Kenya Association of Professional Counsellors

Higher Diploma in Counselling Studies, 2011-2012

Question:

With reference to relevant literature, give an evaluative account of your personal experience on any psychological issue of self and relationship.

Title:

“The Stages and Progression of a Close and Romantic Relationship – my experience in relation to literature”

Facilitators:

Beatrice Otieno

Briggid Muisyo

Student:

Albert Muraya

Due Date:

15th September 2011

Submission Date:

30th April 2012

Words:

3381

Copy:

Final Copy

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PAGE

Introduction....................................................................................................................... 3

Stages of Relationships ..................................................................................................... 3

The Honeymoon ................................................................................................................ 4

Discovery............................................................................................................................ 5

The Commitment .............................................................................................................. 7

The Power Struggle........................................................................................................... 8

Tracks I and II ................................................................................................................ 10

Growth and Anger......................................................................................................... 10 Honeymoon and Peace.................................................................................................. 12 The Child ......................................................................................................................... 13

Conclusion ....................................................................................................................... 15

References ........................................................................................................................ 16

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Introduction This paper is about my experience in initiating and conducting a romantic relationship that progressed to a formal engagement with a view to getting married. I will first examine what literature says about such relationships and then compare my own experience. I will look at the genesis and nature of each stage for its character and peculiarities and map my own experience against it.

My definition for romantic relationship is ‘long-term relationship’. This is a conscious, willing partnership between a man and a woman with a view to getting married and sharing a life together. The relationship I will describe therefore is heterosexual, consensual and from a Christian perspective; it was celibate, monogamous and churchsanctioned.

Stages of Relationships Rinata Paries (www.lovecoachblog.com/the-eight-stages-of-relationships/) lays out eight stages that all relationships go through as they mature and develop, namely, the honeymoon, discovery, commitment, the power struggle, growth (or anger), second honeymoon or peace at a price (war and peace), the “child”, and finally life crisis. Other writers have mirrored these stages with Susan Campbell (1980) condensing them to five – romance, power struggle, stability, commitment, co-creation whilst Don Carter (www.internet-of-the-mind.com/relationship_stages.html), quoting John Bradshaw,

categorises them as infatuation, disillusionment and conflict, differentiation and intimacy.

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In all cases there is a view of relationships as dynamic processes that progress from one level of intimacy and knowledge to another with changing needs and motivators.

From a theoretical stand point these stages blend into one another; there is a possibility of going back and forth through them. The individuals in the relationship will advance through the stages at different paces creating imbalances in the relationship, which call for understanding and patience from the more mature partner. The Honeymoon This is a time of blissful happiness where all things seem possible, where there are no limitations to the relationship. It a stage whose primary motivators are the possibility of getting each others needs met fuelled by hormonal changes with the neurotransmitters dopamine, testosterone for men and oestrogen for women playing a leading role. Campbell (1980) notes that we see in the other what we want to see and reciprocate the same by being at our best behaviour. The couple does things to please each other as this is the stage in which the best possibilities of the future are built. There is a tendency to idealise the other person and believe that they can do no wrong; their faults and imperfections are over-looked.

This time in the growing relationship is characterised by a lack of honesty and forthrightness, the partners are unwilling to be assertive and the boundaries between them are very fluid. Bradshaw (1994) points out that there is healthy co-dependence between them in that there is a mutually agreed reliance as the two merge. This is not sustainable,

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though its value is in helping the couple build a shared vision of what the relationship promises.

My experience was slightly different from the theory put forward. Whilst I was attracted to my fiancée I would not say that I was head-over-heals in love; I was not infatuated. I shared a deep Christian faith with my fiancée and had met in the context of a discipleship programme in which she was my facilitator. We did go through a period of obsessive contact though I remember it as not being as emotionally charged as I had experienced with two previous relationships. We spent many hours talking on the phone and once all night in my car outside her house. There was a period of gamesmanship where we were coy and circumspect about our intentions, but from the beginning we were sure of two things – this was to be a celibate relationship until marriage, and that it was ultimately to lead to marriage. At the beginning she was everything I could have asked for in a woman - intelligent, loving, giving, humorous, ambitious, meticulous, engaging, and so beautiful. We shared an abiding faith and much of our time was spent establishing our shared values. This set the stage for the next phase which is “discovery”. Discovery According to Paries (www.getrelationshipsright.com/the-eight-stages-of-relationships/) this next stage happens three to six months into the relationship where the sheen begins to wear off. As you become used to each other, the initial excitement tones down and realism sets in. Certain realities about ones partner begin to become apparent and the need for boundaries becomes clear; areas of differences and even incompatibilities are established The partners are faced with choices about whether to proceed with the

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relationship or not. Love has an opportunity to deepen through mutual respect and the stage is set for true intimacy; at this point there is early confirmation that one has made the right choice.

