Marriage is a learning process. In a successful marriage we gradually learn who the other person is and they learn who we are. As with all learning, this is a painful process at times; at times it is a delight. William James said that there are six personalities involved in every relationship: What he thinks he is, what she thinks he is and what he really is; and vice versa, what she thinks she is, what he thinks she is and what she really is. Couples need to sort out all of these personalities, real and imagined. This takes time and patience.
Marriage can be the most difficult and frustrating relationship we’ve ever experienced as well as the most intimate, loving and secure relationship possible. Marriages typically go through several stages of development. In the initial stage, often called the honeymoon phase, we expect our mate to meet our every need and we expect him or her to be like we are. This is a self-centered stage; we are mainly concerned about our own wishes and we have little understanding of our mate and his needs or wishes.
Since both partners are largely concerned about themselves, a power struggle emerges. This is settled, after some struggle and negotiation, by bargaining agreements —“You do this for me and I’ll do that for you.” The power struggle/negotiation stage is often where couples are stuck.
In the third stage of marital development couples learn to appreciate each other’s individuality and they learn to give. They value their differences and encourage each other’s growth. They have changed. They have not changed who they are or their temperament, but they have changed their habits, their attitudes, their reactions and their responses to each other. They may even show their love by giving what the other wants or needs without thought of being repaid and even with some inconvenience to themselves.
Couples often remain stuck in the second stage. The key to a successful marriage is to be willing to learn from every problem or conflict without trying to make your partner also learn. If you change, your partner will come along. Marriages become stuck when both partners avoid change. We need to let go of old habits and learn to see things from a different perspective.
If you are stuck in stage two it may help to approach each other in a different way than you usually do. Begin with positive things you feel about each other. Ask for your partner’s opinion before you give your own. Listen carefully to what he or she says and try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Listen to your partner’s thoughts without jumping to defend yourself.
“Change your ways. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. 2 Corinthians NLT