The Five Stages of
Before you begin actually working on your relationship, you need to
start by understanding relationships in general. You have probably
heard couples say, "We knew the moment we saw each other across the
room that this was THE ONE and we have been happily married for 45
years." Although we all wish we could experience love this way, the
reality is that for most of us, relationships go through certain
stages. Relationships and marriages that evolve successfully
generally go through five phases of development: Honeymoon;
Accommodation; Challenge; Cross Roads; and Rebirth.
Phase 1: The Honeymoon (Love- ain't it great!)
This is the romantic, passionate, stars-in-the-eyes phase. The sex
is good and there is never enough of it. This doesn't happen for all
couples but as a rule, this strong attraction stage is laced with
thinking about and wanting to be with, your new love.
Phase 2: Accommodation (O.K, so love isn't perfect)
Even Romeo and Juliet had they been married, would have had to deal
with the day-to-day realities. In the Accommodation Stage roles are
established, expectations are set and compromises are made. It is
here that disillusionment sets in and power struggles become
evident. The other person's habits, needs, anger and withdrawal
patterns become uncomfortably clear. Intense conflict has the
potential for developing during this stage. It is most advantageous
to learn about problem solving, conflict management and
communication during this stage.
Phase 3: The Challenge (Trouble in paradise)
A couple doesn't really know how strong a relationship is until they
deal with the challenges that life brings. Whether it is starting a
new job, unemployment or the unfortunate occurrence of an accident
or family illness, we all face challenges in life. The Challenge
Stage lets the partners know what they can expect from each other
during these demanding times.
Children and family crises are important factors during this stage.
Each partner sets their own rules and expectations for raising
children and how extended family issues should be handled. The
challenge here is to be aware of this fact and find a successful
compromise in meeting each other's rules and expectations.
During the Challenge Phase there is a certain amount of
disillusionment. The relationship is not what it was dreamed to be
and one or both partners may be increasingly attracted to other
people of the opposite sex. Sometimes, there is fantasizing about
past loves. This is a time when the relationship is very vulnerable
to unfaithfulness. How couples deal with this phase will determine
the direction that it will take in the Crossroads Phase.
Phase 4: The Crossroads (What do I do at this stage of my life?)
Once couples reach this stage they have already experienced some
challenges (e.g. medical or money problems) and now other life
decisions will have to be made (e.g. to have children, where to
live, how to spend money). This stage is different from the
Challenge Phase because a number of challenges have already occurred
and the couple has learned how each other responds in these
situations. The emotional patterns of each are clear and they have
established patterns of dealing with their differences. It is common
for problems to arise in this stage, but because you have already
experienced a great many shared challenges, you stand the best
chance of working through these issues and getting to the Rebirth
Stage. The three most common negative patterns for individuals to
engage in during this stage are:
- Being resigned to sticking with
the bad decision of staying in the relationship;
- Emotional withdrawal;
- Trying to force the other person
into being different.
Phase 5: Rebirth (New
It is estimated that only 15% of all couples reach this stage.
At this point, folks have figured out "the real person" they
have married. To achieve it they will have successfully dealt
with the Accommodation, Challenge and Crossroads Stages. In this
phase, couples learn how and when to compromise and they truly
(not on the surface) accept areas of differences with minimum
resentment. In this stage couples learn to re-appreciate and
re-love each other and:
• Focus on what is right with each other;
• Give each other the benefit of the doubt in conflict
• Successfully manage and truly accept frustrations,
disappointments and hurts;
• Agree to disagree and fully value each other even if they are
totally unable to see things the same way;
• Have a give and take sexual relationship on a regular basis;
• Communicate in such a way they really listen to and hear each
• Can disagree with each other and be O.K with that;
• Recover from their disagreements within a short period of
• Constantly find things to appreciate about each other;
• Spend time relaxing and having fun on a weekly basis;
• Spend time talking about issues that come up in their
Four Ingredients in a Good Relationship
In working with many couples over the years, I have come to
recognize common themes that run through both the successful and
difficult relationships. There are four important factors in a
1. Feeling accepted;
2. Feeling as though your partner has influence over you;
3. Not telling your partner something she already knows;
4. Keeping judgments about the other person's issues or problems
to a minimum.
1. Feeling Accepted
People get married or make long-term commitments because they
want to feel accepted and validated and to feel good about
themselves. The guideline for all relationships is:
Relationships go well when partners are making each other feel
valued. Everything else flows from this core reality. When
one partner says something to make the other feel valued and
important it strengthens the relationship. In contrast, when one
partner says something negative and causes the other to feel
badly (regardless of small it may seem), it breaks down the
Action to take using this information: Keeping this in
mind, you can begin working on improving your relationship by
looking for things to say that will make your partner feel
valued. For example: "Mary, you are working hard at not yelling
when you talk to me;" or "Jack, I appreciate that you are
calling before you come over to the apartment." Look for
something that your partner is doing well and be positive about
it. The caution here is to be genuine and not patronizing.
Action to Avoid: Stay away from saying things that your
partner will hear as criticism.
The importance of looking for something positive about your
partner is a simple guideline you can consistently follow in
your journey towards rebuilding your relationship. This doesn't
mean you don't get upset or disagree, but that you communicate
these thoughts and feelings in a way that does not make your
partner feel devalued.
Fights and feeling accepted
A particularly vulnerable time for relationships can be during
disagreements and fights. These can occur because of different
points of view, something that one person forgets to do, or
actions that are annoying, offensive, or hurtful. While fighting
is an important part of a relationship it is also dangerous
because there is a strong possibility of saying hurtful things
that can make your partner feel devalued. To avoid this, the
conversation needs to focus on the specific issues at hand. It
is especially helpful if you find something positive to say
about your partner even though you are expressing disagreement.
