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Stages of Marriage


Most experts agree that marriage (and other long-term) relationships tend to evolve in common stages:


Romance or Honeymoon Stage  -  Couples are swept up in the excitement and romance of their relationship.  Differences seem relatively unimportant (and can even be exciting), as they focus on discovering each other and sharing life together. Sexual attraction is usually strong. 'Getting bonded' brain chemistry prevails.  Many couples assume that their relationship will naturally work itself out over time with love as sufficient motivation. Sometimes this stage lasts through early marriage, but the next 'reality' stage often sets in even before the wedding and can be the source of 'cold feet'. (See article on cold feet.)


Reality Stage  -  Couples learn more about themselves and each other in situations they haven’t faced together before.  Some of what they encounter may not be congruent with their pre-existing assumptions and expectations and may be conflictual. Once married, there is a lot more to disagree about than during dating or even living together.  Some feelings of disappointment, aloneness and other reactions are normal, along with a let-down after the activity and excitement of the wedding period.


Because of challenging nature of this normal stage, the first two years of marriage have the highest risk of affairs and divorce. Many couples misinterpret this normal transition for incompatibility and often worry that they've made a mistake. They don't understand that many significant conflicts, while not resolvable, can be successfully managed and that this is normal in successful, happy marriages. They're often embarrassed to admit these reactions to their spouse, especially if they don't understand that these reactions are normal.


Often sex seems more routine as the initial 'rush' of sexual excitement and 'getting bonded' brain chemistry subsides and 'partner novelty' diminishes. Many people begin to feel that the 'spark' has left their relationship; that they aren't 'in love' any longer. This is another factor that couples often misinterpret. (See article on married sexuality.)


Childrearing Sub-Stage  -  The arrival of children is a particularly critical 'new reality' transition for marriages. Kids transform the focus of a family and can dramatically increase the stress level. There is simply so much more work, distraction, time pressure and potential conflict inherent in childrearing. Most marriages are not adequately equipped to cope well with this new family reality. It's very difficult to keep sufficient focus on the marriage relationship with the attention that kids demands, but it is essential to do so. The infancy of the second child is one of the riskiest periods in a marriage, since all these stress factors are multiplied with two young children requiring intensive attention in the family. (See our article on Becoming Parents.)


Couples who don't intentionally strategize and plan to keep their intimacy strong can begin to feel alienated and drift apart. This is why it's so important to have marriage preparation before the wedding or immediately after, before the more demanding marriage phases begin. It's a lot easier to plan to keep up the positive momentum of your relationship during the early phases than after problem patterns and habits have emerged. Unfortunately, many couples don't understand the need for this until negativity begins to be more of a factor.


Accommodation Stage  -  Couples work to renew  their relationship on a down-to-earth basis by learning about their needs and managing their differences and areas of conflict. (See our article on Bonding & Marriage Success.)


Transformation or Success Stage  -  Couples enjoy the benefits of a marriage that satisfies their needs and provides mutual support.  This leads to more profound intimacy over the years as the couple shares the experience of ups and downs.  They work to keep it that way. There is another risky transition after about 16 years (when the first child enters adolescence.


It is very important to the success of your marriage that you understand these normal stages of marriage development, so you will be prepared for marriage’s challenges.  MST helps to minimize adjustment issues by helping you to lay the groundwork for mutual understanding and realistic expectations.  The skills and habits that you develop in MST will facilitate your accommodation work and assist you in transforming your relationship to reach long-term success.  With these stages in mind, you can see how important it is to begin the process of preparation early in your relationship.



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Copyright 2003, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.





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