emotional intimacy that will support the continuance of the marriage for years to come.
The Phase of Realization and Adjustment
After the dust of the wedding and honeymoon has settled, the phase of realization and adjustment sits in. The glamour of marriage has faded and you realize that this is it – this is for real, and it’s for the rest of your life. This usually happens after a couple’s engrossment with each other and their newfound marriage has died down. The news of your marriage is no longer the main topic of conversation when you run into old friends – it has now simply become another part of the many aspects and responsibilities in your life.
In this second stage of marriage spouses finally understand that their partners are imperfect, and may even have some qualities that have become quite bothersome. Rather than asking what you have gotten yourself into during this phase, couples are urged to talk about their expectations of one another and to learn to openly and empathetically communicate.
This phase is often referred to as the “seven year itch,” and is characterized by spouses’ desires to regain their independence and to rebuild their worlds around themselves. Husbands may begin to resent their wives for keeping them away from football Sundays. Wives miss having brunch with their girlfriends. They each want to work on their professional lives and begin to put their careers before their spouses. This stage of marriage, when self-interest becomes more important than working on the marriage, is inevitable. It’s a struggle between love and power; between being happy and being right.
In this stage of marriage it is especially important for couples to nurture each other’s feelings rather than lashing out and making vengeful spur-of-the moment decisions.
Spouses who are feeling emotions of rebellion often act out in ways that mirror those feeling – this can mean high-conflict and mean-spirited arguments, putting individual wants and needs before what is best for the marriage, or even infidelity. Cheating in marriage most commonly occurs in this stage, and is almost always immediately regretted. That’s why husbands and wives must remain open to communication in phase three of the marriage. To recover from bumps and bruises you have caused each other, forgive your spouse, forgive yourself and discover a way to move forward together.
When couples have been able to make it through the seven year itch together and see their way to the light of stage four, they reach cooperation and reassessment. During this part of marriage, careers have blossomed, mortgages need to be dealt with, bills need to be paid and the phase of child-rearing is well on it’s way. In order to make sure the pieces of the puzzle don’t fall apart, spouses begin to take on their marriage as more of a business responsibility than as a familial relationship.
Families often struggle with the phase of cooperation because romance and physical intimacy are put on the back burner. Couples are urged to let parenthood strengthen their marriage, and to consciously schedule date nights and quality time with one another.
Reunion: The Phase of Growing Together
Spouses who have children together usually endure a cooperation phase of 10 to 20 years, and then as soon as the child has left the house it’s over in the blink of an eye. By this time in life most couples are well-established in their career, financially stable and have successfully raised a child together.
At this point, many couples go in one of two different ways. Some couples begin to plan vacations, take advantage of their time together and relearn how to enjoy each other’s company without all of their previous responsibilities. Other couples feel as though they have lost a purpose and don’t know where to turn.
Partners in this stage should take advantage of this time, and celebrate their lasting love by renewing their vows or going on second honeymoons. The mission of the reunion stage of the union is for husbands and wives to shift the focus back to the marriage, and to enjoy who they have become together.
Major events that occur later on in life often have dire consequences. Serious health problems arise, spouses may face job loss or retirement, and it is not uncommon for people to bear the mournful event of the death of a parent during this time. Husbands and wives are “over the hill” and are realizing that there is more of their life behind them than there is on the road ahead. When confronted by crisis and the slowly approaching older years and retirement, many men and women who are unable to handle this realization hopelessly look to move on to greener pastures in order to reach back and grasp onto their youth.
Hopefully the years in the reunion phase have rebuilt a strong enough foundation for the two of you to face midlife challenges together, rather than abandoning one another to deal with them on your own. Together as a team you can take care of each other’s health, figure out finances and inspire hope for the future.
Fulfillment and Completion
Stage seven is the goal of all marriages. Through thick and thin, happiness and strife, studies have found that the marriages that last the longest have the highest rates of marital happiness. This phase of marriage usually involves spouses falling in love all over again in this newfound age of their golden years, or looking back with gratitude and realizing how wonderful it has been to have had their partner by their side in support throughout the years of their lives together.
This stage isn’t merely about being grateful for one another, but about building a life together that is focused on the future rather than the past. Hard times have come and gone, and the road that lies ahead can easily be complete with smiles, adventure, laughter and nurture.