The first part of this familiarisation stage is basically a war of wills. Each individual, being used to doing things his/her way, must now try their hardest to adjust to the ways of their partner. Each one will attempt to force the other to fit their expectations for the relationship, even though these may be unspoken and highly unrealistic. Because of the conflict involved in this counterdependent stage (mutual independence), we are now likely to see our partner more negatively than others would, a complete reversal of the ‘besotment’ stage. The reasons we were unconsciously attracted to them in the first place may become the very irritants we now moan about, like a woman complaining that her once carefree husband is really irresponsible. At this stage arguments are bound to emerge. For example, the very things my husband loved me for at the beginning (looks, being a rebel and fiercely independent) are precisely the ones which grated on him at the end because he began to resent my growing confidence and success.
Conflict kept within proper boundaries usually leads to greater understanding between spouses and the problem being resolved. However, if couples allow their arguments to degenerate into endless criticisms of one another and character assassination, the arguments soon strike at the very core of the other person and are strongly resisted. Such arguments are most destructive and painful precisely because they destroy the sense of trust and intimacy that has been built up. If arguments regularly lead to personal attacks, over time a couple will consider the atmosphere unsafe for openly discussing their inner desires, fears and needs, which means less and less talk – exactly what happened to us. The only antidote to this destructive kind of act is to take turns listening to each other, to refrain from personal attacks and unending blame and be willing to risk speaking directly about genuine concerns. This familiarisation stage in the relationship is necessary in order to relate to each other as individuals; to see the union as an opportunity to journey together; to learn how to serve each other’s needs; to fight fairly and to allow win/win situations with dignity, while guarding individuality.
Differing Perspectives of Progression
Another source of conflict here is the possibility that one partner, who might fear commitment, is still in the attraction/‘besotment’ mode while the other has graduated to this territorial phase, seeking more stability and reinforcement. This mismatch can be painful for both parties, especially if any remedial action (like giving gifts to compensate or being too flippant or lighthearted) is perceived as not really addressing the issues, or are meant to be controlling the other partner even more – perceptions which are likely to lead to a demand for even more space between the couple!
At this stage winning and being right becomes more important than working together and building the loving, fulfilling relationship you both want. Demonstrations of love, respect and appreciation decline and might even disappear, first from neglect and then from hurt feelings. If enough distress builds up, you may just avoid your partner as much as you can. Or you may turn to something else: to work, to children, or any possible thing to meet your needs and avoid the distress. For some couples this stage can get to the point of desperation where they’ve tried everything they know and it seems the only option is to get out of the relationship – temporarily or permanently.
But conflict can be a door to healing and personal growth because conflict is not the problem – it has a root cause. What you do with it can be the big problem and finding a new partner often does not solve the ‘problem’ either. If disagreements have not been addressed, you are likely to recreate the same ‘problems’ and climate because of the expectations you carry with you and the type of person these are likely to attract. For example, if you tend to attract abusive types, specific problems relating to such a match are likely to repeat themselves in every relationship you have, especially if the roots of such problems are not addressed with honesty as early as possible.
ELAINE SIHERA (Ms Cyprah -http://www.ecademy.com/user/elainesihera and http://www.myspace.com/elaineone ) is an expert author, public speaker, media contributor and lifestyle columnist. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University. Elaine is a CONFIDENCE guru and a Personal Empowerment, Relationships and Diversity Consultant. Author of: 10 Easy Steps to Growing Older Disgracefully; 10 Easy Steps to Finding Your Ideal Soulmate!; Money, Sex & Compromise and Managing the Diversity Maze, among others (available on http://www.amazon.co.uk as well as her personal website). Also the founder of the British Diversity Awards and the Windrush Men and Women of the Year Achievement Awards. She describes herself as, “Fit, Fabulous, Over-fifty and Ready to Fly!"