Stage 1: The bliss bubble

If Stage 1 of a relationship is the bliss bubble, then Stage 2 is reached when the bubble bursts when one or more of the following events happen:

  • The Big Fight: the very first and biggest fight so far, where you get to see how weird and strange and intense and childish and far and deep you and the other person can get when things spiral down. And sometimes, how stupid the initial reason is. For me and Paget, it was about licking a knife at breakfast.
  • The Big Turn Off: where you get to see a piece of the darkness of the other person (or in each other), or how nasty and mean the other person can get, or how you hurt each other and get really turned off by it.
  • The First Betrayal of Trust: where one or both people betrays the other in a really deep way, killing or sapping the other person's trust. This usually leads to the Big Fight and the Big Turn Off

These events can happen all at once (usually during the Big Fight when the First Betrayal is revealed or happens, and when the Big Turn Off results) or separately. Afterward, the couple is left reeling in a new larger reality bubble where each person tries to reassess what has been going on all this time, what's so now, and what's next, while evaluating resources for handling the shift and the possibilities for the future, namely status quo (stage 1 or current liminal space), breaking up (to a less entangled relationship), or moving to the next (even more entangled) stage of relationship: Stage 2. In all cases, until a resolution (and a new mutual agreement) is reached (moving to one of the three options above), the couple is thrown into a confusion where two conflicting realities exist at the same time, and only as valid as each person feels confident at any given moment.

The next stage is the hardest to do well, so this leaves 3 options for those reluctant to move forward:

  • Status quo (back to stage 1): this is the where the couple tries to "get the magic back" without integrating the latest developments in the relationship. This only works as much as the couple can disregard their feelings or numb out to the pain that is present. This will be more easy to those who are accustomed to doing this because of past trauma or abuse.
  • Status quo (liminal space between stage 1 and 2): this is where the couple is unable to go back to stage 1 but is also unable to move on to any other stage because of fear or lack of resources or enough incentive. They remain stuck until either person finds a way out (rebound sex or romance is a perfect example).
  • Breaking up (to a less entangled relationship): one of the best options is when the couple realizes together that the relationship in its current form is unsustainable or simply doesn't work, or that neither person has the resources to hold the next stage with integrity. Then they can begin to disengage unconsciously unless one person makes the call first (which is more common). The more balanced the agreement to separate the cleaner the breakup, the better and faster the integration of the lessons learned during the relationship. Grief takes time, especially for the person being broken up with.

Stage 2: Things are getting serious

This is the hardest of all the options, and not always the best unless both members of the couple are fully ready and resourced: it involves integrating their two different realities into one coherent whole (ideally) so that both people can coexist peacefully while learning from the other person. This requires that each person sees the other's reality, skills, experience, desires, boundaries, pace, and vision, and validate/honor it as a contribution to the relationship. This is especially difficult when either person brings immaturity or insecurity to the table which tends to have a destabilizing effect on the relationship -- while at the same time being worthy of validation as a perfect place to grow from. 

Stage 2 is often a period of intense growth and deep exploration where couples support each other in discovering new ways to live and experience life. But change and growth requires energy and efforts, and this type of growth isn't always sustainable on the long term, so couples begin to align, capitalize on each other's strengths, and begin to create something similar to a clear "dance" to balances growth and predictability. 

But after months or years at Stage 2, couples will often come to some such alignment that their engagements become predictable and their life too filled with the mundane tasks of living. This can be a tricky kind of "plateau" where couples might also begin to miss the magic of the early days and start to look for "what's next".  Once again, they are faced with the same three options they faced at Stage 1, but with the greater complexity of a long term relationship to contend with:

  • Status quo (back to stage 2): this is where the couple tries to "get the magic back" --of growth and change in this case-- without fully appreciating their newfound stability beyond the initial sense of boredom. This is the stage where couples might travel, open up their relationship, or do something to "jump start" them into a new Stage 2
  • Status quo (liminal space between stage 1 and 2): this is the stage where the couple is unable to go back to stage 2 but is also unable to move on to any other stage because of fear or lack of resources or enough incentive. They remain stuck until either person finds a way out (rebound sex or romance is a perfect example). This is also where one or both person might consider or act upon their desires and cheat on their partner --or, if they are non-monogamous, find a new lover for themselves or the two of them
  • Breaking up (to a less entangled relationship): one of the best options is when the couple realizes together that the relationship in its current form is unsustainable or simply doesn't work, or that neither person has the resources to hold the next stage with integrity. Then they can begin to disengage unconsciously unless one person makes the call first (which is more common). The more balanced the agreement to separate the cleaner the breakup, the better and faster the integration of the lessons learned during the relationship. Grief takes time, especially for the person being broken up with.

Stage 3: Mundane land to the rich land of purpose

Of course, the hardest of all options is also often the wisest most long term one. In this case, it looks like the couple integrating this newfound stability and security and deciding to do something amazing with it using all that they've learned: their capacity to enjoy each other, their capacity to grow together, and their capacity to enjoy peace and the mundane together. This is the stage where a couple might decide to step into parenthood or co-owning a business or begin a journey of purpose through a number of projects. This stage can last a year to a lifetime and bring deeper and greater fulfillment than can ever be discerned from the vantage point of the earlier stages. 

Of course, much like the previous two stages, there might be a point where either person will need to part ways to begin anew at Stage 1 with another special person. But this time, they will go about it with the deeper knowing of what is to come, so that when the new stage arrives, they will say "ah yes, par for the course, I was expecting this" to their person and to themselves, and step forward more powerfully than ever before.

 

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