Stages of a relationship—summary
emotional intelligence at work uses a model that postulates that relationships go through five stages * (see also About this model below).
1 Honeymoon stage
The first of these is the honeymoon stage. We are all familiar with that sudden overwhelming feeling of “true love”—more than a feeling, it is often a conviction.
“I haven’t got my skates,” Levin answered, marvelling at this boldness and ease in her [Kitty’s] presence, and not for one second losing sight of her, though he did not look at her. He felt as though the sun were coming near him. She was in a corner, and turning out her slender feet in their high boots with obvious timidity, she skated towards him… She skated a little uncertainly; taking her hands out of the little muff that hung on a cord, she held them ready for emergency, and looking towards Levin, whom she had recognized, she smiled at him, and at her own fears… Clutching at his arm, she nodded smiling to Levin. She was more splendid than he had imagined her.
… But what always struck him in her as something unlooked for, was the expression of her eyes, soft, serene, and truthful, and above all, her smile, which always transported Levin to an enchanted world, where he felt himself softened and tender, as he remembered himself in some days of his early childhood. [*1]
This is a globally accepted concept. For example, in politics a newly elected prime minister or president is considered to have a honeymoon period whose end is gleefully marked by all concerned.
It’s a period in which each partner in the relationship tends to see the best in other, to see the most potential in the relationship, and to overlook (or not even be aware of) any ways in which the other might fall short.
2 Power struggle stage
This stage is abruptly ended by the power struggle stage.
In fact, being in the honeymoon stage is the delusion that all our needs can be met by the other person; the power struggle starts at the moment of realisation that this is not possible.
Now each party can see all the ‘faults’ in the other, and is often genuinely shocked when the faults materialise, as if they hadn’t existed until that moment. There is a n almost childish devotion to the other in the honeymoon stage, and a corresponding petulance towards the other when the disillusion hits home.
As the name implies, power struggle is a time of fights and dissent, of needing to be right. Most of all, it can be considered the period in which each party is fighting to have their needs met in the relationship.
This is not at all a sign that the relationship is necessarily over. If it were, then all relationships would end when they hit ‘power struggle’.
What is beyond power struggle is real relationship: partnership with each other. On the whole people don’t get there with any degree of permanence without dealing with whatever is causing the power struggle. So, the bad news is that both parties are likely to go through all the same stuff with their new partners.
3 Dead zone stage
Power struggle can be exhausting, and it’s followed by the dead zone stage. This is where both parties retire to lick their wounds: they don’t want the relationship to end but:
- either they don’t see they are in this position, so it becomes ‘business as usual, but less productive’
- or they realise they have a problem, but they don’t know how to move forward in the relationship
- or (and this is remarkably common) they realise they have a problem but, whether they are aware of the solution or not, they refuse to move forward.
And the last of these is common because, at its heart, the dead zone is the place where we refuse to take the next step.
I am a 30-year-old man in a professional job. My career is going well, but the one thing in my life I am not enjoying is my relationship. My girlfriend, 25, has a beautiful five-year-old daughter, who I adore, and a job, but is restricted due to being a single mother. I am no longer in love with her, but when I try to finish the relationship she cries, and it breaks my heart. I end up taking it back and telling her I’m just stressed by work. She is a very anxious woman, and clingy, which I hate. If I don’t text her back she sends me messages which appear normal, but I can sense the panic in them. She constantly needs reassurance and it’s now becoming very annoying. What do I do? [*2]
anonymous contributor, the Guardian
In this post, the writer clearly shows a relationship oscillating between power struggle (“when I try to finish the relationship she cries, and it breaks my heart”) and dead zone (“I am no longer in love with her”). It may be that the relationship has no future, but this is not the end of it. The end of the relationship is a point which both parties recognise.
4 Partnership stage
The next stage is partnership. It’s what the name suggests. Looking back, it’s clear that the first three stages were all about “me, me, me”. It’s only in partnership that the relationship becomes about “us”. This is, obviously, a far more productive and useful place to be for any workplace.
The reason people can’t or won’t go there is their unwillingness to take the next step—the step out of dead zone into partnership. And, at base, that unwillingness (that refusal, I’m tempted to say) stems from doubt. Doubt they can do it, doubt they will be accepted if they do, doubt that other people will have recognised they’ve done it, doubt they will be rejected having stepped out of their comfort zone, doubt… . Any doubt the ego can create in order to keep them ‘safe’.
In the well known scene in Indiana Jones and the last crusade, Mr Jones has to cross an abyss, trusting that the bridge he has been told is there, but which he can’t see, will support him. He has to take the next step with no proof it will be supported. It is.
5 Leadership stage
Once two people can make their relationship about “us”, they can make it about the other person. In the fifth stage, leadership, people typically are able to make the other person more important than them, as Chuck Spezzano has put it.
This is not behaving as if, or feeling or thinking that, the other person were more important: that route leads to making oneself inferior, ultimately to becoming a victim. It is about acting as if. If each party in the relationship is making the other more important than them, that is going to be the most useful way of deepening and enhancing the relationship and, in business terms, growing the business.
* Note: There are further stages, Vision and Mastery, and these might be addressed later.
[*1] Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett, chapter 9
[*2] I want to end my relationship but my girlfriend is too clingy (Mariella Frostrup, the Guardian, 17 july 2016)
About this model
This model was originally developed by Susan Campbell from original research (see The couple’s journey, 1980).
It was substantially developed by Chuck Spezzano and integrated into his Psychology of vision model of personal development. Chuck’s main contribution was to beef up stage 3 from Campbell’s stability (“the illusion of peace”) to dead zone, and to distinguish the various steps within the power struggle and dead zone stages. The best writeup is in Wholeheartedness (Chuck Spezzano, 2000, pp 25-47), from which this presentation has been derived.
by Jeremy Marchant . image Free images
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