As a BetterHelp affiliate, we may receive compensation from BetterHelp if you purchase products or services through the links provided.
We all want real, lasting love, whether we are in our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, or beyond. Yet too many marriages fall apart and most people don’t know why. They mistakenly believe that they have chosen the wrong partner. After going through the grieving process, they start looking again. But after more than forty years as a marriage and family counselor I have found that most people are looking for love in all the wrong places. They don’t understand that Stage three of the five stages of love is not the end, but the real beginning for achieving real, lasting love:
Stage 1: Falling in Love
Falling in love is nature’s trick to get humans to pick a mate so that our species carries on. It feels so wonderful because we are awash in hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen. Falling in love also feels great because we project all our hopes and dreams on our lover. We imagine that they will fulfill our desires, give us all the things we didn’t get as children, deliver on all the promises our earlier relationships failed to fulfill. We are sure we will remain in love forever. And because we are besotted with “love hormones,” we’re not aware of any of this.
When we’re in love, we dismiss naysayers like curmudgeon George Bernard Shaw who cautioned:
When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.
Stage 2: Becoming a Couple
At this stage our love deepens and we join together as a couple. This is a time when we have children and raise them. If we’re past the child-rearing stage, it’s the time when our couple bond deepens and develops. It’s a time of togetherness and joy. We learn what the other person likes and we expand our individual lives to begin developing a life of “the two of us.”
During this phase we experience less of the falling head-over heels “in love” feelings. We feel more bonded with our partner. We feel warm and cuddly. The sex may not be as wild, but it’s deeply satisfying. We feel safe, cared for, cherished and appreciated. We feel close and protected. We often think this is the ultimate level of love and we expect it to go on forever. We are often blind-sided by the turn-around of stage three.
Stage 3: Disillusionment
No one told us about Stage three in understanding love and marriage. Stage three is where my first two marriages collapsed and for too many relationships this is the beginning of the end. This is a period where things begin to feel bad. It can occur slowly or can feel like a switch is flipped and everything goes wrong. Little things begin to bother us. We feel less loved and cared for. We feel trapped and want to escape.
We become more irritable and angry, or hurt and withdrawn. We may stay busy at work, or with the family, but the dissatisfactions mount. We wonder where the person we once loved has gone. We long for the love we once had, but we don’t know where it went, or how to get it back. One or the other partner wants out, or sometimes people go on “existing together,” but without really feeling intimate.
This is a time we often get sick in body, mind and soul. In our marriage, Carlin and I both began having problems with our hearts (heartache?) and were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. I began having serious problems with erections. To be truthful, there were times when it was miserable and we both thought about leaving the relationship.
But we didn’t give up, we kept going. There’s an old adage, “When you’re going through hell, don’t stop.” This seems to be true of this stage of life. The positive side of Stage three is that the heat burns away a lot of our illusions about ourselves and our partner. We have an opportunity to become more loving and appreciate the person we are with, not the projections we had placed on them as our “ideal mate.”
Carlin and I have now been together over thirty-five years. We’ve moved into the next stages of love and feel blessed to have learned the skills for negotiating the stage of disillusionment and can truly enjoy the later stages of love.
Stage 4: Creating Real, Lasting Love
One of the gifts of confronting the unhappiness in Stage three is we can get to the core of what causes the pain and conflict. Like most people, Carlin and I grew up in families that were dysfunctional. Both my father and mother suffered from depression and my Dad tried to take his own life when I was five years old. Carlin’s father was an angry, violent man. Her mother left him in order to protect herself and her daughter. We all have wounds and the wounds need healing if we’re to have a relationship that is real and loving.
Ongoing research from The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study demonstrates conclusively that childhood trauma can impact our physical, emotional and relational health. For the first time, I made the connection between my father’s attempted suicide when I was five and my adult depression and erectile dysfunction.
Carlin and I learned to be allies in helping each other understand and heal our wounds. As we began to heal, the love and laughter we thought we had lost began to flow again. We began to see each other as wonderful beings who had suffered greatly in the past and had come together to love each other and help heal our old wounds from childhood.
There’s nothing more satisfying than being with a partner who sees you and loves you for who you are. They understand that your hurtful behavior is not because you are mean and unloving, but because you have been wounded in the past and the past still lives with you. As we better understand and accept our partner, we can learn to love ourselves ever more deeply.
Stage 5: Using the Power of Two to Change the World
No one has to remind us that the world is not doing too well. There are continuous wars and conflicts. Racial violence seems to be everywhere. We wonder whether humans can survive. I wondered, “If we can’t even find peace between two people who love each other, what chance do we have to create a world that can work for all its peoples?”
But now, I look at the flip side of that question. If we can learn to overcome our differences and find real, lasting love in our relationships, perhaps we can work together to find real, lasting love in the world.
I believe that every couple has an opportunity to use the “power of two” to address some aspect of the world’s problems that touch their lives. Carlin and I are particularly tuned to issues that face men and women at midlife. We are writing a book, You Two: Renewing Your Mid-Life Marriage for Real Lasting Love. If you’d like more information about our work, drop us a note through our website, www.MenAlive.com.
We’re also interested in your own journey. Please share your own experiences on the path of real, lasting love. Together we can make a difference in the world.
About the book
“If you want to navigate the five stages of love, you have to understand why men are the way they are. Check out Jed’s new book, 12 Rules for Good Men, here. “12 Rules is the result of Jed’s lifetime of leadership in men’s work and represents the power and wisdom of an elder of the men’s movement.”
–Mark Greene, Senior Editor, The Good Men Project.
Originally posted on Menalive. Reprinted with permission.
Also by Jed Diamond
|The 5 Most Important Things That Make A Man Feel Loved.||The 5 Stages of Love: Why Too Many Stop at Stage 3.||The 6 Most Romantic Words a Man Can Say to a Woman.||How to Find (and Keep) the Love of Your Life|
Save 15% on Affordable, private therapy with BetterHelp anytime, anywhere.
Unedited Photo: Shutterstock
“Little things begin to bother us. We feel less loved and cared for. We feel trapped and want to escape.” – This is the stage where my previous marriage ended. Spot on and thank you for sharing the wisdom.
Or, you could just get a dog.
Married 25 years. Children grown. Wife in menopause — no sex drive. She just doesn’t reach for me anymore, not just sexually, but not even when she passes me in the house, not when we’re in the car. I can’t remember the last time she said something nice to me that wasn’t echoing something I said to her. She responds, but just doesn’t seem to care unless I prompt her. When I am hurt and sad about something in my life, she makes no effort to confort me. I have been working on changing me for years, becoming the best… Read more »
I wish you can share about money matters…when donan give more and man its no responsable …
My husband refuses to connect with me. I used to think he was a cut above other guys, extremely gentle, smart and loving. He joined the military and that changed him. He will not see the things that changed him and anytime I try to point them out, he will accuse and withdraw. Now we’re splitting up for good but I wish it wasn’t this way.
Huh. Well into stage 3 here. I can’t even imagine trusting my spouse with my sexual or emotional well-being, now or in the future. He’d have to go through a fundamental change in personality to be trustworthy and I don’t see that happening. Time will tell what we do.
Nice article… Though, atleast in my life the stages seem to be more jumbled.. Disillusionment is stage 2 for me and parts of being a couple is stage 1. I have realized it all depends on how open and vulnerable you are willing to be with your partner and vice versa. That short circuits Stage 1 and 3 and if the initial relationship can last the shock of Stage 3, then it can move ahead more smoothly. But issues come up in cycles and then we hope that the relationship is strong enough and there has been a well-oiled communication… Read more »
I really enjoyed this article. I think I must be at the end of stage 3? A little ancy (17 years of marriage) but still in love with the most wonderful husband in existence. I don’t deserve him. And I do miss the honeymoon stage. But I know we have deep roots of love and respect that we earned- over all the work all these years.
I have found that just knowing the stages doesn’t guarantee that people will want to work through them, but when we don’t know the stages we can assume that the problems we encounter mean we are with the wrong person and should get out. Being in a real relationship is challenging. We must address the wounds we grew up with and that can be challenging.
I guess getting beyond stage 3 would have worked if BOTH parties had been willing to admit their part in the unhappiness. When one blames the other exclusively without taking ANY responsibility for the problems, there is little to be done but call it quits. I tried for 28 years to get past stage 3. Tough to do on your own. Just sayin’.
After a previous long term marriage (25 yrs…) that was stuck in Stage 3, I’ve been remarried for 2+ years and working hard to convince my wife that great relationships take some ongoing analysis and effort. I passed along this article to her and we had a breakthrough! Thank you so much Jed for putting out such clear and insightful guidance!
Robert, Its never easy to have a good marriage during these times of societal upheaval and change, but knowing what we are dealing with can help keep us from blaming ourselves or our partner when we’re going through the stages that may be uncomfortable. Thanks for sharing your insights.
Couldn’t agree more. I guess a lot of men struggle to determine whether they are at stage 3 or whether they are just with the wrong person. But as you say, most people haven’t been taught about this so they don’t realize that stage 3 isn’t the end. Once you know about it, it helps men make a more informed choice about whether to pursue the relationship or not. Thanks for conveying this message so concisely.
Brad, thanks for the comments. Most of us learned about love and marriage from watching our parents and other family members or shows on T.V. Not the best guidance, often. The more we learn and share, the better we’ll be at finding the right person and keeping love alive and well through all 5 stages.
Don’t want to stop at stage 3! We do our best to build up intimacy and complicity in our relationship!! Actually we’ve even got closer after using the happycoupleapp!
Nana, That sounds great. Tell us more about the happycoupleapp.
Michael, I agree. Relationships are vital to all areas of our lives, but in our ever faster, high stress world we don’t often take the time to nourish our relationships and heal the wounds that can undermine even the strongest relationships.
Jed, my husband and I have been married for almost 40 years. We have literally grown up together. Today, people expect instant gratification with very little work or perseverance. We have realized over the years that at each stage of age and love comes sacrifice and changing focus on one or the other spouse. We don’t always have to be the one that is the center of attention to feel loved and appreciated. Keep reaching for each other though those times it is most difficult and always remember the person you fell in love with in the first place, only… Read more »
While I agree, most of what I’m finding out now is that only when we actively engage in relationships with others can we possibly hope to grow and advance. My recent relationships died on the vine because of a loss of attention, distracted presence, technology infidelity, and a general loss of putting the effort to keep the connection strong. This seems more the rule now than the exception in our society. not just close relationships, but in a day to day bases, a general lack of quality or desire to really connect with others.