April 8, 2013

How Do We Work with Relationship Cycles?

One commutes into a relationship via the bus to pleasure town only to get dropped off at work. In other words, relationships are work.

Some days work aligns with what we want to do. Other days work is something we have to do. And work is all part of the circadian rhythm of life that fuels adventure, discovery and satisfaction.

But, how do you distinguish between work and hard labor? How do you differentiate manufacturing continuity verses creating false reality? Further, what does a normal relationship look like and how does it function?

To answer these questions, I will borrow from a group dynamic theory (GDT).


For a relationship to exist it must be declared as such. There are agreements that create a bond. After a while, trust builds. In GDT this is called the forming stage where the members of the group meet each other, begin to tell their stories, and in doing so create a safe environment. This is the time in the group where many feel grateful to “not be the only one feeling as they do.” Groups often gather around a central theme.

Relationships also form in a similar fashion. Stories are shared with words, through touch and through different love languages. Agreements are made about exclusivity, equanimity and expectations. This moment in relationship feels like adventure because it is full of novelty and nuance. As you well know, this stage of relationship is transient.


Every living organism on the planet participates in the ritual of survival; better known as claiming territory. In a group setting, there always seems to be that one person who monopolizes the time and energy of the group members. This can lead to tension. Further, every member of group is discovering where they fit in, how to assert their autonomy in a cohesive way and in doing so every member engages in classic power dynamics.

In this stage of relationship, the parties involved begin to demonstrate behaviors that can easily be compared to any competitive sport. The focus is on winning, staking a claim and asserting values. This is best described as storming because it can be compared to the furry of elements that have formed together in such a fashion as to result in volatile weather. But, like every storm does, this stage also blows over.


There are reliable elements in nature such as the sun rising and setting. In the norming phase, the group has its own environment with predictable cycles. Permission is given to each member to function in the way that is unique to their needs, skill set and desires. A ranking amongst peers is established and accepted. The group takes on its own tone and pace.

Some people refer to this phase of relationship as the moment partners stop trying. But, what has really happened is all the habits that may have been too risky to show in the early stages of relationship have now been revealed and tested against the backdrop of, “If you want me, this is part of who I am.”

Partners acknowledge that each has their own territory and can do with it whatever makes them feel whole. Conflicts are mitigated through revisiting expectations, negotiating outcomes and establishing fluidity. This takes practice.


Life is but a stage and we are all players. And to really perform, roles must be embodied.

When a group reaches the performing stage, extraordinary phenomenons occur. Individuals in the group begin to become curious about the other members. This curiosity is born of spontaneity. At any given time any member could break rank, break character, or demonstrate insight that would have otherwise gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the shared perspective of the whole. Evolution of the microcosm and macrocosm manifests.

This is the sweet spot in relationships where the work begins to pay off. A feeling of knowing that you are better for having your partner in your life is apparent. Further, work becomes incorporated as a divine necessity. This is where romance and wisdom combine to create life affirming connection.


So, how do you know the difference between work and hard labor? Ask yourself, “Am I more concerned about winning than I am about connection?” If you are stuck in storming, you are working overtime and not getting paid for it. Take a breath, step away, and start again with someone new.

Work will lead to pockets of fluidity and rigidity that then eventually result in continuity. There is a texture and cycle to both. However, if your expectations are not aligned with reality and you are in love with possibility, it is time shake things up and snap yourself back into actuality.

Lastly, let normal be defined by how well you are treated in each of these cycles. Allow for compassion for yourself and others. Be kind with your discoveries. And enjoy this grand adventure that is life.



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Ed: Kate Bartolotta


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