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Where Are You on Love's Map? Exploring the Stages of Your Relationship


Remember the butterflies fluttering in your stomach as you scribbled names in class? Perhaps "F.L.A.M.E.S.," that silly high school game of chance and crushes, fueled your daydreams. For me, it's a gateway to a time capsule packed with love's first awkward encounters. A game where you wrote your crush's name and yours, crossed out matching letters and used the leftovers to predict your destiny? That's FLAMES! The remaining letter tells your fate: F is friend, L is lover, A is affection, M is marriage, E is enemy (boo!), and S is sibling.


"Flames" brought laughs in high school, but adult love demands nuance. It's not about labels, but self-awareness. Let's explore diverse romantic stages, understanding our unique relationship landscapes. Whether or not it resonates, navigating love, feelings, and relationships can be tricky, and that's perfectly okay.


The 5 stages of romantic relationships:


These 5 stages were identified by Susan Campbell during a study of hundreds of couples. We typically progress forward but it is also possible for couples to revert back and forth between these stages. It is also very important to note that not all relationships can relate to this model. It can vary significantly depending on culture or type of relationship like monogamous, polyamorous, open etc.


Honeymoon phase


Also known as ‘Limerence’, the romantic phase or the drug addiction phase. Ever felt head over heels in love? Ever felt a thousand butterflies fluttering in your stomach as you think of a person? This is the first stage most romantic relationships go through. During this phase, euphoria envelops us, fixating on their positives while brushing aside flaws. Our minds weave fantasies of a shared future, idealizing every aspect of them.


This enchanting phase typically spans two months to two years. Fueled by oxytocin and dopamine, our brains induce feelings of love and bliss, blurring our partner's flaws from sight. A potent sexual attraction adds to the intensity. However, when reality sets in and dreams face challenges, this phase concludes. Some part ways, discovering recurring issues in subsequent relationships, while others navigate toward the power struggle stage.


The Power Struggle


In this stage, also known as the love hangover, we start to realize that "you're not who I thought you were" or "we're not who we thought we were". We begin to concentrate on the flaws and differences of our partner. This stage is characterized by differentiation- seeing oneself as distinct within a relationship. Some of us turn into artisans trying to mold the other into the versions that we had on our mind. Others try to turn into goons and try to achieve their goals through threat, force, manipulation, or dominance. Unconsciously, the power struggle becomes a way to hurt the other person as a form of payback for the disappointments we've experienced in the relationship.


Are you thinking of how to survive this stage? Well, there are ways in which we can try to and they are:

-Acknowledge the differences

-Learn to share power

-Look at each other as free and unique beings

-Work on the acceptance of your partner without needing to change them

-Learn to manage conflict and see it as an opportunity for growth.


Definitely sounds like a bumpy ride, isn't it ? Once you survive this stage, you move on to the stability stage- a stage of homeostasis as I would like to call it.


Stability


In this stage, we finally put our swords down, both in words and actions. It's a time of mutual respect and acceptance, realizing we can't change each other, and that's okay. There's a calm, a break from the struggles. A period of relative peace follows, where we learn to balance intimacy and independence.  In conflicts, winning means ensuring both the partners feel respected, heard, and loved.


But there's a catch. We risk getting too comfy in this calm and falling into boredom. To keep things exciting, we need to step out of our comfort zones, try new things together, and face challenges as a team. One way to keep growing would be to create new shared experiences e.g. travelling together, trying new things together, facing challenges together etc.


The commitment stage


This is the stage where we imagine people getting married but it isn't so. It is the ideal time to marry but most people marry during the romance stage, when they are infatuated and unable to deal with the differences and difficulty and hence entering the power struggle stage.


In the commitment stage, you completely accept that both you and your partner are flawed human beings and that your relationship has shortcomings as a result. A lovely harmony of love, belonging, joy, power, and freedom is what you experience at this stage but there is always a catch isn't? Well, it is that you might actually think that the work together is done. While on an individual level, this might be fairly accurate, however, your work as a couple is only just beginning. Another trap you might find yourself in is being lazy to maintain your emotional connection or forgetting your own personal goals by spending too much time together.


The bliss or co-creation stage


In this stage, couples broaden their focus beyond their relationship, engaging in shared projects like a business, charity, or raising a child with the intention of contributing to the world. However, it's crucial not to forget to nurture the relationship amidst external pursuits. As you progress through these stages, growing both individually and as a couple, it's essential to remember that the journey is not always linear. Finding a life partner is thrilling yet formidable, marked by continuous growth and challenges.



Food for thought : Divorce rates in India have jumped by 50-60%, mirroring the 50% average in the U.S. One key culprit is the "power struggle stage," where couples grapple with conflicts and trust issues. If you've ever found yourself stuck here, breaking free involves learning to handle conflicts, rebuilding trust, and accepting each other's imperfections. It's not about the stats; it's about dancing through challenges hand in hand, creating a unique love story with steps of communication, trust, and acceptance.

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