Why not transition through the seasons with your eyes wide open and profit from each one? Sure, you can have a favorite, but you may as well find meaning and reason to celebrate in every day of the year.
Remember when you first met your partner, and you couldn’t get enough of each other? It was as though your fairy godmother had finally shown up. At last, somebody recognized you in all of your glory and appreciated everything about you. Even your idiosyncrasies were endearing. That’s the elation of the “expansion and promise stage.”
You open up to somebody who listens intently and affirms you. You bring out the best in each other and bask in the enchantment. You both hope that the relationship will blossom, instead of falling apart. You’re trying to apply what you’ve learned in order to be better partners; and that makes you a little vulnerable and a lot attractive.
In this stage, a partner who tends to shy away from too much intimacy and connectedness is more comfortable getting close and lingering. And a partner who tends to shy away from autonomy doesn’t have much to shy away from (they’re always together — kissing or giggling). Neither partner is cornered into certain behaviors by negative expectations!
They make a promise, if only implied, that the relationship will continue in bliss. The realities of everyday life regain their attention, though, and inevitably trigger the next stage, the “contraction stage.”
Maybe she starts to feel overwhelmed by a mounting pile of work. Maybe he has to get back to weekly dinners with Mom. Usually one partner pulls back first; and the other one reacts defensively — pouts, yells, or begs. Initially, the ugliness can seem insignificant; but with repetition, bad habits develop (or continue, as the case may be) … and partners can chronically bring out the worst in each other.
It can be difficult to dig out of this stage, because both partners are likely to feel betrayed. The implied promise of happily ever after has been broken; and they may go so far as to discount what they felt in the expansion and promise stage.
It’s important to remember that your joy is just as real as your anguish, your dreams just as real as your everyday responsibilities, because then you can move on to the “resolution stage” with less struggle.
During the resolution stage, you step back and gain perspective, and move to a friendly place. You stop fueling anger and blame, and realize what the relationship means to you. You have the presence of mind to work through your differences — or at least try to put them behind you. Ideally, you realize that your partner’s viewpoint is just as viable as yours, and that you don’t have to make him wrong in order to be right. And, you stop personalizing his behavior. It’s not about you!
Even if you’ve been stuck in the contraction stage, armed with new understanding, you can find resolution and make your way back to expansion and promise — without resorting to a new relationship. On the other hand, if you’re on the verge of suffocation, you can find autonomy, without becoming angry and defensive. You can allow each other some space in order to reconnect and even deepen your intimacy.
The cycle will repeat itself as long as you continue in the relationship; but with a conscious awareness of both the stages and what triggers them, you and a sweetheart are free to simply be you in all of the stages. You don’t have to cling, contract, or settle. Just be happy!
Expansion and Promise: Yes! We’re so good together., characterized by reaching for connection and support, the promise of a relationship, intense feelings of love and romance, disclosure, acceptance and affirmation, a sense of abundance, and heightened sexual satisfaction.
Contraction: I thought you loved me, characterized by the disappointments and pressures of everyday life, discovering that you don’t always see things the same as your partner sees them, difficulty living up to the promise, pulling back, withdrawal, defensiveness, feeling hurt, angry, and betrayed.
Resolution: Our relationship is bigger than the problems, characterized by working things out, loosening the grip on your emotions, realizing that your partner has a viable viewpoint, releasing the need to be right, responding with your partner to the situation.
Stages based on research by Barry Dym, Ph.D. and Michael Glenn, Ph.D