Have you ever been in a relationship which started out so perfectly and over time you wondered where the love and passion disappeared?
You begin to doubt if your partner was ever the right fit for you and if they ever truly loved you in the first place.
Linda Carroll, a writer, therapist, seminar leader, keynote speaker, and private coach sheds light on the different stages of love and how we can turn things around for the better in our relationships. The below article is an excerpt from Linda’s book, Love Cycles © 2012. Published with permission of New World Library.
The first stage, the Merge, fueled by a delicious and powerful love potion, may lead us to fall in love with an inappropriate partner.
Despite the power of the potion, we choose what to do with our feelings. Do we fan the flames of a fire, which signals danger, or do we control our passion and turn our attention elsewhere?
If we choose to move with our partner into stage two, Doubt and Denial, we wake up from our trance of infatuation and begin to wonder whether this relationship is really the best choice for us.
We can choose to look carefully at our partner and assess his ability to collaborate, manage conflict and disappointment, and accept responsibility for his choices and troubles.
Can we feel strongly attracted to someone and yet admit to ourselves that this person is not a good choice for us? If so, are we able to say no to the relationship?
During this second stage, the spotlight shines on the flaws of our beloved.
If we decide to remain in the relationship, typically we now invest a lot of energy in getting our lover to become our ideal partner. At the same time, we also catch glimpses of our own least-likeable parts, for example, how we react when our partner doesn’t agree with us (press our point harder) or complains about something we have or haven’t done (perhaps we counterattack with a complaint of our own.)
Each of us is forced to give up our dream of perfect, unconditional love in which our partner always sees the best in us and says the right thing, never embarrasses us, and reads our mind so that he can please us in every way possible.
As our disappointment escalates, so do our biological responses to stress: we prepare for war, we retreat, or we don camouflage.
Welcome to the third stage: Disillusionment.
As differences continue to emerge, your proclivities to defend and preserve yourself may grow even stronger: you may believe that you’re always in the right and that everything should be done your way. Alternatively, perhaps you’re the kind of person who cannot bear conflict. You shut your ears to every dissonant chord and pretend everything is wonderful — or at least tolerable.
The point is, you have chosen how to respond.
You will continue to make choices as you move through love’s stages. As Disillusionment sets in, we can try our best to offer goodwill and kindness, even as tension thickens. As the “Why aren’t you me?” argument gathers momentum, we can decide to loosen up a bit and allow more than one truth to be present in the relationship.
In this third stage, when our brain signals major alarm, it is particularly vital to choose to move from reactivity to rationality.
When we are calmly present, we are free to act for the highest good of the relationship rather than out of fear and neediness.
Of course, because we’re thoroughly human, we won’t always respond to our lover from our highest self. At times, jealousy, anger, hurt, and pride will get the best of us.
Can we apologize, make amends, and take responsibility for how we behaved, despite what our partner did to upset or annoy us? We have the power to make that choice.
Let’s say that when we reach the fourth stage — Decision— we make the choice to part ways.
Can we wish our former partner the best? If that’s too hard, can we at least not wish him or her the worst?
If our partner decides to leave us, the situation presents a particularly rich opportunity to grow. The child in us may wail, “There are only two reasons a person would leave me: Either I’m bad, or he is!” Or we can choose to listen to the adult inside us who knows that one person can leave another without either one being bad. It is a life choice that may hurt us, but it will not destroy us.
Alternatively, if we decide to remain together, we have the opportunity to learn the lessons that will help to make us the best person we can be, while also giving our relationship the chance to grow and deepen.
Practicing the Six Cs
How do we begin to love this way — from the inside out? I suggest that you start by practicing the “Six Cs,” which are choice, commitment, celebration, compassion, cocreation, and courage.
If you and your partner commit to developing these qualities and behaviors, you will succeed in the fifth and final stage of love — Wholehearted Loving.
Let’s take a closer look at these Six Cs to get a sense of the purpose and power of each one.
A chief component of a healthy relationship is recognizing that our every act — physical, financial, sexual, spiritual, and emotional — involves a choice, even when we imagine ourselves to be helpless.
There’s an irony here: only when we feel capable of living well on our own can we choose intimate partnership freely and fully.
