In intimate relationships, we call the 3 stages: Romantic love, The Power Struggle, and Adaptation/Resolution. The first 2 are covered in the rest of this chapter and the adaptation/resolution stage will be examined in Chapter 7. Here is something I never knew before.
“All relationships, like life, go through stages. Intimate relationships and other significant relationships go through three. (that part I did know, here is the part I did not know) These stages have to do with the brain’s interest in the neurochemistry of novelty, its disinterest in the loss of those chemicals when the novel becomes familiar, and its attempt to recover those neurochemicals by recreating the pre-existing state of pleasure. Our biology is far more involved in our choices than we understand.”(p.135)
Here are the 3 Stages of Relationships
The Romantic Love Stage
“Two people can be sure they are an Imago-Match if they fell in love.”(p.136)
“One reason the romantic stage tends to be short-lived is simply because of how our brain works: it habituates to, or gets used to, the ebb and flow of the brain chemicals thought to be responsible for the blissful emotions that accompany the romantic phase.” (p.137)
“The sensations that constitute romantic love are so desirable and intense because they are a transient re-experiencing of original connecting, the sensation of which is full aliveness, joy and wonder”. (p.136)
Biochemistry Behind Romantic Love
The authors go on to explore in some depth the biochemistry behind romantic love and what happens to the brain in the romantic stage of a relationship.
From an Imago perspective, however, the purpose of romantic love is:
“to cement a bond between two incompatible people that will last long enough for both of them to complete their unfinished childhood development, to fulfill their biological and evolutionary purpose through the propagation of the human race and re-experience their cosmic identity by restoring the original sensations of full aliveness and wonder and the emotion of joy”. (p.137)
Not the conclusions you would find in popular magazines exploring romantic love.
The Purpose and Function of the Power Struggle
“Getting past the romantic stage represents a critical leap forward in the development of a relationship. As we have seen, romantic love, with all its headiness and profundity and ecstasies, is purposeful; it is meant to burgeon to the point of full bloom. It is also meant to end, and it always does. But why? … There are three reasons:” (p.138). The authors have said it before and they reiterate it here:
The Objection to Difference
“Objection to difference is the source of all human conflict. This posits that the core problems of couples and humanity are the same: negativity, exclusion and inequality. And the solutions are the same: affirmation of the other, celebration of difference, universal inclusion, and equality.” (pp. 139-140)
What a different world it would be!! In the romantic love stages of relationships, couples focus on their sameness and then slowly or quickly, differences arise because none of us is perfect and the illusion of sameness is ruptured. “Our anxiety triggers our defenses, and that negative energy becomes the source of personal, group and global objection to difference.” (p.139)
“The brain habituates to the enhanced biochemistry of romance … but however long it takes for our brain chemistry to settle down, sooner or later it does – often to the astonishment of the partners, who begin to wonder if they have fallen out of love or, even worse, fallen in love with the wrong person. They have done neither; they’ve simply stumbled unaware across the finish line of the romantic phase and their brains will soon habituate on negativity.”(p.140)
As a relationship moves forward, subtle shifts begin to occur. For example,
“Partners begin to get careless about how they say what they say; (and/or they) suspect that their partner could meet all their needs but, for some unfathomable reason, is unwilling to do so”. (p.140)
“What has happened? All that’s happened is that our relationship is becoming real. The scales have fallen off, and the blinders have been removed. With our improved vision, we can clearly see our predicament: we are with a real person. And they are different from what we presupposed, and they live in a different cognitive-emotional world. Our symbiotic conscious is being ruptured by a differentiation process, and that scares us.” (p.141)
“To the couple who is going through all this, it is the end of their world as they know it or as they wanted it to be.
For Imago, this is the on-ramp from the romantic stage to the power struggle – from connecting to conflict.
Imago defines conflict as ‘growth trying to happen’. It may feel awful, and it is experienced as a foundational threat: but the tension of the opposites is a necessary and purposeful step in the right direction. Conflict is supposed to happen, and it happens to everyone, i.e., everyone who fell in love with an Imago-Match.”(p.141)
“The power struggle – the stage of disillusionment – is nature’s savage gift, the opportunity hidden within every crisis, our rare chance to achieve transformation, if only we are willing to accept it.” (p.141) True, ‘conflict is supposed to happen’ but from an Imago perspective, ‘it is supposed to end as well’.
If partners can reframe the power struggle and see it as a chance to grow and meet the unmet needs of childhood, it not only ends the power struggle but also moves the relationship into a more conscious partnership. But again you have to be aware, you have to be conscious.
Next week we will look at how the power struggle works and the 3rd stage of Relationships and then in the following weeks, get into Chapter 7 which examines what a conscious partnership looks like.