Stage Three: Disillusionment—a phase highlighting every relationship flaw—offers you a chance to heal boyhood wounds and reignite passion.
We are living at a time when we both hunger for real, lasting love and are also unwilling to remain in a relationship where love seems to have disappeared. I’ve been a marriage and family counselor for more than 40 years and I see two groups of people that I particularly want to reach:
- People who have given up on having a truly intimate, satisfying, relationship but are afraid to leave. They are deeply unhappy, but don’t see a way to make things better.
- People who have hit the relationship wall and want out. There still may be some love left, but they miss the deep feeling of being in love and having real joy in their relationship.
In the past I saw more people in the first category. They had given up, but were still together after ten or more years. Now I see people who have lost the love they once had and bail out too soon. For those in the second group, and I know there are a lot of you out there, I’d like you to consider the words of long-time marriage counselor Diane Sollee:
“To get divorced because love has died, is like selling your car because it’s run out of gas.”
For those in the first group, I’d rephrase Diane’s words this way: “To give up on love while remaining married, is like keeping your car and refusing to refill your tank.”
Here are some important things I’ve learned over the years.
There are five stages to a healthy, long-lasting relationship. Too many give up at stage three..
- Stage 1: Falling In Love
- Stage 2: Becoming a Couple
- Stage 3: Disillusionment
- Stage 4: Creating Real, Lasting Love
- Stage 5: Using the Power of Two to Change the World
Like most people, I thought there were two stages, the in love stage and the deeply loving stage.
When the sex declined, I grieved the loss of the passion. When we lost the love and everything we did seemed to irritate the other, I thought I was with the wrong person. My two previous marriages ended here. Since then I’ve learned about the five stages and my wife, Carlin, and I have now been together joyfully for 35 years.
Everyone runs out of gas at Stage Three, but it doesn’t have to signal the end of the relationship.
Most people are aware of the “end” of the in love, honey-moon, phase. We accept that we lose a lot of the original passion and life seems to get in the way of good sex. We still enjoy the deeply loving feelings we have in Stage Two. Stage Two can last for years, but gradually problems seem to build up. We lose the sex, then the love and finally it feels like we’re living with a stranger. or a nice roommate. But it doesn’t feel like the marriage of our dreams. It’s not surprising that so many of us feel we’re with the wrong person, that the spouse we once loved had disappeared. We want out, or at the very least, we want someone to magically bring back the partner we had once loved. These feelings can occur over a period of many years.
Disillusionment is not the beginning of the end, but the beginning of a relationship that can be more satisfying than anything we’ve ever known.
Three important things to know about this stage of love: first, disillusionment is a good thing. In the first two stages of love, we project a lot of our unmet needs from childhood onto our partner. We don’t see them as they are. We see them as we hope and wish they would be. Seeing the real person we are with, including their flaws, is a great gift. Second, the incompatibility we feel is actually grounds for a real marriage, not a divorce. Third, the real purpose of this stage is to surface a lot of the old wounds that were never healed in childhood.
At this stage our partner seems to trigger all our old wounds. As long as we see them as “sick” or “bad” we stay stuck. When we see them as giving us an opportunity to heal old wounds and deepen our love, we have a whole new way to look at the struggles we are experiencing.
Staying in a relationship at this stage can feel like we’re dying, but we’re not.
Being in a relationship going through these kinds of changes can be terrifying. Most people experience a range of physical and emotional illnesses during this period. My wife and I both experienced atrial fibrillation and bouts of depression. She had breast cancer. I had a prostate cancer scare.
Many people sense that the stresses in the relationship are making them sick physically or emotionally. But the real cause of these illnesses can be traced back to childhood and the fact that unhealed abuse, neglect and abandonment keep us on hyper-alert. We come to see our partner as a danger to our well-being instead of as a loving support. But new research, based on the world-famous Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Studies, shows that as we heal these childhood wounds, we not only improve our health, but reignite the passion and love we thought we had lost.
Stages Four and Five combine passion, great sex, deep love, exquisite intimacy and powerful purpose
Too many feel that the only way to have that in love feeling and to recapture the deep love we once had is to start over with a new partner. Well, that view is partially correct. My wife and I have found that a good marriage only lasts about 15 years. We change too much to assume that we can live happily ever after with the same partner.
So, every 15 years, we reassess our marriage, taking into account the people we are now. We make new vows and make changes for the new people we have become. Carlin and I have been married three times now. Once when we first fell in love and decided to join our lives. The second time was after we had been married for 15 years, and the third time after we’d been together for 30 years. Our forth marriage date is ten years off.
I’m pleased to tell you that we have recaptured a lot of the passion and pleasure we thought we had lost and also the deep love we thought had left. I can tell you that we still have our issues. We still have healing to do and we can still drive each other crazy at times. But I’ll also tell you, truthfully, there’s nothing better than falling in love again with the person you’ve been with for 35 years now.
Originally posted on MenAlive. Reprinted with permission.
Photo credit: Getty Images