You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

Guest Blog by Roxanne Maroney, co-author of Hope After Hurt

In their book, “In Quest of the Mythical Mate”, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson describe the stages of marriage. They refer to these stages as “Stepping Stones to Intimacy – A Positive Outlook on the Challenges All Couples Face.” The authors call this a “Positive Outlook”, saying these stages are “normal,” and it’s possible to navigate through them to get to a mutually supportive relationship. Their description helped us understanding what was happening in our relationship.

In the beginning, most couples prefer to stay in Stage 1, the falling in love, romantic phase. “Why can’t you love me and treat me like you did when we first met?” This is clearly an important stage, because it helps form the  powerful connection needed in romance and attraction. But when insecurity, need, or demand for connection take over, it quickly falls short. Each stage presents a challenge you must navigate to move on to the next, where two individuals form a strong and supportive relationship.

Stage 1: Exclusive Bonding – Becoming “WE”

During this initial, blissful merging experience, two individuals join together into a “We”, and “Oneness” takes center stage. We focus on what we share and have in common. You’re on your best behavior and do everything to show your best side. You experience the ecstasy of giving, and being given to, by someone who has chosen you for your own specialness. Your beliefs, behaviors and personality might be temporarily suspended for the “We” to become primary. In this stage, differences are minimized, and similarities are emphasized.

From this point onward, the balance between two individuals and the “WE” will fluctuate due to the struggle between the need for autonomy of the individual and the desire for intimacy of the “WE”. Because you are two different individuals, you might not progress through these stages at the same time.

The Challenge at Stage 1:

Although this romantic period contributes to forging a strong, exclusive bond based on trust and togetherness, the challenge at Stage 1 is recognizing love can be blind. You must be aware there are highs and lows in a relationship and build a healthy foundation you can draw upon as your relationship matures.

Stage 2: Managing Anxiety Over Differences

Eventually, each individual re-emerges, and differences that might have been dormant begin to emerge. You experience disillusionment and disappointment as you discover your beloved is far from perfect. We recognized this stage shortly after we were married. We saw values, desires, and behaviors in ourselves and each other that were irritating and annoying. We drifted away from each other, struggled to figure out how much time to be together, when to be alone, and when to be with friends.

I’m more extroverted and Rob is more introverted. I wanted time with people and he needed time alone to recharge. We didn’t see this in the romantic phase since we wanted to be together all the time (which suited me just fine), but Rob put his desire for solitude on the back burner until we hit stage two.

This is a difficult and stressful time, and couples cope differently. Some rise to the challenge by learning more effective ways to deal with differences. Some yearn for the earlier blissful days of Stage 1. Most struggling couples, however, try to solve this crisis with two ineffective solutions. Attempting to return to the comfort of Stage 1, couples will either hide or deny their differences to avoid conflict, or engage in escalating arguments.

The Challenge at Stage 2:

When couples share a strong compatibility and resilience, tension and differences hold the greatest promise for personal growth and deepened intimacy. The challenge at Stage 2 is developing effective means of dealing with differences through healthy conflict management and negotiation.

Stage 3: Moving From “WE” Back To “I”

When a couple becomes weary of trying to return to the comfort of Stage 1, or just loses heart altogether, they often become more independent. Usually, one pursues and the other will distance. One may cling to relational connection and the other pulls away. When


I pursued Rob and he distanced from me I became hurt and frustrated and then I would pull away. When Rob sensed my withdrawal he would pursue me, but then I pulled further away.

As couples continue this back and forth dance, an unhealthy independence can emerge and couples become both physically isolated and emotionally disconnected. The “we” becomes lost, and the balance shifts heavily back toward the individual and isolation. You can feel more like roommates than lovers. This vital and important stage presents a real crisis. It could easily look like love and caring have all but disappeared.

The Challenge at Stage 3:

This was the most painful stage for us and, not surprising, this is the stage where most marriages are at risk for divorce. The challenge of Stage 3 is couples must learn how to redefine and sustain their identities under stress. This includes healthy boundaries, good listening skills, empathy and compromise, bringing greater richness to the relationship and strengthening the foundation for reconnection. When couples don’t successfully navigate this stage they will often re-marry, but will arrive at this same impasse with the next partner.

Stage 4: Back & Forth Patterns of Intimacy

As we learned to see our relationship like a living, breathing organism, we became comfortable with being together, as well as being apart. As we became more secure individuals, we could come together and maintain our own point of view, even if the other person disagreed. At this stage, couples are also able to work through difficult areas of broken trust. Couples who successfully move through this stage often find it accompanied with an enlivened sexual relationship and restored intimacy.

Though there will still be moments of conflict, when a new quality of “WE” comes into being, couples have respect for one another and are able to repair their differences more quickly.

The Challenge at Stage 4:

At this stage, couples feel much more supported than stifled in the relationship. There is less “I need” and more “I would like” or “I really want.” It becomes a request, rather than a complaint. The challenge at Stage 4 is to be able to say “no” without shutting down communication or hearing it as a harsh barb of rejection.

Stage 5: Independence & Interdependence

The hallmark of this stage is mutual respect and celebrating our differences. This level of connection does not happen without effort and being attentive to working through the challenges of previous stages. When you increase your ability to manage emotional reactions when differences cause tension, your intimacy deepens. In this stage, couples relate in ways that are true to their most deeply held values and beliefs and flow between the individual “i” and the “we” almost seamlessly.


The Challenge at Stage 5:

As you consider these stages of intimacy, where is your relationship today?

Being aware of these stages can help you recognize when your relationship is slipping into a dangerous place. Understanding these stages can help reveal how you think about your difficulties, how well you manage your feelings, where you focus your attention, and how you communicate under stress.

Don’t be lulled into thinking things just get better on their own. They usually don’t. You may go back and forth between these stages at times, but the important thing is to keep moving to a healthier place of mutual respect, love and trust. 

Check 0ut Rob & Roxanne’s new website; EyeSight Coaching;

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