In 20 years of working with couples and individuals on emotional fitness and healthy relationships, I’ve discovered that most couples have no idea what they are getting into when they marry. This is thanks to our society, which emphasizes the Hollywood version, and leaves couples to their own devices once they say ‘I do’.
We know how well that worked out! You may be surprised to know that the majority of divorces occur by year five, often due to fantastical expectations clashing with reality.
My husband and I were in the same boat: when we got married 30 years ago, we didn’t have a clue how to be good partners to each other.
Spoiler alert: Dave and I were able to figure it out and are now having a blast and you can too!
It turns out that there are predictable stages in relationships that every couple goes through. The first is the honeymoon phase, where mother nature intoxicates couples with love chemicals such as domapine, adrenalin and oxytocin. In their euphoria they hyper-magnify each other’s best qualities. Their relationship is the most magical ever! As they drift along on in their bubble, everything and everyone else receeds into the background. This is a glorious phase and is really important because it bonds the couple together. Sadly the honeymoon phase is only temporary as it’s based on fantasy- the couple each put their best foot forward and don’t share what their needs are. There’s no effort required to keep it going as the couple ‘falls’ in love and their intense energy and focus on each other is fuelled by ‘love potion #9’
The next phase is the disillusionment phase, where the couple moves past fantasyland and begins to see the flaws in each other. This occurs in every couple relationship, either slowly or suddenly and comes as quite a shock.
Although it sounds like something negative, it’s actually a good thing. In order to move forward to the eventual bliss phase, all couples must resolve this phase. In order to truly love someone there needs to be emotional intimacy (in-to-me-you-see) and that’s not possible unless you know the person warts and all.
Things that you found cute in the past are now annoying. Qualities that you previously valued, like organization, are now seen as nit-picking. Differences become magnified and the couple starts to feel like they have nothing in common.
This can be a time of great anxiety and confusion for a couple.
Adjusting to the fact that they are two unique individuals with different perspectives and ways of doing things can be a huge challenge, and there’s a tendency to take everything personally. Both partners often feel like they are no longer accepted unconditionally. Daily life gets in the way of them catering to each other, and balancing their individual needs with their needs as a couple becomes a challenge.
Not only is our partner not the person we thought they were, but marriage isn’t either. Couples who have the idea that their partner and marriage itself are going to make them happy and take away their lonliness forever are doubly disillusioned.
Although essential to moving forward, the disillusionment phase is the most dangerous time for a couple. They now have to decide whether to split up, soldier on and pretend that everything is ok, or embrace each other’s differences and work together to create a deeper, more satisfying relationship.
Unfortunately, most people never get there….often through lack of awareness that this is a predictable phase and the lack of skills to navigate it
Ok so how do you navigate the disillusionment phase?
- Accept that this is a normal, predictable and essential phase of every relationship
- Be willing to embrace your differences rather than trying to make your partner be like you
- Let go of your demand that things be the way you thought they would be
- Exchange your expectations for appreciation of your partner.
- Commit to seeing things from your partner’s point of view
As human beings, we are biologically wired to focus on the negative. We have to take deliberate efforts to focus on what we like. Make the decision to find things to appreciate about your partner-magnify the good and minimize what you don’t like. This will make you feel better about them and will in turn allow your partner to feel better about themselves. Don’t demand that your partner do this as well. One person making this change of attitude can change everything. One way to increase your appreciation is to create a ‘partner appreciation journal.’ Fill it up with all the things you like and love about your partner and read it every day and add to it every day.
By developing the habit of appreciating what you love about your partner, your loving feelings for them will heighten and they will feel it too. This will allow you to create a new reality- one that you co-create together to have the relationship you dream of.