Speaking for myself and with hindsight, there were early signs that all was not well. First my fiancée was very headstrong and forward, and prided herself in being a leader. Yet she also ascribed to a traditional Christian role of ‘submissive’ wife who willingly played second fiddle to her husband. This was to set the stage for later conflict. However as we began to know each other more intimately, the reality of each others flaws were not enough to turn us off each other; on the contrary they allowed us to appreciate each others strengths even more, or so we told ourselves. I had misgivings about her extravagance and justifications of the same; these were interspersed with a tendency to wishful thinking by her about how provision would be made available by faith.

This provided the most dynamic element of our relationship – our shared faith. When we met her intimacy with God was much more developed and she based her lifestyle choices to a greater degree than I did on her beliefs. I was to be influenced greatly by this and found it a source of great attraction to her. However there was a period of adjustment as I had to make a deliberate effort to base my own decisions on the same values as hers; I found I lagged behind her and leadership in matters spiritual set the scene for conflict and struggle for influence and power.

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The Commitment According to Paries (www.getrelationshipsright.com/the-eight-stages-of-relationships/), the commitment phase forms the true beginning of the relationship. In secular circles cohabitation begins at this point. This is a sign of deepening commitment – the first warts have appeared and been successfully negotiated normally by either ignoring them, papering over them or by, in a few instances, honest, open dialogue. The importance of communication in relationship is clearly evident. For most couples things are still so delicate that despite their growing closeness, there is still a tendency to avoid rocking the boat. Rather, superficiality combined with taking each other for granted rules the day. This may seem like a contradiction but is not; having established a working relationship, wariness of upsetting the applecart leads to avoidance of deep dialogue and thus assuming each other. It takes a risk to open oneself up to the deeper intimacy which honest communication produces so many couples settle for less satisfying superficiality. This makes for misunderstanding down the road.

The commitment phase was marked in our relationship when I met her inner circle for the first time and raised the possibility of eventually adopting her daughter. As committed Christians and given our ages – me in my early forties, she ten years younger – there was a purposefulness about our interaction; we hoped eventually to be married even before such a topic had been openly discussed. This is because there was no possibility of premarital sex and so anything more than a casual friendship had to have this eventuality as a real possibility. Perhaps this background made us rush through this phase. A pattern began to emerge where my fiancée spoke forthrightly about her views and was quite

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dismissive of opposing opinions. I for my part became wary of voicing my viewpoint especially on matters of taste and preferences for fear of being rejected or dismissed – something I had experienced on the few occasions I had stood my ground; and that is what it felt like, a stand off. This set the scene for the next phase – the Power Struggle. The Power Struggle This make or break phase comes up on most couples unexpectedly and they tend to react characteristically by questioning their original choice of spouse, commitment to the relationship and begin to seriously consider ending the relationship, There is

(Paries;www.getrelationshipsright.com/the-eight-stages-of-relationships/).

confusion and silence alternating with arguments. Most couples believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with their relationship and run the risk of either getting stuck here or and not moving forward which will lead to their ending the relationship sooner or later.

The seeds of the struggle for supremacy were sown in earlier phases when there was an unrealistic view that harmony was a sign of compatibility and the rightness of the choice of mate was confirmed in ready agreement with each other on all matters (Campbell, 1980). As the reality sets in that you do not agree on all things; the need for individuality and personal space becomes more urgent; maturity and wisdom call for an honest appraisal of the situation and facilitate open and respectful dialogue. Rules of engagement can then be established where the partners agree to differ or not.

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Unfortunately, many couples do not give themselves the chance to reach this higher level of communication. Believing that something is fundamentally wrong with their relationship, they will seek to withdraw from each other and even end the relationship. In ignorance they find that they cannot balance the conflicting needs for individuality versus intimacy – the need to be a whole person, yet remain in a committed relationship.

