THERE are five essential stages of love every couple must go through to ultimately experience a satisfying, productive and fun relationship. The first and second stages pass quickly, the third can seem to last an eternity — hell, not heaven — and the fourth and fifth stages come as the fruit of perseverance through stage three.
The five stages of love are what I call:
1. Romance – this stage feels incredible but it doesn’t last long, although the irony is those couples who climb through conflict and ascend to stage five reclaim a more mature romance than any new couple could experience.
2. Landing – this is what my wife Sarah calls it. She refused to get engaged to be married until we actually landed; no longer airborne in the fantasy land of romance.
3. Disillusionment – believe it or not, when we reached this stage in married life, I used to think my wife was somehow broken… like, ‘what on earth did I get myself into?’ Only when we ascended out of disillusionment did she concede she often felt the very same way.
4. Real love – ah the bliss of becoming realists together! Only a couple who endures the tenuous stage of disillusionment gets here. Some couples never get here, and divorce becomes almost inevitable, unless both partners can live in deep dissatisfaction. Then we must prevent backsliding into disillusionment. In real love is a skillset that the couple has learned to construct and deploy.
5. Being a team – how sweet is a team of two? They combine with God to make a cord of three strands which is not easily broken. Married life becomes more and more about the other person.
Every couple encounters the disillusionment stage. It’s where the untruths we believe about them and us come to be tested and seen as unviable, unsustainable.
To get to stage four, we need to take them and us off the pedestal. They’re on the pedestal because we have such high (read unrealistic) expectations of them. We’re on the pedestal because, in the relationship, we think we’re better than we are.
The moment we hit stage three, and it is usually in the first twelve months of serious relationships, the partnership appears destined for fracture.
Mature couples, however, convert conflict into opportunity. They learn through bitter trial that success comes on the other side of failure. It literally defines them. And maturity is only gleaned with time.
Tips for climbing through the disillusionment stage:
1. Get to know and accept yourself and your partner; it is vital. I love The Enneagram. It helps us appreciate the differences between us and our partner. I am a Type 2 and my wife is a Type 5. Before I appreciated how different she was compared with me, I naively thought she was simply being difficult and obtuse.
2. Acknowledge the truth: conflict is an opportunity. Celebrate it, don’t lament it. Be open to creative solutions, and be willing often to surrender your own ideas.
3. At disillusionment’s worst there simply seems no hope. But nothing is further from the truth. Commitment often isn’t tested until it pushes us to despair and beyond. Partners who don’t give up get through. When partners know how close they came to giving up, they see the stark reality of their partner’s unwavering commitment to them.
4. Relationships can slip back into the disillusionment stage for a variety of reasons. The way of reclaiming your relationships’ vitality is to remain ever committed to the two of you!
5. Discovering where we, as individuals, have made our contribution to the mess. It seems the opposite, but taking responsibility for our own contributions to conflict is empowering, and it is great for the relationship because it models something that can be reciprocated.
 See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
 Type One is principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic.
Type Two is generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive.
Type Three is adaptable, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.
Type Four is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.
Type Five is perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.
Type Six is engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.
Type Seven is spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive, and scattered.
Type Eight is self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.
Type Nine is receptive, reassuring, complacent, and resigned.