The Naked Truth: Stages of Relationships
What stage of your relationship are you in? Some lesbian couples will go through all stages, while other couples will only experience a few of them. For part one of their examination of relationship stages Tracey Stevens and Kathy Wunder take a look at Romantic Love and the Power Struggle.
Some couples will go through all stages, while other couples will only experience a few of them. Couples may go back and forth from one stage to another at different times in their lives. It's a fluid process and not linear.
Moving into any of the stages after Limerance or Romantic Love isn't a bad thing, it just means that you need to navigate this set of rapids in an entirely different way. It also speaks to the fact that human beings are dynamic individuals and that as we grow and change so does the nature of our relationships. After all, our relationships are living things, comprised of two hearts working to create an environment of love and understanding that grows along with us. It would be horrible if we grew and our relationships were stagnant. If that happened no relationship would ever survive past the first stage.
To summarize the first stage, Romantic Love, at the beginning of a relationship, that doe-eyed stage when you can't get enough of her, it’s all about biochemistry. Pat Love, Ed.D says, "Love isn't attraction. Love isn't about chemistry. Chemistry is simply a part of Mother Nature's plan to pull us to a preferred partner."
When we meet someone we are attracted to it is more about hormones and brain chemistry. Phenylethylamine, or PEA, is the main neurotransmitter involved. It is a chemical that is a natural form of amphetamine and it floods the areas of the brain that handles sexual excitement. Once that fades, we can never return to the stage of romantic love, because we can’t recreate that new relationship neurochemistry with a long-time partner.
Oxytocin is another powerful brain chemical that plays its part. Unlike PEA, which fades out from six months to two years, Oxytocin is part of our regular makeup. It's released from the pituitary gland and washes the brain and reproductive tract. The process makes us more responsive and sensitive to touch. We can all identify with that feeling of electric shock when someone to whom we’re sexually attracted touches us, especially when a relationship is in its first blush. Oxytocin also reduces stress-causing hormones in the body.
Oxytocin is released every time we have physical contact with someone. It is the brain chemical that keeps building on the connection with a lover that started with PEA. The amazing thing is that it is also produced when we hug, hold hands or cuddle with someone we love -- be that lover, parent, child or friend--strengthening that bond. During sex levels of this chemical build and then peak during orgasm.
The results of all these brain chemicals and hormones is that they make us think things are magical and wonderful and therefore, we can't get enough of the woman we are attracted to. During this phase of a relationship many of us blow off the warning signs. We think everything is perfect and we may dismiss those things that would typically get on our nerves, or present as red flags under other circumstances. It’s the nothing can go wrong, it will be like this forever, best sex ever phase.
Stage Two, The Power Struggle, or Adjusting to Reality, is more about the fantasy of your relationship morphing into the reality of who you are and what you are really about. It's when you realize that you can get enough of each other and there are things she does that get on your nerves. It also means that you have to face the reality that she doesn't always brush her teeth, she has stopped caring that she should pick up her underwear from the living room floor, or that she likes to boss you around. If domestic violence is an issue, it will start to really rear its ugly head here during this phase.
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Fears about intimacy begin to arise and you must learn to deal with each others’ differences, as you are no longer basking in the similarities. The fights, ambivalence, anger, blaming, accusing, sarcasm and resentments start to form. This is due to the diminishment of the chemical PEA. You are less concerned about harmony and more concerned about who is right or wrong. There is the idea, whether it's realized or not, that if you give in at this stage, you will lose clout in your relationship.
If you dwell on the issues instead of seeking a way to work through them it can lead to you starting to looking for someone else who’ll meet your needs. One, or both, of you may think about having an affair or breaking up the relationship. The focus then becomes less about who you are with and more about feeling a need to protect yourself. You may find yourself wanting to leave the relationship and find a new one that will have you floating on a cloud of Romantic Love. If you breakup and find another woman, you will only be going back into the pattern of thinking "Isn't this new relationship grand?" and you will be on the road to breaking up again once the PEA starts to fade.
The reality is that your relationship doesn't have to end and you can work on understanding that this is where the real relationship begins. It’s where you really learn about yourself and your partner, move past your life-long patterns, learn to negotiate without taking each other hostage and begin to actually listen to each other.
What are the solutions? You both have to ask yourselves what positive actions can you take to help your relationship grow. One of the best tools is to develop ways to resolve conflicts by learning to communicate effectively with negotiation and compromise. Don't discuss issues when either of you is losing control of your anger. Escalating just leads you to say what will be most hurtful, which then builds resentments. One resource is our book How To Be A Happy Lesbian. We have a whole chapter devoted to communication.
Check into relationship self-help books and read them together. If there are exercises in the books, do them together. As they say in 12-Step groups "Take your own inventory." Look at what you are doing to contribute to the conflict and work on changing your actions, words, tone and body language. Look at yourself. Are you playing out your parents' dramas because that was your model of what a relationship was supposed to look like? Find others in long-term relationships and ask them how they got through the hard times-- and how they still do.
If these things don't work, then find a counselor. You may need an outside party who’s trained in how to help you look at your issues and who can help you work through your relationship. After all, you were attracted to positive qualities in this woman to begin with; they are still there. It's just that the glitter and shine have become smudged in the second stage of your life together.
Be sure to see the second part of this article for the final 3 stages of relationships: Reevaluation or Transformation, Reconciliation or Real Love and Real Love or Acceptance.
Tracey Stevens and Kathy Wunder are the co-authors ofLesbian Sex Tips: A Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Bring Pleasure to the Woman She (Or He) Loves and How to be a Happy Lesbian: A Coming Out Guide. Their website, www.amazingdreamspublishing.com, provides more than 1,500 free community services for lesbian and bisexual women worldwide. Contact Tracey & Kathy at www.amazingdreamspublishing.com/contactform.html.
Miss the last "The Naked Truth"? Read it here.