Seven Hard-Won Need-to-Know Stages to Lasting Love.
The first time I fell in love, I was 17.
I spent one whole year in a giddy daze, intoxicated with a Prince Charming three years older. He was handsome, athletic and smart. We fused at a party over discussions of our favorite authors and, by the night’s end, locked lips in a passionate goodnight kiss.
By year two of coupledom the prince looked more like a frog—with his irritating habit of preening before a party, or the way he needed to be right or even the roll of fat starting to accumulate on his belly. By the time I left for college I was bored and disillusioned. Two months of not-missing-him later, I ended things with a Dear John letter and soon after moved on to my next episode of falling-in-love with fairytale zeal.
Thirty years and a dozen romances later, the evidence is in: the in-love fireworks inevitably end up doused by a reality downpour. The soul mate whose eyes you could gaze into for an eternity is now, well, annoying the shit out of you. And then, there are all those expectations and dreams that somehow don’t seem to be coming true.
Wasn’t there a happily-ever-after clause in this contract?
Only in the land of Hollywood make-believe.
The idea that high romance lasts the duration of a love union is perpetuated by film and fiction. That mortal Bella in the best-selling novel and movie Twilight is willing to become a vampire to spend eternity with immortal Edward says it all. We are all looking for The One—meaning, the one who will last a lifetime (or more) and make us forever happy.
Relationship experts have been trying to tell a different story.
One love philosopher in particular, Daphne Rose Kingma in her book The Future of Love, explains falling-in-love is only the first stage of a seven phase soul growth journey. It’s a journey designed to take men and women into the valley of hidden emotional wounds with the goal of one day reaching the mountain top of self-realization. Yes, we are supposed to suffer in our love life—it’s a part of the reason we fall in love to begin with. In the beginning we form a bond with the superglue of endorphins and projections just so we don’t give up when confronted with the quicksand and snake pits of real intimacy.
In my case, I now see I’d typically been dead-ending at stage four or five, also known as Ordeal and Chaos, and had I kept going I might have blissed out in the end stages of Surrender and Transformation.
So, for all of you couples in-love and out-of-love and in-between, here are the seven stages of relationship outlined by Kingma.
1) Romance: We all know this one. You fall in love. The world looks beautiful, your partner perfect and bliss is an everyday occurrence. You cocoon and spend more time alone than together with friends. You see all the ways you are so alike. Sex is hot and passionate, and you have a love drug high a lot like a dark chocolate buzz. You are with your soul mate, the person of your dreams.
2) Commitment: A pledge is made. This can be to get married; to live together; or simply to be an exclusive monogamous couple, or even just to date. At this stage emotions run the show. You dream of an ideal future and you feel the love.
3) Crisis: Here something happens that upsets the happily-ever-after applecart. This could be a financial struggle, a disagreement about an in-law, a difference of opinion about goals or a fight about something big. This is the first moment where the dream erodes as the once unnoticed differences between you and your loved one are now starkly apparent. As Kingma writes, “The personality is disillusioned and now the work of the soul truly begins. ”
4) Ordeal: This is the proverbial power struggle. And it can go on for weeks, months or years. It’s a rut you find depleting yet comfortable. Kingma calls it the “meandering phase of the relationship.” Here, issues keep coming to the surface (usually based on emotional childhood wounding) that never really get resolved. The same fights keep happening. Then you kiss and make up, but on the surface only. Underneath, resentment brews. This ordeal is a journey of intense emotional growth. Exhaustion happens, along with disappointment, hate and envy. As this power struggle rages, partners are faced with a choice, as Kingma writes, “to put the relationship back in a box, stamp their feet, and pound their fists on the wall and demand that it fulfill all their expectations on a psychological level—or they can start to grow.“
5) Chaos: This is the black hole, the dark night, the bottom. All is lost, and you are lost. You feel out of control. Chaos is announced by one of the following behaviors: an affair, fights that don’t end, boredom—or the awareness that you have grown apart and there is no longer a common ground. In this zone, if couples don’t break up they often seek out relationship therapy, which Kingma notes can be an attempt to put things back into the box of the ordeal phase. Here the relationship is truly at a make or break place, and the gift can be equally in the make, or the break. “Chaos,” writes Kingma, “is an invitation to the spiritual level.” Humpty Dumpty is not necessarily better off being put back together again.
6) Surrender: Here, we can awaken. This stage holds the profound promise of something different. Surrender does not mean passivity, where in paralysis you stay in an abusive or truly miserable relationship. What surrender means here is giving up control of outcomes and instead embracing the possibility that an ending can be as healing as a continuation. Writes Kingma, “When you surrender, you give up your expectations, surrender to the process, and give in to what has occurred. It is spiritual because it assumes that a force greater than yourself is guiding the action and will be there to catch you, that you are not alone on the tight rope of your personality without a net.”
7) Transformation: Kingma dares to call this the true love phase. Here integration occurs. “The strength you have developed becomes your own. The tragedy you have lived through loses its ability to emotionally derail you. You are now a person who contains emotional and spiritual attributes which before, you did not possess.” At this juncture, you have grown a new you—you can never go back. Self esteem and self-love have landed. You might choose to grow the relationship to a new level, or simply move on because you know that the relationship will not grow you further. Transformation is a stage where you have nothing left to lose.
The reward of this seven stage love journey (though it may take several relationships to get there), is that it potentially gifts us with inner peace and authentic well-being. In Kingma’s words, it leads us to a place of the “grace of pure love—no axe to grind, no needs to whimper over or insist on being fulfillfed. Just love. Pure love.”
On that note, the sister rock band Heart had it all figured out—Keep your love alive!
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Editor: Kate Bartolotta