Phase One: Two Become One
When we fall in love, there is so much newness and discovery that it’s very easy to feel like ‘two become one’, you feel you have so much in common! It’s just like the fairy-tales and you feel that you really will ‘live happily ever after’!!!
This is the ‘symbiotic’ phase of a relationship. It’s a very important part and builds a strong foundation.
Symbiosis or Fusion?
However, inevitably, you start to realise that two have not become one, two are still two. The cracks start to appear, your differences are more obvious and unsettling. I call this the ‘aargh’ phase of a relationship.
Sometimes couples split up at this phase, thinking that they’re not right for each other. That might be true, but not always.
Others pretend it’s not happening, they don’t talk about the differences. These couples tend to lose the singular pronoun and talk about ‘we’ and ‘us’ exclusively, and their relationship becomes more and more limited. They are not game to push boundaries, make suggestions, try new things, for fear of creating ‘conflict’.
Others recognise the differences, and blame the other! These are the couples that bicker all the time, caught in a web of hostility. They use the second person pronoun ‘you, you, you’ as they harangue their partner.
And some couples fall into a power play where one always acquiesces to the other. The old patriarchal model where the good wife submitted to the will of her husband, or when you hear men say "happy wife, happy life...whatever you say dear..."
None of these approaches is healthy. These couples are fused. They’ve tried to force the lovely symbiotic phase to continue, but in so doing have prevented authenticity and growth. They are stuck in co-dependance.
You can’t stay in the first phase. You have to evolve. You need to move to ‘two become two again’ and from there you can move to ‘two become three - two individuals and a couple’.
Phase Two: Differentiation - ‘two become two’
This means moving through the unsettling ‘differentiation’ phase. In this phase you drop the rose-coloured glasses and see your partner in their entirety as they really are. And they see you. This is the phase where you become experts on each other, really discover how each other ticks. You learn how your partner is different, their weaknesses, dysfunctions, and you get clearer on your own.
From that can you can learn to relate to your partner in a way that works for them rather than just yourself. You jointly develop a dynamic between you that is safe and supportive when dealing with issues of difference.
You learn to simultaneously self-regulate and inter-regulate, attending to the other while managing your own emotional arousal. This is the master skill of relating!
Phase Three: The Couple Bubble - ‘two become three’
The better you master this phase the easier is to move to the ‘two become three’ phase, or as I like to think of it ‘the couple bubble’ phase. A bubble can separate into two and rejoin again. That is how a good relationship is, you are both individuals and a couple. Your individuality enhances your coupledom and your coupledom enhances your individuality. You each know yourselves and your partner so well that you can self-soothe and soothe the other. You can ask for what you want and you can give what the other wants. You create safe, secure space so you can support each other through the tough times, and share the joys of the good times.
You can dip into your bubble momentarily: with a glance, a touch, a thought; or you can be in it for longer periods: a conversation, a night out, a session of love-making, a weekend away. This fills up your 'love bank', keeping you connected and recharged, so when you're apart you can be fabulous as an individual, you still have a sense of the 'bubble'.
When you're in this phase you feel as though you have a unique frequency that connects you, you know someone always has your back. To the outside world this phase might look like the first phase, but it's fundamentally different because you've differentiated. You've become experts on each other, you've got a secure, strong dynamic, and you continue to grow and evolve as individuals and as a couple.
To learn more about evolving as a couple, join me at one of my wonderful Couples Retreats: five days in Balior three days in the Blue Mountains.