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The Life Cycle Of A Relationship

The Life Cycle Of A Relationship

Philip Van Munching (Author) gives expert video advice on: What is the "honeymoon phase" of a relationship?; What are some mistakes people make in navigating the life cycle of a romantic relationship?; What is the time frame for each phase of the romantic relationship? and more...

What are the five phases of a romantic relationship?

For a relationship to be successful it really needs to go through five stages. Attraction, idealized positive transference which I call the honeymoon, reality, commitment, and then hopefully eventually marriage.

What is the "attraction phase" of a relationship?

The attraction phase is the easiest one and we all go through it. You see somebody across a room, you see them at a bar, you see them out with friends and you find yourself strongly and physically attracted to them. So you embark upon a relationship if they are attracted to you as well.

How does my unconscious come into play during the attraction phase of a relationship?

During the attraction phase, your unconscious is actually playing a part. You may be thinking that you're just meeting somebody and you're just learning a little bit about them by talking to them, but your unconscious is picking up a lot, too. You can find traits that you don't even recognize you're finding in that other person, that will help you keep on an even psychological keel.

What is the "honeymoon phase" of a relationship?

The honeymoon phase, which is the second phase of any relationship, is really the key phase because here's where you build up a good head of steam that will hopefully get you through all the other stages. The real term for its "idealized positive transference." Idealized, that's easy - that's your image of the perfect person for you. Positive, well that's a very positive image; it's all good things. Transference: you take that from inside of you and you put it onto the other person. This is when you see the person not for who they are and who you really in your deepest dreams hope they will be.

How does my unconscious come into play during the honeymoon phase of a relationship?

In the honeymoon phase of a relationship, when you're coming up with this idealization of the perfect person, you're drawing a lot on your past. You're thinking about things that were implanted in you when you were very young, and those are the traits that you're looking for in a partner. They are all the good traits. If you needed a lot compassion that you didn't get, you're looking for a compassionate partner. If you needed understanding, or if you needed patience, whatever it is you needed, that's what you're seeing in the other person during the honeymoon period of a relationship. That may not be who they are.

What is the "reality phase" of a romantic relationship?

The reality phase comes in two parts. Early reality happens the very first time you say, "There's something about this person I'm not sure about." You don't like the way they laugh. You don't like how they go out with their friends all the time. It's the first thing that punctures that wall of idealization that you've been building beforehand. The second phase, late reality, is the first time you say, "Can I make it with this person? Are we really cut out to be together?"

What is the "commitment phase" of a romantic relationship?

If you make it through the “reality” phase and you decide this is the person for you, then you move on to the “commitment” phase. This is when you decide “this is the only person for me. Right now I'm going to forgo everything and everyone else and see if I can make this work,” hopefully with an eye towards something permanent like marriage. This is the phase where you start to unconciously negotiate. You're not saying “what are you expected to do, what am I expected to do,” but you start to really futz around with space issues--how much togetherness you're going to have and what each partner is expected to do within the relationship. That's when you start to hear the “I need some space", that's when that first comes into a relationship.

Why do couples start fighting more during the commitment phase of a romantic relationship?

The thing about the commitment phase is, you've finally gotten some distance between you and those idealizations of the person that you're with, the reality phase has kind of taken care of all of that. So as you're negotiating within your commitment with somebody, working out who has to do what and also starting to play out things from your past. This person now feels more like family to you, and so the things that you haven't been able to work out from your childhood, you start unconsciously trying to work out with this new person you're with.

What questions should I be asking myself during the commitment phase of a relationship?

Understood properly, the commitment phase is your last chance to really see what you getting. You know, you've moved away from this picture of the perfect person that you had during the second phase of idealization. And you gone through some reality and so you understand the ways in which you're not necessarily happy with them. But, now is the time you need to look at both, how you get along with each and other people. But, also how your personalities mesh. What components of theirs are really working for you? And, what components of your personality might be really working for them and which components are very troubling. One of the ways to do this is to ask a lot of questions both of yourself and of them, certainly by investigating their past and your own. If you can get some idea of how they were raised, and, more importantly, how their previous relationships went, you will have a very good indication of how your relationship with them might go. And if ultimately you find out that you going to have to do a pretty significant amount of changing for the relationship to work out, chances are pretty good you should walk away and walk away quick because the reality is once we at a certain age change is hard.

What is the "marriage phase" of a romantic relationship?

The marriage phase is the one we all understand: sign a piece of paper and move in together. The marriage phase, in many ways, is the most troubling relationship phase of all, because what happens you make a break with the past is you become confused between the past and the present. Your idea of family once you're married goes from those people back there to this person that I am with. Marriage is the time psychologically when the gloves come off and you find you can play out things with your spouse that you never really played out when you were just starting or living together, etc. Marriage is the time when you really see the other person in the relationship - who they are both consciously and unconsciously.

What are some mistakes people make in navigating the life cycle of a romantic relationship?

Here's the thing about the phases of the relationship: you have to go through them. A very good friend of mine just went through a terrible divorce, and I came to realize in talking to her afterwards they had fallen in love and married in the second phase of the relationship when they were still idealizing each other. She spent the last 4 or 5 years of their marriage saying, "How come he can't be the guy I fell in love with?" The answer, unfortunately, is that he was never that guy. That was your projection of who he was. You can't skip the steps. Obviously we all start with attraction but you have to build up some idealization. You have to go through reality. You have to try to commit to each other to see if it'll work out, and then you can go on to a more permanent relationship.

What is the time frame for each phase of the romantic relationship?

There is no set time limit for a relationship to run its course. There's no: "The attraction phase should be ten minutes and idealizationism, a couple of weeks." You've got to use your head and give it time. You have to make sure that you've been through each step, because sometimes idealization can last a long time. My co-author had a couple that met while one was living in Syracuse and one was living in New York City. They managed to marry without ever moving in together, and as he says, they're still idealizing each other, and that's terrific. For most of us, you have to understand that unless you have that moment where you really question the relationship, unless you've had that moment where you negotiate with your partner for boundaries, you're really not ready to make anything permanent.