Gay relationship psychology, changing attitudes: Stages of relationships

Lemarc 6PROMOTIONAL FEATURE Lemarc Thomas Managing Director Seventy Thirty, Exclusive International Matchmaking With a background in Psychology, Lemarc (pictured) runs Seventy Thirty, Exclusive Matchmaking Company, with a team of Psychologists coaching and matching those of affluence and influence around the world. In association with Attitude’s Marriage Channel, Lemarc presents a short series of articles from his experience and expertise with Gay Relationships; Changing Attitudes. [email protected] 0207 753 7631 “He’s started doing a lot more things on his own, going out with friends without me, he’s even started playing basketball. Do you think he’s trying to tell me it’s over?” “We don’t have that ‘fire’ anymore, we couldn’t take our eyes or hands off each other before, now things are getting a little boring. Is it time to move on?” “We’ve been together for 10 years, and now he tells me that he wants to try ‘other things’, sexually, what does this mean?” Change. Relationships go through stages; things will not stay the same, and, how we handle these transitions determines the future health of the relationship, or whether there is a future at all. Often our failure to recognise the natural progression of a relationship can result in a great deal of anxiety. Naturally, with change we may feel vulnerable and act in ways that is not helpful. It is not hard to see why many relationships end, rather than moving to the next progressive phase. In this article, we take a look at the stages of relationships considering a model by Alan Cassel, 2013. By understanding how a relationship develops, we can be more level-headed when challenges arise, tackling obstacles effectively to help the relationship progress in a healthy way. Although there is progression, it is not a race to get through each phase as quickly as possible. Sometimes, couples quickly move to the next stage wanting to ensure security, when embracing and enjoying each stage may lead to a more stable relationship in the long term. The Infatuation Stage Oh the honeymoon period; falling in love. Anthropologist Helen Fisher describes how an increase in sex hormones, testosterone and oestrogen, cause an initial lust for each other. Then neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin) have us love struck, and we are intensely attracted to each other. This cocktail of chemicals literally have us ‘crazy in love’; feeling impulsive, not being able to concentrate, we lose appetite and we lose focus as priorities change and our partner consumes our time and energy. With all these chemicals infiltrating our brain, activity in the frontal cortex tends to be inhibited, so our logic and judgement may not be up to scratch. To add to this, the anterior cingulated cortex is activated, which is associated with feelings of euphoria. This is the natural high that we are looking for, but the danger is that we are acting on an instinctual level, so even if we know they’re not good for us, we’ve turned off logic and we go for it. We may also feel somewhat insecure, obsessive, needy; and who’s to blame us, with all this going on, we can’t get this person out of our head, yet have not created a permanent bond – we could lose it all. No wonder it’s called ‘falling’ in love. The Understanding Stage This is where things start to stabilise a little. We are motivated to learn everything there is to know about each other, disclosing our life story with all our thoughts, beliefs, values, dreams and aspirations. Then with touching, eye contact, sexual intimacy and some oxytocin and vasopressin (the bonding hormones), an attachment starts to form. The Disturbance Stage The first fight. If you’re anything like me, you might get that out of the way on the first date, but the first significant argument is important. In a relationship there is likely to be a fair amount of conflict and how we deal with it gives us insight to the future of the relationship. If you can’t resolve conflict as a team, you probably won’t have a future. The fight must be fair, two people communicating effectively without making personal attacks, understanding each other and trying to reach a mutual resolution. Getting through conflict is how we establish boundaries and forge a way for two individuals to become a unit. The Moulding Stage As the chemicals start to restore to normal levels, lifting the suppression of the frontal cortex, logic and reason is restored, well, to some extent. We have an idea about what we want from our future partner and what a future relationship looks like. However, no one is perfect, so we challenge each other, trying to find out if each can mould into what the other wants for their future – both partners have to make compromise, but you can’t change them and you certainly can’t fix them. This is where the power struggle begins. It is inevitable in every relationship that a game of tug of war is played. One person pulls in one direction, the instinct can be to pull even harder in the other. However, what might be better is to put the rope down and negotiate how to share power. The Commitment Stage Getting through the moulding phase by negotiating power and roles; establishing mutual boundaries with a strong solid bond, can move us into the happy commitment stage. This is a more stable, loving, caring, future-focused phase where the happy couple plan and create their life together. This is the phase where commitment gestures are made, such as marriage, moving in together, buying a house, having children. There is complete trust. Be careful not to cheat your way into this stage before putting in the groundwork. Couples make the mistake of thinking that if they move in together; if they have a commitment ceremony; if they have kids, it will improve the relationship – it won’t. The relationship needs to be healthy and secure before making these commitments, otherwise things will only exacerbate. The Doubting Stage Some couples may then move into a doubting phase. Feeling that they have settled and lost themselves in the relationship. They need to refocus on themselves, remember what they want and maintain individual identity. The relationship can be comfortable but can get unstimulating or even boring. Partners may reflect on previous loved ones and wonder whether they are with the right person. This is a phase where emotionally and physically one may drift and potentially explore alternative options. This is where many long term relationships break down, if the couple cannot find a way to renew the relationship. The Sexual Satisfaction Stage Some couples realise that their sexual drive and desires have changed after a long time together. They may not feel fulfilled sexually, their drives can be out of sync. At this stage in the relationship the couple needs to find a way to satisfy sexual desire. Some may find ways to rekindle the sexual chemistry. Some may decide to explore non-monogamous options. Others may decide that they are no longer sexually interested in their partner and decide to move on. Whatever the decision, be aware of each other’s needs rather than running from them or ignoring them. It can often be uncomfortable to confront this, but by doing so, you can move forward together or separately. The Renewal Stage Many relationship models have a final stage, the renewal or retirement phase of a relationship. We know our partner inside and out, completely trusting in each other. Having lived life together and shared it all, this is a stage of companionship, comfort and reliability. The couple is usually financially stable and can afford to pursue new adventures together. It is important be stimulated, keep the conversation going and celebrate your relationship. Change is inevitable and every challenge you successfully overcome, makes your relationship stronger. Avoidance is never a good strategy, it will make it worse, so… deal with it. Wherever you are in your relationship, you are two distinct individuals, you have your own values, interests, beliefs and goals. Hopefully, much of this is shared, but understand yours, understand your partner’s and see if you can negotiate and find mutuality. BY LEMARC THOMAS