The first six months are magical. There are flowers, candy and hundreds of emoji-filled texts that are all promptly read and reciprocated. When you end a romantic evening, you go your separate ways only to rush home and Facetime one another.
You eat off each other’s plate, wipe each other’s mouths and walk down the street with your hands in each other’s back pocket. You have become THAT couple but you are oblivious to what others think.
You’re in love.
And you now have the confidence in this new relationship to change your Facebook status from “single” to “In a relationship,” and to post cute pics on Instagram with “#couplegoals” as the caption. And that seals the deal. It is official. You are in a genuine adult relationship.
Life is good.
You are happy.
And then you break up.
Why good goes bad
Most dating relationships fizzle around the 18-month time frame and the breakup occurs before the two-year mark. During that time, you slowly go from hot and heavy to “meh” and the feelings associated with being in love–the butterflies and the longing–dissipate. You and your mate begin to wonder if you’ve found “the one.”
If you’re married, you’ve probably heard of the “seven-year itch.” That’s the time when psychology experts believed a marriage is at its most vulnerable. But new research shows that marriages are actually more susceptible to demise far sooner. New studies show that marriages begin to falter around year three— earning the handle “three-year glitch.” And most first-year marriages that end in divorce do so within the first three-and-a-half to five years.
After year three, you’ve probably seen your partner at their absolute worst–physically and emotionally. You’ve seen some things that you don’t particularly care for–and so have they.
You are left with the reality that your mate is flawed and a little crazy.
The honeymoon is officially over.
The feelings of being “in love” are waning. The passion is gone. Your days are bland. And sex has dwindled to the occasional, routine, uninspired and mediocre romp.
So how do you avoid splitting up?
It’s just a phase
The first thing a couple seeking a viable, long-term relationship must understand is that infatuation and love are not the same. Infatuation is the feeling. Love is the action.
Infatuation is the feelings associated with new love–butterflies, extreme longing, giddiness and the lack of objectivity. It is wonderfully intoxicating to be infatuated with someone. The problem with infatuation is that it is a feeling. And feelings change.
Love, on the other hand, has nothing to do with feelings. Love is a commitment to doing whatever it takes to make a relationship work. Including staying committed and faithful during the “down times” of the relationship.
The second and crucial thing you have to understand and embrace is that every relationship goes through a series of phases. And in order to maintain a long, happy and viable relationship you have to endure all of the phases.
You’ve got to enjoy the good and survive the bad.
Below are the five phases every relationship must endure:
This is the honeymoon stage. It is filled with lots of kisses and touching each other for no particular reason. It is when you are completely taken by your mate and are blind to his or her flaws. You are on your best behavior, take extra time getting ready and use your “A” material. It is the easiest of the five phases to endure and it is very intense.
This is still within the infatuation or honeymoon stage. You are still blinded by love but have the clarity to see that this relationship has long-term potential. This is when the relationship becomes exclusive and you begin making long-term plans with your partner.
You are hot and heavy and can’t seem to get enough of each other.
There is still lots of hand-holding, cuddling and you give each other meaningful nicknames. You begin to share yourself more intimately with your mate.
Stage three is when the relationship becomes real. The blinders are off and you begin to see your mate for who he/she really is. Physical touch–hand-holding, kissing and other forms of physical intimacy–maybe starting to slow down a bit. The butterflies are gone and your mate is not as cute as they once were.
The hardest part about stage three is that you both begin to question the relationship.
4. Team Building
Once you’ve chosen to move past stage four and to stick with the relationship, you develop a deep and intimate bond. This is the time when couples really begin to merge their lives. Serious discussions concerning marriage, kids and finances ensue and plans are made to move the couple forward as a unit.
A partnership has formed.
Many couples make it to this phase experience a long, healthy and productive life together.
But there is one more phase…
5. True Love
Stage five of the relationship is when the couple becomes a solid team. The relationship moves past “me and you” decision-making and the team becomes more important than the individuals. It requires selfless acts of sacrifice, extreme levels of endurance and doing whatever it takes to make the union work.
This is the part of a relationship everyone longs for but few reach. It’s the true love phase.
It’s when the couple has its best chance of making it to “happily-ever-after.”
That’s not to say that there will not be challenges, hardships and bumps in the road. But it does mean that both parties are committed to staying and making the relationship work–no matter what.
It the place of full acceptance and unconditional love.
Stuck in stage three
Most relationships that end do so somewhere within stage three. Other relationships can last for years and never make it out of stage three, but the relationship is not healthy and neither partner is fulfilled.
The first thing you must understand when you began to feel disillusioned is that feelings don’t sustain a relationship. Feelings are unreliable because they vary and are subject to moods and external factors.
Think of when a family celebrates the arrival of a newborn. At first, all of the attention is on the new addition and everything is sweet and cute. After a few months of dirty diapers, spit up and random crying the initial excitement passes but the parents still deeply love the child.
Romantic relationships function this way as well. It’s the struggling process that helps both partners grow and this process also helps the relationship grow into something better, something that will last.
Struggle and hardships are the glue and strengthening agents of the relationship, not the good times.
Giving up at Stage 3 is like declaring a patient dead while there is still a pulse.
The second thing you must understand is the duration of each stage is different for every couple. For some couples, the honeymoon stage may last for years and for others a few months.
The important thing to note is the length of the stage has no correlation to the viability of the relationship.
The third thing to remember is when you reach stage three, you determine how long it will last. Getting out of stage three requires you to make a decision. You must decide that your relationship is worth it and you must choose to go all in.
Here are a few things you can do to get past stage 3:
Recognize that questioning your relationship is normal and necessary.
Allow yourself time to assess whether or not your concerns are simply connected to a loss of passion or if you have legitimate concerns about your partner and the relationship.
Share your concerns with your partner.
Saying something as simple as “I feel that we’ve lost the romance and passion we once had,” could be the jolt the relationship needs. It can initiate a healthy dialogue and assist you both in actively addressing your concerns.
Sharing your concerns and seeking advice from others during this time is normal and acceptable, just be careful who you listen to.
Make a decision and then put in the work.
Once you decide that the relationship is viable–do something about it. Don’t make your decision and then hope things will get better. Actively work to improve and enhance your relationship.
Try new things. Do things your partner likes to do. Be romantic on purpose. Relationships take heaps of effort. It’s time to put in the work.
All relationships take time, energy and targeted intentional effort. It doesn’t matter how “lovey-dovey” cute and cuddly you are in the beginning. The honeymoon will end. And when it does you must work in order to make it last. Stage three doesn’t have to be the death of your relationship.
You control whether your relationship lives or dies.