My personal experience mirrored this understanding quite closely. As our differences became clear, there were various attempts by both of us to manipulate and control the other. When these were rebuffed we resorted to childish patterns of conflict resolution – threats and intimidation on her part; sulking and passive aggressive behaviour on mine. She frequently complained that I was not the man I had appeared to be in the beginning and without realising it began to punish me for it. I found that she was unwilling to be responsible for her choices and that she frequently blamed me for not meeting her “needs”, which in reality were unrealistic or unreasonable desires. I on the other hand, often chose to prolong an argument just to have the last word in a bid for face-saving control, when the value in the conflict had long since passed.

Not realising that what we were going through was normal, we begun to see our relationship as fundamentally flawed. She found that we had very little in common, that we were very different; that our values and preferences were worlds apart. This was for her indication of an unbridgeable chasm between our worldviews. On my part, I felt unvalued and disrespected. Because she had less rigid boundaries than me, I often felt that my intimacies were betrayed. As the dominant partner she was forthright in her

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opinions and I often felt manipulated and bullied into going with them. This raised old skeletons about adequacy and worth. I responded by withdrawing and occasionally giving vent to my growing resentments when I chose to be stubborn or self-centred; behaviour that was unbecoming of me and which betrayed my commitment to loving and protecting her. We brought out the worst in each other.

With hindsight, we ought to have sought help at this stage; I made a proposal for couple counselling, but in her belligerent state suggested that it was just me that needed to change, and that if I did so then all would be well. A final confrontation led to our going on a prolonged period of non-communication which ended in her calling off our engagement. I made two feeble attempts at reconciliation but these were rebuffed. After a number of months I accepted that the relationship was over and that we were possibly better off apart.

Tracks I and II Paries (www.getrelationshipsright.com/the-eight-stages-of-relationships/) argues that the resolution to the stage of “The Power Struggle” offers two possible outcomes which in turn determines the possible ways in which the relationship may run its course. She refers to these as “Track I” and “Track II”. Within each, are symmetrical processes or phases whose distinguishing feature is whether the couple have chosen the path of dialogue and reconciliation or silence and tension. Growth and Anger

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In track I, Paries (www.getrelationshipsright.com/the-eight-stages-of-relationships/) identifies that both partners need to take responsibility for their role in the hiatus. If they can do this they will have a chance to recreate the relationship on a sounder, more mature and more realistic footing. They need to engage in a period of introspection where selfdiscovery through developing insight leads them to engage in healthy meaningful communication and a negotiation of power issues. It is necessary for the couple to understand how each sabotages the relationship when they revert to childish and destructive patterns of relating; in understanding their role in the conflict, they will be prepared to get rid of the resentments they hold towards each other which will create room for forgiveness and understanding. This in turn will allow for loving communication and emotional and spiritual development both individually and together.

However there is a shadow side to this which the couple risks falling under. Campbell (1980) states that intimacy is a process in which one discloses more and more of oneself to the other; it requires trust and involve risk. In a stage she refers to as “stability”, boundaries are put in place that safeguard the individuality of the partners that allow them to be themselves. Potential stumbling blocks are pride, unforgiveness and emotional immaturity. If these are given room to fester, they generate deeper and deeper anger that eventually leads one or both partners seeking solace in an alternative relationship. The unmet needs and unresolved issues serve to create an impermeable block to the nurturing, acceptance and respect that is necessary in any loving relationship.

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At this point outside help must be sought as the couple lack the internal resources to resolve the issues on their own, and instead things are deteriorating. Emotional numbness and even depression are the consequences of the unmitigated downward spiral of a relationship gone sour. It is possible for a couple to stay together especially if they are cohabiting or married. In our case, I decided to seek help unilaterally as my fiancée was unwilling to look beyond my faults and consider outside intervention. She kept giving me evidence of successful relationships she had witnessed, and maintained that the blame lay with me for not being willing to sacrifice all, for the sake of the relationship, as a good Christian man ought. This was not in jest. For my part I felt misunderstood, disrespected and not loved. I was aware that she was deeply resentful towards me, and whether justified or not her illfeeling left me drained, confused and feeling alone.

