Archive for September, 2010

Marriage: The Stages and How to Cope

    My husband and I have an anniversary coming up soon. It will be our 27th! My parent’s celebrated their 61st anniversary this year, wow. In our local newspaper they list anniversaries under the celebrations category including those couples who have celebrated 25th, 50th, 60th and more. It is a time of celebration to mark those milestones in ones relationship with their partner. Many couples married this year for the 1st time. It is a very exciting event for the couple. All the planning and expectations of sharing their lives together. Although all marital unions are not created equal-they all go through some predictable stages. According to, Rita DeMaria, PhD, a marriage and family therapist and author of The 7 Stages of Marriage, the timing may differ, and the way a couple manages the phase they’re in varies widely but understanding the stages gives you the tools you need to move through with your loving union intact. Below are the list of the stages and some of the challenges that go with that stage:

  • HONEYMOON STAGE:   The first year or two is a passion-filled period that all about the two of you and your intense focus on the excitement and romance of the relationship. Differences seem relatively unimportant as the focus is on discovering each other and sharing life together. Usually you cannot get enough of each other sexually. At this stage, we love the way our partner makes us feel as much as we love him or her. 
  •  Challenges At This Stage: Learning to live as a couple and share decision making together. Many times this is the first time that decisions affect  someone other than yourself. Should you invest in a home, car, or travel? What are the expectations concerning your careers or educations? How will you handle financial matters? What about extended family (parents and in-laws)? Many couples feel that their love for each other will automatically determine the answers to these questions and many are “caught” off guard when discussions turn into arguments in hearing the other’s viewpoint. 

 

  • REALITY STAGE:  In this stage couples are learning more about themselves and each other in situations they haven’t faced together before. You may learn things that you might not have known about your spouse’s strengths, weaknesses and personal habits. Power struggles can arise as the two of you work towards both shared and separate goals. Working together as a team should be the focus of this stage. In this stage couples may discuss having children. Many couples feel that the “Spark” has left their marriage and interpret this to mean that one of the partners has fallen “out of love”. They may decide that bringing children into the marriage at this time, may help reignite that spark. In actuality, euphoria is replaced by more solid emotions like trust, respect, empathy and admiration. The highs aren’t as high and the lows aren’t as low; the relationship becomes more stable, predictable and dependable.    
  •   Challenges At This Stage:  There may be feelings of disappointment, aloneness along with a “let down” as reality sets in. This is marriage’s                 vulnerable stage. It’s a time when a woman can go from feeling cherished to being taken for granted and when a man can go from feeling admired to     be belittled. Reality and a wide range of roles and responsibilities start to impose upon the lust and love. This is the stage that you need to establish open communication. Set time aside each day, either in the mornings or evenings, where you just check in with each other and talk about your day. If regular open communication is not established during this stage, years later you may wake up lying next to a stranger in bed wondering how you grew so far apart. It is also in this stage that marriage counseling can have the most benefit for the couple instead of trying to ignore the problems and differences until they reach a point that some of the damage is irreversible.

 

  •  FAMILY CENTRAL:  This stage is often referred to as “the meat of marriage”. Most of the years spent in this stage consist of raising their families, buying a home, building and/or changing careers and trying to hold together a crazy, busy, modern life. This period of time is also another danger zone, due to the shifting of demands and responsibilities. The stress level is usually the highest in this stage. It’s very difficult to keep sufficient focus on the marriage relationship with the attention that kids demand and other stressors in the relationship, but it is important to do so. This is also the time period that many couples become disappointed and disillusioned to the “Ground Hog Day” type of routine. Partners may begin having an affair, or worse yet, asking for a divorce due to the lack of focus on the marriage. 
  •  Challenges at This Stage: Not losing sight of your partnership in the swirl of demands on your time and energy. Now is the time to pay close                 attention to your marriage. Give yourselves time to communicate without distractions. Plan a regular date night when just the two of you share regular   time together. Plan a getaway weekend to reconnect without all the stresses of the outside world. Open, honest and sensitive communication is the         key to surviving this stage of the marriage. If the same issues continue to arise and one or both of you are feeling frustrated, couples counseling can be   very helpful in this stage to help you get unstuck.

 

  • STILL IN LOVE;  This is the stage when you now have adult children and there is more time to focus on the two of you. During this stage there is a reconnecting with getting to know each other all over again. There are still disagreements but rather than hold onto the anger, partners choose to forgive and trust. We easily learn to live the lesson of mature and lasting love.
  •  Challenges at This Stage: Focusing on the two of you and having time to spend together may be a struggle for some couples. Focusing their energies  on the children, careers, and other life stressors for so many years may be a huge adjustment for many couples. Without consistent, open                            communication throughout the marriage, your partner may feel like a stranger. It is during this time that couples need to focus their time on doing          things together, such as a new activity or travel, as well as spending time apart, pursuing individual goals and dreams. You can rescue a marriage            that’s been ignored for a long time, but it will take work, so seek out professional counseling. 

 

  • “TILL DEATH DO YOU PART.”:  This stage is also referred to as the completion stage. You have enjoyed the lust, lived the love and come through the chaos of family life- without splitting up in the face of troubles. You still enjoy being together and are committed to each other for the rest of your lives. 
  •  Challenges at This Stage:  Many couples in this stage are totally committed to each other. Health issues may be a primary concern at this stage.           You may have dreamed of the freedom to travel and do what you want, but one or the other partner is unable to do so because of health concerns.               There may be added financial stress due to living on a fixed income and the current recession. Changes in lifestyle such as living arraignments may         be a source of stress and adjustments. 

At any time during you marriage you may experience unexpected life stressors that can interrupt the forward motion of your life together, such as fertility issues, a death in the family, a major illness or the loss of a job that leads to serious financial strains. Seeking support  during those times is very important. You may seek advice from friends, family members, religious counselors or professional therapist.

Lory Naugle, MS, NCC, DCC is a professional counselor in private practice in Shippensburg, PA. She sees client’s in her office but is also able to provide counseling by distance means such as email, chat, and Skype.

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