Articles of Interest

The Stages of Marriage

By MaryLynne Black, PsyD, Clinical Supervisor of Faith-Based Counseling

MaryLynne Black

Today’s marriages are under assault. A whopping 50% of first marriages end in divorce and that number climbs to 67% for second marriages, says Rita DeMaria, Ph.D,. author of The 7 Stages of Marriage. If you have the courage to enter into a third marriage, the chance of that marriage ending in divorce rises to 74%. It seems that we do no better on subsequent marriages.

But the news is not all bad. For couples who remain together through times of conflict, 86% report that, 5 years later, their marriage has improved. Ten years later, 80% of these couples report being very happy with their marriage.

What is the glue that holds some marriages together while others fall apart? The nation’s top relationship experts have been analyzing marriages for more than 30 years and have weighed in with their findings. Some of these finding may be simple and straightforward while others may be a little more surprising.

Researcher Rita DeMaria suggests that all marriages evolve through stages. The first stage is the Passion stage. This is the honeymoon stage of attraction, love, bonding, and excitement. This stage can last for a few weeks to a couple of years.

The Realization stage emerges as the honeymoon stage gives way to the cold reality that your spouse is only human and makes mistakes. This stage is characterized by disillusionment, disappointment, and early conflicts. As couples negotiate these conflicts, they lay a strong foundation based on acceptance, respect, and openness to change.

The third stage is the Rebellion stage. Power struggles, the need for asserting your individual needs, can lead to battles. The goal of this stage is to learn to fight well and emerge stronger as a couple.

As children arrive, careers blossom, and houses require increasing financial investments, couples enter the Cooperation stage. The roles of household partners solidify as the responsibilities of children, household duties, work schedules, and family vacations fill your days. This stage can last from 10 to 20 years.

During the Reunion stage, children have been launched in to their own lives, careers are now well established, and couples have time to turn to each other again. This stage can include some tricky navigation as couples rediscover each other as lovers and friends.

Stage 6 can happen at any time. The Explosion state is characterized by job loss, health crisis, a major move, financial crisis, or any other unexpected major life development. The quality of one’s relationship can often deepen and provide a solid foundation on which to weather the storms of life. Conversely, it can crumble under the added stressors.

The final stage, Completion, is characterized by maintaining the love of life, laughter, nature, and each other as one ages. Couples are enjoying the present moment more and more and looking to the future. This can be a delightful time of enjoying each other as one grows closer, and life often slows down.

Maintaining and growing a marriage is challenging, exhausting, and rewarding. How do happy couples maintain strong, fulfilling marriages? In the best marriages, husbands allow themselves to be influenced by their wives. And vice versa. Wives allow themselves to be influenced by their husbands. Allowing oneself to be gently persuaded by one’s partner shows eminent respect for that person and helps build a solid foundation. This is the first building block for a strong marriage.

Trust, fairness, and balance are the second building block needed for a good marriage. “If you trust your spouse, you can give freely and happily. But when there is a lack of trust, spouses withdraw or manipulate or threaten,” says Dr. Terry Hargrave, Ph.D., author of The Essential Humility of Marriage. “Doing your share, not letting your spouse down, can go far towards repairing relationships and building love,” Dr. Hargrave explains.

A third building block in a strong, lasting marriage is having fun together says Dr. DeMaria. In fact, studies show that having fun is more important than one’s ability to forgive, problem solve, complete housework, or even the frequency and quality of sex. Connecting as friends, sharing a kind spirited humor or a warm, unhurried embrace lets your partner know you still find him or her attractive.

Along with enjoying each other’s company, giving solid, genuine compliments strengthens marriages. There is no such thing as too much appreciation. Studies show that it takes 5-20 positive comments to outweigh one negative remark. Finding life boring? Surprise your spouse. Unexpected gifts, breakfast in bed, or a note or card all help strengthen the marriage. Reminiscing about past holidays or life experiences draws couples closer together. Learning the art of forgiving your spouse and then forgetting the slight allows your relationship to grow and flourish. Finally, graciously overlooking your spouse’s flaws and gaffes allows your partner to be human but still loved and accepted.

It is never too late to improve your relationship. Statistics reveal that the world population is aging. More and more people are living into their 70s and 80s. The ages of 76-85 are fast becoming the new middle age because more and more people in this age bracket have nothing physically wrong with them. Marriage has many benefits including living longer, enjoying better health, greater wealth, and happier kids. We can build good relationships. Our marriages are worth fighting for. Understanding the stage your marriage is in and following some of the techniques to strengthen your marriage can lead to one of life’s most satisfying experiences.