May 22

Stages of Marriage (And Other Committed Relationships)

4 Stages of marriage:

Mad for each other.
Made for each other.
Mad at each other.
Mad bcoz of each other.

Maybe you’ve seen the above joke before about the supposed stages of marriage. Although meant to be humorous, it’s something many relate to. Not just what the stages are but also the idea that there are indeed stages in the progression of a romance.

And what about this brief video clip? Although fuzzy it’s clear enough to get the picture—a sitcom view of three marital stages:

Now let’s get more serious. Noted therapist and relationship expert, Michele Weiner-Davis, has created what she calls a “Marriage Map” consisting of five different stages. In my own opinion, any long-term committed relationship, especially if the partners live with each other, can for these purposes be considered a “marriage.”

As excerpted from Psychology Today, the Marriage Map is presented below. Descriptions of each stage include a mixture of my paraphrasing plus direct quotes:

  1. Stage One—Passion prevails: the most intensely physical and romantic period, as in “the honeymoon” phase. “The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates the production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes and heighten sexuality and sensuality. While in this naturally produced state of euphoria, you decide to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. And marry, you do.”
  2. Stage Two—What was I thinking? Oops! Your differences from each other become more recognized. There’s disillusionment, sometimes to a great degree. There’s conflict. And yet so many decisions have to be made together. “Just at the time when a team spirit would have come in mighty handy, spouses often start to feel like opponents. So they spend the next decade or so trying to get their partners to change, which triggers stage three.”
  3. Stage Three—Everything would be great if you changed: There’s your way, i.e., the Right Way, and your spouse’s way. Each becomes entrenched in his or her way of viewing the marriage and its issues. Three choices: give up, lead separate lives, or work on how to have a healthier relationship. “Although the latter option requires a major leap of faith, those who take this leap are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.”
  4. Stage Four—That’s just the way s/he is: We seek solutions to the problems, knowing it’s important to learn to accept certain differences of ways and opinions. Overt conflict occurs less often and less intensely. “And because we’re smart enough to have reached this stage, we reap the benefits of the fifth, and final stage.”
  5. Stage Five—Together, at last: “It is really a tragedy that half of all couples who wed never get to stage five, when all the pain and hard work of the earlier stages really begins to pay off.” There’s now more peace, there’s shared history and pride in working things out, there’s more acceptance of each other, there’s more appreciation for what your partner has tolerated about you. There’s less tension, more actual liking of each other, a deeper commitment than ever before.

Is a stage model important? I think so, and Weiner-Davis’s isn’t the only one I’ve ever seen that could be helpful. The thing is, when spouses become aware of identifiable stages, they can often see that they’re not necessarily stuck in a dead-end, no-solution kind of place.

Couples presenting for therapy are most likely to be in stages two and/or three. Therapists who can explain these stages to clients will probably be more prepared to help couples work through them.