For a relationship to culminate in a successful long-term, committed union, a five-step relationship-building process must be acknowledged, understood, and completed.
The Five Required Steps to a Long-Term Relationship
The path to an ultimate, new long-term committed relationship traverses five separate steps in relationship building: (1) Step 1: The Transition Relationship, (2) Step 2: The Recreational Relationship, (3) Step 3: The Pre-Committed Relationship, (4) Step 4: The Committed Relationship, and (5) Step 5: The Marital Relationship. (For a discussion of recreational, pre-committed, and committed relationships, see David Steele, Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008).
This article addresses the fifth and final step in the relationship-building process, Step 5: The Marital Relationship.
The Marital Relationship Is the Time for Change!
What?! Isn’t this the time when things settle down and you can finally relax and enjoy some stability?
Well, yes and no. True, you no longer must struggle with the uncertainty of finding a partner with whom you have chemistry and who also will meet your requirements. However, pick your favorite bumper sticker: “Nothing stays the same.” “Change is the only constant.” “Men get married hoping their partner won’t change, but they do. Women get married hoping their partner will change, but they don’t.”
However you cut it, getting married is not a promise of boring, monotonous predictability. Successful marriages not only endure, but invite and relish, change in each other.
A Marital relationship is one that has matured to the point of making it formal with public vows of commitment. Attention now shifts to both parties allowing and encouraging each other to grow, develop, and change in order to fulfill each person’s life vision and purpose.
Goal and the motivating question. The goal of a marital relationship is to keep the relationship alive by encouraging growth and development. The driving question that motivates this relationship is: “How can WE help each other fulfill our personal dreams?”
The roles you and your partner play. You are expected to be a husband/wife and a cheerleader for your partner’s efforts to “be all you can be.”
The nature of a committed relationship. A common misconception is getting married is like crossing the finish line in a marathon, requiring no further action. The “marathon” part is right, however, the “finish line” image couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, you are now standing at the starting line of a life-long “super marathon” and a whole new part of your thinking will be challenged.
The common belief is that when we get married, who we are at that moment in time is frozen, like a marble sculpture. We no longer can, or need to, change our shape, size, beliefs, dreams, or vision. A more apt picture at the wedding ceremony is not of a marble statue, but of a sculpture made of Silly Putty. While we may look like a marble statue when we say, “I do,” our actual shape, size, beliefs, dreams, or vision can, and inevitably will, be molded and altered again and again to our personal specifications as our life progresses.
The Back Doors to a Marital Relationship
“Back Doors” are ways that allow one to “escape” from the relationship.
Commensurate with the increased commitment marriage brings, the difficulty in ending the relationship is also elevated. In a marriage not only is there an extraordinarily strong social/psychological contract involved, but also a legal contract is created as well. As you well know, not only is the financial cost of divorce significant, but also the emotional pain runs deep and wide. The effect is to force us to try everything we can to prevent a breakup and use divorce only as a last resort.
Potential Problems in a Marital Relationship
The marital relationship requires the two partners to help each other grow and develop. But what happens if they can’t, or won’t, do this? The relationship suffers and failure, read “divorce,” is possible.
Among the most common ways we fail at the marital step are:
(1) Taking the relationship for granted and expecting the other partner to do all the work,
(2) Trying to do all the work yourself and excluding your partner,
(3) Treating a “want” as a “requirement,”
(4) Being unwilling to compromise,
(5) Refusing to learn and use the problem-solving, conflict management skills necessary for any committed relationship to work,
(6) Refusing to accept change in your spouse as not only acceptable, but desirable, as he/she pursues their life’s purpose,
(7) Believing the person you are when you get married is the “final product” needing no subsequent alterations or adjustments for the rest of your life, and
(8) Believing love means your partner must accept you forever, just as you were back when you got married, no matter what.
(9) Failure to complete the previous four steps in the relationship-building process, especially Step 3: The Pre-Committed relationship
So, What’s the Point?
Don’t be lulled into complacency by the apparent “finality” of “getting married.” Make no doubt, your work is not done.
You are not only are capable of change, but the very essence of a successful marriage demands that you should change. Your challenge is twofold: Can you make the changes you need to make in order to fulfill your life’s vision and purpose? And, can you support, even encourage, your partner to do the same?
What stands in your way? Lurking in the shadows is the ever-present Resistance to Change! So, your ultimate challenge is to slay that resistance so that your marriage has the sustenance needed to grow and flourish.