Honeymoon and Peace This second post-struggle phase offers two dichotomous possibilities depending on whether the struggle phase was successfully negotiated or not. In the former, there is a period of re-cherishing and re-treasuring one another; bonding and connecting on a higher, more mature and understanding platform can take place. This phase has the potential to last a lifetime, though the couple need to be aware that disagreements may arise from time to time and that they will have to be dealt with in a timely way. This new way of being together requires effort in growth-oriented communication, but the rewards in intimacy, nurturing love, support and respect are well worth it.

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Campbell (1980), who calls this phase “commitment”, shows how in helping one another avoid old unhelpful unhealthy coping mechanisms, the couple will come to accept each other as they are even as the individual partners accept those parts of themselves that expect perfection from the other. There is an understanding that each is responsible for their feelings and it is this new found level of responsibility that allows for the trusting that engenders intimacy.

In the alternative, there is an uneasy peace whose primary characteristic is indifference and cynicism. Here the couple are living parallel and separate lives and interact only when necessary for routine things. They will stop demanding from each other, but love will have been lost (Paries; http://www.getrelationshipsright.com/the-eight-stages-ofrelationships/). It may take several years to reach this level where the anger is burned out, but once reached it is very difficult to grow out of; few couples do. The few times we have interacted together since the end of the engagement have felt like this though we did not have any commitment and met only to help each other practically. I have however observed this level of indifference in long-term couples I have encountered. The Child

Paries (http://www.getrelationshipsright.com/the-eight-stages-of-relationships/) refers to a shared passion – a literal child, a business, a cause etc. – that the partners may encounter each other through, as they grow in intimacy. The task is to truly become a team in communication, collaboration, compromise and commitment. The shadow side is having a shared commitment as a previous obligation or an avenue for manipulation.

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Sometimes couples will engage in such an interaction as having a child as a last resort to keep the relationship alive. The entity created may give rise to the hope that the relationship is salvageable as it (entity) usually has some intrinsic value; however in reality, the situation can only be reversed if the deeper underlying issues are addressed, and this typically, only with outside help.

“Losing” our ‘child’ was a consequence of our break up. The ‘child’ in question was our shared faith and more specifically our attendance of church together. In the course of our courtship I had joined her church as she found mine unpalatable. In due course we identified a third one which we both felt comfortable attending. Initially we were both happy there, but following one of our disagreements, she chose to stop coming and thus we “lost” our child. Even now she makes disparaging comments about the church and its leadership and for me this is symbolic of how she views the relationship we had – as the enemy.

We failed to win each others trust in not confronting our differences mutually. Had we done so we would have accepted the other and would have been at ease with the contrasts in our personalities. We would have been confident in choosing one clear direction to go in, in the knowledge that we would have been at liberty to change course at any time had we chosen to. Campbell (1980) describes intimacy as being interdependent – which is when individuals willingly and ongoingly choose to be dependent on one another, whilst maintaining their individuality. This is the essence of Christian love – dying to self for the other, in the knowledge that this will engender and enable the partner to do so too.

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Conclusion I trust that I have learned from this debacle and that my next relationship will proceed more wisely. I do not regret engaging in the relationship to start with. The attributes that attracted me were real, and had I known then what I know now about relationships, we might still be together.

I was a little apprehensive about doing this essay as I feared bringing up difficult emotions; it has left me a little sad that we were not instinctively able to negotiate through the difficulties we encountered. Had I known better, I would have delayed committing until all the red flags had been satisfactorily dealt with. This essay has highlighted for me some unfinished business notably my need to remove the mask I wear for fear of rejection. This in turn leads me to avoid asserting myself and accept another’s point of view even when my inner man is railing against it. In the case of my relationship, this proved disastrous as I began to harbour resentments towards my fiancée who had no such qualms about standing up for what she wanted.

I am thus glad to have done this paper and I am encouraged both to work on my abandonment issues as well as embark on another love affair.

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References Bradshaw, J (1994) Creating Love: The Next Stage of Growth, New York: Bantam Books.

Bradshaw, J (2008) Creating Healthy Relationships: Audio book, John Bradshaw Media Group.

Campbell, S (1980) The Couple's Journey: Intimacy As a Path to Wholeness, Atascadero, California: Impact Pub.

Carter, D (2011) Freedom from Frozen Feelings: e-book, “http://internet-of -themind.com”.

Carter, D “http://internet-of -the-mind.com/relationship_stages.html” [17th August 2011].

Paries, R http://www.getrelationshipsright.com/the-eight-stages-of-relationships/ [11th August 2011].

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