New Growth

In The Love Cycle…

This month’s article credits the Love Cycle model by Couples Counsellor and Family Therapist, Linda Carroll from her published article, “The 5 Stages of a Relationship Every Couple Goes Through”.

The five stages of a relationship are the Merge, Doubt and Denial, Disillusionment, the Decision, and Wholehearted Love. Every single relationship moves through these five stages – though not only once. Think of these stages not as steppingstones to a final outcome but rather as a series of seasons that we move through in an eternal cycle. The stages of a relationship are not linear but cyclical.

Stage 1: The Merge
The first stage of a relationship is the Merge, aka the honeymoon phase. It’s the initial, sweeping romance that often consumes a couple when they first get together. Often people in this stage of a relationship will feel as if they’ve found their “perfect match,” someone who is so eerily similar
and compatible with them. They feel they always want to be together and boundaries often melt away. These emotions often drown out the rational part of our brain. Indeed, research tells us this first stage is marked by biochemical changes in our brain – a cocktail of hormones that trigger and
maintain a state of infatuation, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. This brain glow can often lead us to become “addicted” to our partner and to ignore incompatibilities, red flags, or other issues.

Take time to step back and observe your emotions and your relationship, and actively question whether this person really is the best match for you. Go slow with making any big decisions too – the Merge can fog your vision and make you want to dive into situations that might not actually be wise or
healthy for you.

Stage 2: Doubt and Denial
The second stage of a relationship is Doubt and Denial, in which we finally start to actually notice the differences between us and our new partner. We wake up from the trance of infatuation with a thump, finding that the same qualities that once seemed so perfect have begun to annoy us.

Unfortunately, friction is natural once we run up against each other’s differences. Feelings of love mix with alienation and irritation. Perhaps we’re not “perfect” for each other after all.

What to do in this relationship stage:
At this point, the skills of conflict management are essential. Learn how to deescalate conflict and face relationship problems head-on while treating each other with care and respect. Remember that power struggles and arguments are normal parts of a relationship; they’re not necessarily a sign
that the relationship is not working.

Stage 3: Disillusionment
The third stage of a relationship is the Disillusionment stage. This is the winter season of love, one that may feel like the end of the road for some couples. The “I” re-emerges, a state that feels a lot safer than our former blissful experience of “we.”

What to do in this relationship stage:
Clear the air and create space. Stop pushing problems under the rug. There may be negative energy in the relationship at this stage. To offset this, practice showing affection even when upset. Can you feel angry and be aware that something isn’t working that you need to talk about but still go to dinner and a movie together?

Stage 4: Decision
In this stage, we make a decision – whether that’s to leave, to stay and work on the relationship.

What to do in this relationship stage:
Doing the work involves understanding your own role in the relationship. We can learn the lessons that will help us become the best people we can be as we give our relationship the chance to grow and deepen. Even if couples do make the choice to part ways, they can often do so in a constructive way, wishing one another well and understanding their own part in what happened. This can be an important time to speak to a Counsellor.

Stage 5: Wholehearted Love
The fifth stage of a relationship is Wholehearted Love—when our relationship is at its healthiest and most rewarding. Couples experience true individuation, self-discovery, and the acceptance of imperfection in both themselves and their partners, recognising there is no such thing as a “perfect match.” There’s work still involved in this fifth stage of a relationship, but the difference is that couples will listen and lean into uncomfortable conversations without feeling threatened or attacking one another.

What to do in this relationship stage:
Nourish yourself. The Wholehearted Love stage is fuelled by the qualities of two wholehearted people: generosity, humour, flexibility, resilience, good boundaries, self-care and a life with meaning and purpose. Couples are able to stay in this stage as long as they’re able to continually sustain their own
wholeness as individuals, so make self-care and self-growth continual goals.

Happy Springtime … and new growth.
Being human with you