Have you ever wondered why someone whose touch used to make your heart flutter, can now make you want to throw up? We all understand that things change and people grow apart, but how is it that someone who you used to have wild sex with (hopefully it was wild) can turn into someone who makes your skin crawl?
Well, let’s talk about it…
Married couples always talk about the “seven-year stretch,” as the average American marriage will only last for about seven to eight years maximum before a woman files for divorce. You spend your first three years in some version of the honeymoon phase, year four usually brings about some tough compatibility issues, at year five the infamous “5-year itch” sets in, and by year seven everything has gone to hell. You may make it to year eight by technicality if your divorce takes a while. But why?
Well, all of my relationship advice comes from my therapist and other therapists who specialize in the field (Yes. I’m a lawyer with a therapist, and honestly, if your lawyer doesn’t have a therapist you should be worried). My favorite article that helps navigate through the seven-year stretch in a marriage is written by Linda Carrol, M.S. LMFT., where she explains the 5 stages of a relationship (The 5 Stages Of A Relationship + Survival Tips For Each One). In this article, Linda teaches us that stages in a relationship are cyclical, and not linear.
As children, we were taught that all relationships are the same.
“Girl meets Boy. The boy is a gentleman who sweeps her off her feet. Girl and Boy get married, have a baby, and live happily ever after. The End.”
And of course, the media and movies (thank you Walt Disney) heavily perpetuate this narrative and refuse to normalize that relationships are not a one-way street. I’m sorry, but no you won’t have a big sign at the end of the road that lets you know that “you’ve made it.” And because we’ve pushed this unrealistic ideology about relationships, we have developed a very basic way of thinking that places unrealistic expectations on ourselves and our partners.
If it doesn’t always feel “magical” then we assume that something is wrong. Stages 2 through 4 of Linda Carrol’s article cover this issue in relationships. Most couples spend years four through seven in these stages as well. We begin to doubt we made the right choice but try to ignore it and work through it (Stage 2). Then we begin to wonder “Is this really my person?, We fight about EVERYTHING” (Stage 3). And later on, we make the decision that “We need a divorce.” (Stage 4).
Linda’s article is a great resource that offers tools on how to deal with each stage and successfully make it to Stage 5, “Wholehearted Love.” This stage represents success in your relationship journey. However, if someone comes to sit at my table, it means they didn’t make it to Stage 5 at all.
I remember telling an ex of mine that people don’t make it to thirty-five years in marriage because of some magical feeling they get when they look at their partner. Sure there will be days when you are absolutely in love with your spouse, but there will also be days when you aren’t. And during those times you have to choose to remain committed and not amplify the issues in your relationship that will make it more miserable than it actually is.
Every relationship with every person you have will go through “stages” and you will likely go through the same stages in a relationship multiple times. As people, we are continuously growing, or we should be and we’ll become different versions of ourselves as we continue to grow. The reality for most couples is that you won’t always like a particular version of your partner. However, if your relationship has more pros than cons, and if your partner makes you feel loved more than they make you feel like shit, then you may need to read Linda’s article. It’s important to arm yourself with the resources you need to make your marriage last.
We place unrealistic expectations on ourselves and our partners to achieve this fairytale level of love that may not actually exist. And when our partner fails to meet those expectations, we end up hating them, and sometimes ourselves.
But the reality is y’all used to love one another. So you can’t hate them as much as you’re trying to convince yourself that you do. Evaluate the issues before you come sit at my table, and really give your marriage a fair chance at success.
You can make up your own rules in your relationship, and do what works for you, not what worked for Cinderella and Prince Charming, or Shrek and Fiona (that’s my favorite Disney movie by the way). And if you end up coming to me because you can’t make it to Stage 5, we will work through it together, in a healthy way.