The following examples state the area of disagreement but also
acknowledge your partner in some way: "I know you want our home
to look nice but I'm concerned about the expense;" or "I know
how important it is to you to have a nice car, but I'm upset
that it will put us into debt." People are different and their
priorities vary. The goal here is to discuss the differences and
be clear that while you do not agree with your partner's
priority, you respect it. You can disagree in an agreeable way.
In fact, some good relationships are characterized by an
on-going expression of differences. People in these
relationships often say, "We fight all the time. We need to
express ourselves and get our problems out in the open." The
success of these couples though is most likely due to the way
that their "fighting" is done.
To further explain how this can work I will take the story of
Mark and Anna, who are separated. When Mark comes to visit, he
sees Anna correcting the children and feels that she should
leave them alone. The best way for Mark to handle this would be
to say something such as, "It's hard for me to see you speaking
like that to Sally (their child), but I know you have your
reasons. I may not agree, but I do understand that's it
important to you." Yes, there can be trouble with this exchange,
but it will at least limit the conflict more than if Mark said,
"Why don't you just leave Sally alone?" That statement does not
allow for differences and does not acknowledge Anna's
perspective and causes even more distance between them.
2. Feeling As Though Your Partner Has Influence over You
As a marriage counselor I often
hear "She doesn't listen to me;" "She's going do what she wants
no matter what I say." All of us want to feel that we have
influence over our partner. This does not mean however, that our
partner has to do everything we want or agree with us on
everything. It does mean though, that we need to believe our
partner has heard us.
Having influence is especially important when a marriage is on
the verge of ending. We all need to feel that a great deal of
thought and weight is given to our perspective and that the
other person takes our opinions seriously. Letting your partner
know that you have given thought to your conversations can go a
long way. Statements such as, "I'm not sure what I'm going to
do, but I have been thinking a lot about what you said;" or
"Even though I don't agree with you I think you are right
about..." are much less likely to produce negative feelings in
your partner. These statements don't mean you completely agree,
but that you have given thought to your partner's opinions and
ideas, they are important to you, and you have spent some time
thinking about them.
3. Not Telling Your Partner Something He Already Knows
It is essential to understand that when you are frustrated or
angry about an issue and repeat to your "meaningful other"
something he already knows, it will have a negative effect on
the relationship. Men in particular often experience this as
nagging. For example, restating the obvious with statements such
as, "You have to do your taxes or you'll be in trouble;" or "I
told you we are lost, why didn't you ask for directions?" will
often result in a counter attack or withdrawal into angry
To help avoid these types of responses it is most important that
you deal with your own feelings of frustration. A statement
about your feelings and reactions rather than an accusatory
statement is the ideal way to communicate this information.
Let's go back to the statement, "You have to pay your taxes."
This might be heard more positively by saying, "Do you want me
to help you get some of your receipts together?" or "Do you want
me to remind you about the deadline date with the taxes?"
An attempt to help with the solution rather than saying
something that could be perceived as a criticism gives the other
person some control over future communications about the taxes.
The more options people feel they have the less defensive or
angry their response is likely to be.
4. Keeping Judgments to a Minimum
Another key element in making relationships work is having
verbal exchanges that are non-judgmental. When we were growing
up we often heard judgmental types of message from our parents.
They would say things such as: "Don't be lazy, do your
homework;" or "What's wrong with you, can't you listen to
anything I say?" It's easy, if not natural, to pick up habits
based on our childhood experiences and often, we don't even
realize that we are being judgmental.
Judgmental types of communication are also triggered when one
partner is feeling hurt or angry. When we feel that our
significant other is negatively judging us, we feel diminished
and devalued and the result is a defensive or passive-aggressive
response. We also stop listening and the argument and bad
feelings are no longer about the original subject of discussion
but are about "ego repair." We actually become focused on trying
to feel better about ourselves. These are the difficult times
because negative statements cannot be taken back, even if we
make an apology. It can take a great deal of repair work to fix
the damage done by disparaging ego statements.
Ego repair can be an extremely difficult task and the offenders
will have their work cut out for them. They will need to modify
their behavior or their partners will continue to respond in a
negative manner and feel emotionally damaged as well. It can
also be difficult for those who have been offended. They are the
injured party and yet if they say something hurtful in return,
they too are now responsible to do some ego repair. The offended
partners are in a real bind; they are the ones who have been
injured and yet cannot sit back and do nothing.
Now that you have some basic information about relationships, it
is time to start your journey toward the ultimate goal - the
"Rebirth Stage." Be mindful though, that it is not about
"fixing" things so your relationship returns to where it used to
be. It is about creating something far better; a relationship
full of trust, security and passion and ultimately, a deeper
Dr. Marty Tashman has been in
practice for over 30 years. He believes that combining compassion
and common sense with formal training and experience is the most
effective way to help a couple deals with challenges they are
facing. Marty tells his clients that therapy should help change come
about during the very first session. Of course, problems are not
solved immediately, but every meeting should bring the couple to
learning how to become closer to each other. Relationships can be
"fixed", if both partners want things to work they have taken an
important step towards being a couple.
Dr. Marty holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology; he is a licensed
Marriage Counselor, and a certified Social Worker. He holds a
master's degree in Counseling. He specializes in short term marriage
counseling. Dr. Marty also works with couples where one partner is
struggling with addiction.
Dr.Marty can be reached at: (732) 246-8484 or
He can be visited at: