How To Get Through The 5 Stages Of Marriage
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Happily Wedded Life1 of 13
By Woman's Day
All marital unions are not created equal — but they all go through some predictable stages. The timing may differ, and the way a couple manages the phase they’re in varies, but understanding the stages, says Rita DeMaria, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist, gives you the tools you need to move through with your loving union intact.
Stage 1: Honeymoon2 of 13
Usually the first year or two (or three, depending on the arrival of children as well as whether you lived together beforehand) is a passion-fueled period that’s all about the two of you and your intense focus on the attraction that made you want to walk down the aisle to begin with.
The Challenge3 of 13
As much as this stage is full of lovely things like lust, affection and late-night romps, you’d be wise to also use this time to cement your sense of coupledom outside the bedroom. Who are you, as a couple? Spend time figuring out how you envision the rest of your marriage.
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Stage 2: Settling In4 of 13
This encompasses what DeMaria calls the realization stage, during which you learn things you might not have known (or happily ignored) about your spouse’s strengths, weaknesses and personal habits. Also in this post-honeymoon, pre-children stage, power struggles can arise as the two of you work toward both separate and shared goals.
The Challenge5 of 13
As the shine fades a bit and reality sets in, you need to safely navigate what can be the first divorce danger zone of a young marriage, says Beverly Hyman, Ph.D., coauthor of How to Know If It’s Time to Go: A 10-Step Reality Test for Your Marriage. “After a couple of years, too many couples find that their values and goals aren’t always on the same page.”
Stage 3: Family6 of 13
Welcome to the “meat” of marriage — the years most couples spend raising their families, buying a home, building and/or changing careers and all-around trying to hold a busy, crazy modern life together. “This can be another danger time,” says Hyman. “You may have a couple of kids, a mortgage, demanding jobs — this puts enormous strain on the resources of a marriage.”
The Challenge7 of 13
“Pay close attention to your marriage,” advises Hyman. Don’t assume your relationship will be OK if one or both of you is on autopilot. “One thing that’s essential to building an enduring marriage is open, honest and tender communication,” she adds. Give yourselves a chance to communicate by — if you have to — scheduling together time or planning a regular date night.
Any Time: Explosion8 of 13
This is less of a discrete stage than the others, says DeMaria, because it can happen at any time in a marriage. It’s when major life stressors interrupt the forward motion of your life together — such as fertility issues, a death in the family, a major illness or the loss of a job that leads to serious economic upheaval.
The Challenge9 of 13
Seek support, both separately and together, depending on the situation. Never feel you have to power through problems on your own, or your marriage may suffer. Seek advice and guidance from friends, family members, religious counselors or professional therapists. “Pay attention to your own physical and emotional health and well-being,” says DeMaria.
Stage 4: Just You Two10 of 13
Some call this stage the “empty nest,” but that implies that your home is devoid of love (i.e. empty) after your children grow up and leave. Hopefully, it’s not that way (though it can be). In the best scenario, this stage is about reunion, says DeMaria. “You are getting to know each other all over again, unpacking old baggage and having fun.”
The Challenge11 of 13
Assuming you’ve weathered the earlier storms of marriage, this time can be exhilarating. But many couples find it a struggle to be together again with nothing else to concentrate on. Spend some time figuring out things you can do together and apart. If the issue is that you’ve ignored resentments toward your partner while you were busy with work and kids, you’ll need to be honest about these thorny problems, says Hyman.
Stage 5: You Did It!12 of 13
You’ve enjoyed the lust, lived the love and come through the chaos of family life — without splitting up in the face of troubles. You’ve reached what DeMaria calls “completion,” a stage that retired, empty-nest couples who still enjoy being together can bask in for the rest of their lives.
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The Challenge13 of 13
Continue to show each other affection and attention. Remember, says Hyman, if you’ve remained a loving, harmonious couple, you won’t have an empty nest for long. Children and grandchildren gravitate back to the happy home they remember.
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