When I was listening to more audiobooks while doing a lot of painting, I listened to one that changed my perception about relationships. It was a two-volume book by Harville Hendrix called Finding and Keeping Love: An Imago-Based Program for Getting the Love You Want.
In it, he weaves scientific/behavioral research and a lot of powerful analogies (that don't just sound interesting but are interesting because they are SO how it feels in relationship). He breaks relationship down into three key phases. Two of those phases are common to people. The third, however, is why he is writing so many books and giving so many workshops.
Here are the three stages of relationship that Hendrix proposes and a glimpse of what listening to this audiobook will unpack.
I recommend the audiobook because his voice and cadence is great and his wife comes in and speaks too.
Stage 1. Romance
This is the phase that gets a lot of attention, it is also the phase that everyone in the world who wants a partner thinks that they will find and make last forever. In part, this is possible. But it's not possible the way most of us have been approaching relationship. In fact, the romance phase is two-part as I understand his teaching: 1. immature romance that is built on projection, and 2. mature romance that is built on really knowing someone and learning how to share power inside of a relationship so that it returns to balance and becomes harmonious and enjoyable!
The thing about the first romance phase that I find the most fascinating, and that he backs with research, is that you are not necessarily drawn to what you think are ideal qualities in a mate.
You are drawn to something about them that is unconscious because your unconscious knows the behavior in another person that can most challenge you, open your wounds and potentially heal you if you can get to the second phase of romance--the mature love relationship.
Think about that for a second. You might have experienced it! You look at someone and think "wow, they are hot, intelligent, talented, kind, great in bed, all that I could want and someone who will help me in my life but I'm not attracted to them at all!"
Some people would say "get over yourself and go for that person." I think in rare cases that might be true. But I am more the kind of friend who would say "keep looking, don't settle." You need someone who will challenge you. Who will really light that deep fire. Sometimes it is a deep dysfunction in you that draws you to that person and they bring it out and you break up. That's great. For a lifelong partner, you YOURSELF need to be free of those deep, twisted patterns and the dating world brought you one person after another to lift them to light. For a lifelong partner, when you are free from most of these, you start drawing someone who can still light up your dark closet, but this person, ideally, can hold your hand as you sift through it!
Stage 2. Power Struggle
This is the phase that happens, according to research, between 1 and 2 years after you "fall in love." Hence the reason to take time getting to know someone. Because it rarely lasts more than two years. How does this happen? Does it happen to everyone? It happens because this is about the time when the acts you both hold up drop down. When the projection turns into really seeing someone for who they are and not for who you imagined them to be.
This is the time when all the blanks you filled in about that person with your own imagination get filled in by real experience and you stand there looking at them and saying "why are you not the person I met? Why won't you love me the way I need you to anymore?"
This is also the time when you have the most opportunity to make it to stage three of the relationship, but it requires relating to each other in a radically different way than in stage 1. That's why it's so tricky. In essence, you ARE with the same person, only now because you assumed so much, each of you, it's time to SLOW DOWN and speak in a more structured and selfless way.
Communication is key at this stage because you are still kind of tangled in communication that is more like projection and assuming instead of REALLY LISTENING and CLEARLY EXPLAINING what is happening and what you need.
This is the phase where blaming, shaming, all kinds of hurtful things come up because you think (and it's not true) that the other person doesn't care. Well, they do. They just don't how how to show it exactly how you need it. OR they just don't want to show it because they feel forced instead of like they are doing it for a good reason. The relationship is a good reason. But each member of the relationship needs to be consciously on board with the fact that slow, clear, request-and-receive oriented communication is what will take the couple to the next level of intimacy.
Over time, couples, the media, everyone assumes that the power struggle is kind of "just the way a marriage is." Couples either distance themselves from one another--existing in a low-intimacy, sexless desert--or divorce and run off to new pastures, containing the SAME LESSONS they ran away from. But, with the right tools, the power struggle is not the life sentence of the partners if they wish to advance. If the partners want to get conscious and step out of that dynamic and make some pretty straightforward commitments to the relationship and action steps, they can move into a very fulfilling state of union.
You have to both want intimacy. You have to both stop dancing around the issues in the closet, get humble and step up to ask and to give what is needed. Hendrix has created a system called imago therapy. In it is a key activity to achieving the next level of relationship: The conscious conversation. I won't go into the steps of it. I bet they are online. I want to actually encourage you to look him up and get this book! I don't make any proceeds from this blog. I just think its a revelation what he is saying and is sharing based on what he and his wife learned.
Stage 3. Interdependent, Conscious and (Rekindled) Romance
This is a relationship that features two people who admit they are quite different from one another and that they need to set regular times aside to communicate clearly about what is going on in their worlds and take turns, in a structured way, expressing their needs and agreeing about how they can be met.
This is something that sounds like it would be clumsy. But taking communication from unconscious reactions to conscious statements and responses is not really an automatic thing for most couples. It often really does involve asking for a time when your partner is free to discus something in a safe way; agreeing to listen without judgement and for the sake of acceptance and understanding; meeting at that time; sitting down and having a structured conversation that slows things down dramatically and prohibits talking over, blaming, arguing or anything like this. It's designed to be a time to put things neatly on the table and discover solutions.
It sounds like it could get really stilted, really fast. But the way Hendrix describes it, and how it goes over time, like anything else, "conscious conversations" become a habit between the partners.
Interestingly, he said, when someone gets what they have wanted from their partner, in a loving way, most people actually find they didn't need it that bad so much as to know that the partner would do it!
I'll leave the rest to you to further research. But just know, there's a lot more to partner selection than you would initially think. And there's a lot more that comes after the romance phase. If we are conscious of it, it may just be the greatest growing-up and learning-to-love-more-deeply-and-unconditionally adventure of our lives!
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