We are spending a few weeks looking at relationships, stopping last week at the infatuating effect of romantic love. The world is awash with poems, songs and movies about this uncontrollable, unconscious, head-over-heels phase of love, most of which lead us to believe that it is supposed to be easy and last forever.
If we are really “in love” our relationship will be effortless; in other words, I don’t have to put in any effort!
But no, as we saw in last week’s blog, a fundamental principle of love is that, even in healthy relationships, romantic love simply does not last forever.
A second fundamental principle about love that we will unpack today is that all relationships go through predictable stages.
The power struggle:
When the effects of the romantic love phase starts to fade, the next phase is the power struggle.
As the chemical rush of bonding hormones in your brain starts to subside, the same things that initially excited and attracted you will start pushing your buttons. Something like, “Wow, she is so adventurous!” in the romantic love phase slowly becomes, “Why can she never sit still and just relax‽”
Typically, what attracted you in the romantic phase becomes the irritant in the struggle phase.
When one or both partners decide that they just can’t handle the irritation anymore, it can lead to disconnection or a new phase of honesty and deepening of relationship. However, disconnection doesn't always lead to a breakup or divorce.
The couple can also exit the relationship while remaining in it by shifting their focus, attention and emotional energy into something outside of the relationship.
This exit is not always an affair with another person. It can also be with a job, a hobby, other platonic (at least initially) relationships — even with the church.
A sad reality is that many couples will remain in this power struggle phase for a long time. They may not be happy or connected, but they cope. They settle for the idea that their partner will never “get” them, and that they will never get their needs met. They are basically living a parallel, lonely life with their partner. A life of invisible divorce.
At this point you can think about the relationship like a tennis game, where both players have been playing the game from the baseline up to this point.
If one of the players makes the choice to change the pattern of the game and move to the net, the dynamic of the whole game will change.
Even if only one partner becomes aware and starts playing a different pattern of “tennis”, the whole dynamic of the relationship can change.
At this point the couple is faced with a choice; to change the dynamic and fight for the relationship or to go their separate ways. This choice becomes a watershed moment in the relationship. If they choose the former, they start moving out of the unconscious, instinctive, reactive survival dance and take meaningful steps towards a deeper, lasting connection.
A conscious relationship through awareness and intentionality
When we choose connection, we have to become aware of why we are so sensitive to certain issues and behaviours in the relationship. And if we are aware, our natural instinct will still be to move into our default fight or flight reaction when conflict comes up.
When we choose connection, conflict becomes an opportunity to do unnatural things on purpose to draw closer, to understand better and to love intentionally.
When you show up with awareness and intentionality, romantic love can be rekindled into something much stronger: true love.
CONSIDER / TAKE ACTION
You can not control the way your partner shows up in a relationship, but you can control how you show up. And when you change the way that you play the game, your partner is invited to move to that new, intentional space with you.
To take control of how you play the game, start by answering this question: What kind of partner / spouse do I want to be?
If you want to dig deeper into this topic and get a better understanding of your relationship, you can buy access to the recordings of the Relationship Masterclass series that covers this content in more depth.