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 widely, but most of the stages happen, to most of us. Understanding the stages gives you the tools you need to move through with your loving union intact. Here’s what you need to know.
Stage 1: Honeymoon Heaven
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.
Your Challenge: 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? For example, do you want to focus on your careers exclusively for a few years, or would you prefer to spend time traveling or taking classes? Will one or both of you want to get an advanced degree? Also spend time figuring out how you envision the rest of your marriage— such as whether and when to have children, or whether you see yourselves living in a city or the suburbs.
Stage 2: Settling In, Settling Down
This encompasses 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. This is the time to learn teamwork.
Your Challenge: 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, PhD, 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.” For example, if one of you wants children, or expects to spend every Sunday with his or her parents, and the other disagrees, you need to reach a compromise. Though you should have done this before you wed, if you haven’t, it’s not too late to discuss hot-button subjects like children, money, how often you’ll see your families, religion, etc. If you find you can’t see eye-to-eye, it may be time to seek counseling, says Dr. Hyman.
Find out the other three stages: The 5 Stages of Every Marriage
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