To be able to say yes to a relationship with a whole heart, we need to know we can also say no and thrive on our own. We’re the leaders of our own lives.
When we are committed to someone, our participation in the relationship is unqualified.
We mean to stick around for the entire ride, not just to enjoy the side trip of romantic love before jumping off.
We promise ourselves and our partner that we will work hard to enrich and deepen the relationship, which includes taking the time to make it a priority.
Commitment also involves an honest examination of the fears and other limitations in ourselves that make love and collaboration with our partner challenging.
Commitment includes a pledge to ourselves that we will do the inside work necessary to make the relationship flourish.
First and foremost, let your partner know that he or she is fantastic! Learn to pay attention to what works between the two of you; discover small rituals of connection; and find times and ways to play, enjoy each other, and make love that you can integrate into your everyday lives.
At the same time, understand that your primary job is to find your own unique purpose and fulfill it.
All spiritual traditions emphasize that each person has his or her own calling, and that to discover and celebrate it is our life’s work. Self-actualization and connection can be nurtured at the same time — one doesn’t exclude the other.
Each of us struggles with the human condition, and we must extend compassion to ourselves and to our partner.
Note: Compassion is not the same as indulgence.
We can maintain clear boundaries and honor our needs for safety and accountability, even while understanding each other’s struggles and vulnerabilities.
We can stretch to see conflicts from the other’s perspective rather than remaining mired in our own point of view.
We can make the effort to cultivate interest in each other rather than passing judgment, and to respond with openheartedness even when our instinct is to close up like a clam.
We can forgive ourselves and forgive our partner, again and again.
Our stumbles are as much a part of the journey as our successes.
One of the most powerful skills a couple can develop is the shared creation of effective ways to manage conflict, communicate, share decisions, and support each other in difficult times.
Cocreation can also involve the pursuit of common interests that extend the relationship beyond its customary “you-me” borders. It’s healthy for couples to broaden their lives together, be it through family or community connections, creative projects, intellectual pursuits, sports, music, travel, spiritual practice, friendships, or other endeavors that you both find rewarding.
We cocreate when we discover satisfying activities to do together rather than just being together.
These joint endeavors can create larger meaning in our relationship.
Bravery is a prerequisite to moving forward as a couple. We need the courage to confront ourselves and our partners with awareness, honesty, and love.
Courage means squarely facing our fears and limitations.
It involves challenging our expectations and assumptions about who our partners are, about who they should and shouldn’t be.
It means making changes when they are called for.
It is feeling compassion for the whole of our human condition — mine, yours, that of our families, and even of people we feel have wronged us.
Bravery is finding a way to laugh at ourselves, too.
Excerpted from the book Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love © 2014 by Linda Carroll. Published with permission of New World Library www.newworldlibrary.com.
About the author
Linda Carroll was born in 1944 in San Francisco and adopted into an Italian Catholic family. Very early, she discovered poetry as a form of prayer and a window into an expanded life. In 1961, when Linda graduated from high school, San Francisco was already buzzing with counterculture music, arts, and style, and Linda found herself selling beads and going to peace marches.
After finishing her bachelors degree in Oregon in the seventies, she moved to New Zealand, where she raised children on an 86-acre sheep farm. She returned to Oregon in the eighties and received a masters in counseling, and began practicing as a therapist.
In the nineties, she and her veterinarian husband, Tim Barraud, began to teach a couples course based on the Imago work of Harville Hendrix, the PAIRS training of Dr. Laurie Gordon, and their own insights, study and practices. They continue to offer retreats and seminars all over the world; Linda's third book, Love Cycles, newly published, is based on this work.
As an adult, Linda found her birth mother, the novelist Paula Fox, and began to understand her deep-seated love of poetry anew. In 2006, her memoir, Her Mother's Daughter, was published by Doubleday. In 2008, Remember Who You Are was published by Conari Press.
Linda's new book, Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love is now available. Sign up for her mailing list to learn the latest news for this terrific book. And follow her on Facebook.
Linda has five children and ten grandchildren. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon, with her husband and three Jack Russells* and continues her lifelong path of spiritual seeking.
* Alas, she now has two Jack Russells.