Every year seasons change. From winter to spring, summer and then fall. Each year the process repeats. Of course, each year each season presents its own unique differences and challenges. One winter can be extremely mild. Anyone ever worn shorts at Christmas? The very next winter can be bitter and long producing severe ice storms and longings for an early spring. Rest assured–every year there will be a winter.
As you live and love and grow in your relationship (let’s talk specifically about spouses in this one), you will move through different stages. One stage can last for months or even years. Expect to re-visit these stages as your life changes, as well.
Stage One – New Love
New Love is easy. Conflicts may arise, but forgiveness is easily given. You are careful to watch what you say and not to offend. You are learning each other: emotionally, sexually,and intellectually. Usually, it’s all good. Both partners are on the same page.
Stage Two – Power Struggle
You have a few years under your belt. As a couple, you are trying to decide who is really in charge. Mind sets change from being careful to speaking your mind. “Hey, let me be me.” “I have been doing this and handling that before I even met you.” From parenting to paying the bills, from which church or religion, from new or used car there is a power struggle. Who is driving this marriage?
The reality of love and your partner sets in. No one is perfect and it is painfully obvious. Maybe your spouse is not who you thought they were (and you are not the perfect person either). You may have unrealized expectations, too. Be careful in this stage of thinking that you just picked the wrong person. If you find a new person, you will eventually move from New Love to Power Struggles and the same old issues will appear with the new person.
Stage Three – Self Realization
In a marriage, the two shall become one. Become. I heard this message from a well-known evangelist. Becoming takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Each person in the union is still an individual– with their own interests, goals, fears, and ambitions. In this stage, you realize that you cannot “fix” your spouse (you can work on yourself!) and the awareness that this union will take work. It will not be easy or pleasant all the time, but you can survive.
Stage Four – Renewed Intimacy
Surviving each of these stages will be easier once you realize that you will survive. When you are going through the trials of restoring intimacy, trusting, rejoicing, respecting, honoring, grieving, sharing, and co-habitating it can seem endless. Take a breath. Be humble. Learn to give and take criticism. Renewed Intimacy will feel like New Love only better. Both you and your partner are more emotionally and spiritually mature after completing the first three stages.
As you move through the four stages of taking your relationship to the next level, do a review of “You.”
You carry yourself and your “baggage” with you–everywhere. Every conversation with your spouse, every decision, every response (positive and negative) is influenced by the “bag” hanging on your back. Realize that you bear the responsibility of carrying your backpack. It is NOT your spouse’s responsibility to carry your “baggage” –they have their own pack!
Clean out your backpack. Some issues to review that may be making your backpack unbearably heavy include: Past relationships, Past Hurts, Hot Buttons, Secrets and Personal Character Flaws. Take an honest look at who you are. Find a good counselor, if necessary and begin to clean that backpack–as often as it needs cleaning.
To move to the next level you will have to do some climbing. As you progress from stage to stage you will come to a landing–somewhere to stop and catch your breath. Climbing can be trying and tiring, but the view from the top is worth the struggle!