In Fairy Tales, the individuals involved overcome some great hurdle to be together as a couple, and then, as soon as the couple is together, the story ends with the magic words, "And they lived happily ever after."
In real life, the true challenge to living happily ever after comes after the honeymoon, not before.
There are 5 stages to any healthy relationship:
- Peace and Calm
This is ANY healthy relationship – parent-child, romantic, friends, work colleagues, etc.
And it is also any HEALTHY relationship – many relationships never make it to the point of Awakening or Peace and Calm. People may end the relationship at the Misery stage or they may remain forever entrenched in Misery.
The stages are impermanent and you can cycle through them multiple times over the course of your relationship.
You can also get stuck in a rut in Misery.
In the Misery stage, you find a lot of unhealthy conflict patterns. There may be power struggles, which may be overt or covert. A passive-aggressive power struggle is still a power struggle. Each person may feel deep disappointment and distress.
So, imagine Cinderella, who may be a little bit of a neat freak after all those years of cleaning up after her stepmother and stepsisters. She may also be a bit conflict-avoidant. Maybe she marries the Prince and finds herself stuck in old patterns -- cleaning obsessively, tending to his needs instead of her own. He's happy - he has a clean castle. She's happy, at least initially, because she's in love. And then she starts slowly to resent what she has to do, just a little bit, and then a little bit more, and so on. Because she hasn't had the experience of having an equal relationship, because she has been taught that her needs are unimportant to herself and to others, she does not know how to have a discussion about this. And he's a Prince. He has been taught that his needs are more important than anyone else's in the Kingdom (except the King's and maybe the Queen's). After a few years, the relationship between the Prince and Cinderella may look a lot like the previous relationship between the stepmother and Cinderella. Misery.
If the Prince and Cinderella don't figure out how to successfully navigate conflict, they will never reach the Awakening stage.
To get to the Awakening stage, you must successfully navigate conflict. You cannot avoid it. You cannot continuously accommodate your partner’s needs, while forgetting about your own, and building resentment in yourself each time that you do so. You cannot consistently compete to have your needs taken care of, blind to the needs of your partner, ignoring the needs of your partner, or sacrificing the needs of your partner. You cannot arbitrarily compromise so that neither of your needs are met.
The only way to get to the Awakening stage is to work together, collaboratively, taking into account the needs and interests of each person in the relationship, and crafting a solution that works for both of you.
It is estimated that only 5% of relationships reach the stage of Peace & Calm. I believe that more relationships could reach this stage, if only the people in the relationship had the right tools. (I also believe that some people are not capable of reaching this stage, no matter how many tools they are given.)
If you’re feeling overwhelmed in your relationship, if you’re in Misery and just cannot figure out a way through it, call me and let me help. I can mediate a difficult discussion between you and another person. I can also provide conflict coaching for you individually, if that is what you prefer. 207-439-4267
If you're thinking that your relationship needs more intensive work, then join Susan Lager, a fabulous couples therapist, and me at Star Island for a Couples Retreat June 21-24, 2015. You can register here.