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December 2010

By Sandy Plone, Ph.D.

Is what happens in marriages predictable?

Many therapists and observers of relationships believe it is and that couples familiar with the pitfalls ahead will be better able to navigate some of the problems encountered at different stages of their relationship.

An article by Michele Weiner-Davis (Parade Magazine, March 2002) not only delineates five separate stages of marriage, but offers “survival tips” to help couples handle the expected difficulties:

STAGE ONE: Passion prevails.
      When couples are deeply in love early in a relationship, they tend to overlook differences; physical desire is usually at its strongest peak, and the euphoric state may hasten the decision to marry.

Survival tip: Enjoy the magic, but when the euphoria starts to fade, remember that doesn’t mean the marriage is failing.

STAGE TWO: What was I thinking?
      When reality sets in, differences may become more obvious, while sexual attraction may be weakening. This may also be a time when decisions need to be made that are life changing, such as who will support the family should they decide to have children, or where will they live. Second marriages may face the added task of blending families, replete with their own complexities.

Survival tip: Staying connected during this stage is paramount, and that includes making sex a priority. Most important is knowing that conflicts are predictable in any long-term relationship, but not necessarily fatal. Seeking help at this juncture, such as couples counseling for conflict-resolution and communicating effectively are good preventative measures.

STAGE THREE: You change!
     Couples may spend the next few years trying to get each other to change; they may seek affairs, or even contemplate divorce. Those who do maintain the marriage because of deeply held values, financial considerations, or ages of their children might resign themselves to unhappy marriages.
Survival tip: This is the time to seek professional help; all marriages have difficult times, and marital therapy can help.

STAGE FOUR: That’s just the way (s)he is.
     Couples at this stage accept the inevitable differences, and find ways to live more peacefully, becoming more forgiving of each other and realizing their own foibles. Fighting often diminishes at this stage, especially if they have learned effective means of communicating with each other.

Survival tip: this is the time to practice the “Three T’s”: Talk, Time together, Touch.

STAGE FIVE: Together, at last.
     Couples now have a shared history, and a sense of accomplishment at the marital longevity. They may appreciate rather than fear differences, and as children get older and there is more time to reconnect, opportunities for growth together can be invigorating for relationships.

Survival Tip: This is the time to keep yourself healthy and active, to enjoy the relationship you have created and supported over the years—congratulations!

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