In my book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationship and Why the Best is Still to Come, I say, “Stage 3, Disillusionment, can either be the beginning of the end of your relationship or the entrée to real lasting love.” I know. I have traveled both paths and helped thousands of couples all over the world keep their relationship from going under. I went through two marriages and divorces before I understood the five stages of love and now have been joyfully married for forty years.
As a marriage and family therapist for more than fifty years now, I have come to believe that the main reason most marriages fail today is that people have a faulty map for finding an intimate, passionate relationship that lasts through time. Most people are still stuck in an outmoded view of love that would have us believe:
- That there is one special person that each of us must find to have real lasting love.
- Once you find them, the rest is easy. You fall in love, build a life together, and live happily ever after.
- When you become disillusioned, it means you found the wrong partner, and you lick your wounds and start looking again for your “one and only.”
This is not a love map for happily ever after. It is a roadmap to lost love and loneliness. Here are the 5 stages of love that I believe offer a better path to success:
- Stage 1: Falling In Love
- Stage 2: Becoming a Couple
- Stage 3: Disillusionment
- Stage 4: Creating Real Lasting Love
- Stage 5: Using the Power of Two to Change the World
To succeed in love, you have to take a systematic view of the whole process and understand that Stage 3, Disillusionment, is the key.
When most people first hear about Disillusionment, they think about the loss of their hopes and dreams. I hear things like this: “He’s not the man I thought he was. He’s become argumentative and mean. I think I should get out of this relationship.” Or I hear, “She’s changed. The woman I fell in love with was exciting, passionate, and kind. We haven’t had sex in months, and nothing I do seems to turn her on. It’s time for me to leave.”
I tell those who come to me for help that stage 3 has a different set of purposes. First, it helps us recognize the illusions that were present when we first fell in love. We all project our hopes and dreams and our imaginings about how life with our one true love will be. We rarely see the real person, and they rarely see who we really are. In Stage 3, the veil comes down, and we begin to see who we really are. It can be scary as hell, but necessary. Second, we come to see that most of our problems in our present relationship have roots in our families of origin. Third, by healing the past, we can heal the present and vice versa.
There are two ways we can respond to the disillusionment we experience at Stage 3. We can move away, withdraw and leave the relationship either physically or emotionally. Or we can go deeper. Dr. Otto Sharmer developed a model for this journey in his book Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges.
In the book, he describes two clashing mindsets, each of which gives rise to a different dynamic and social field. The amazing artist Kelvy Bird captures these ideas in the graphic above. “Absencing—is the state of disconnecting from others,” says Scharmer, “which leads to the destruction of others, and finally, of ourselves.
“Presencing—is the state of co-sending and co-shaping the emerging future by opening our inner instruments of knowing.”
In a recent article, Theory U Marriage: How Midlife Couples Can Navigate the 5 Stages of Love I apply Dr. Scharmer’s theory to the work I’ve developed over the years to help couples navigate the five stages of love.
How to Take the Presencing Path Through
Disillusionment to Real Lasting Love
The old love map focused on finding the perfect partner and living happily ever after. When the veil is lowered, and the conflicts and disillusionment begin, we lose our way and begin walking the Absencing path:
- We become blinded by the inner voices of judgment, cynicism, and fear.
- We deny our own responsibility for problems and blame our partner.
- We become entrenched in beliefs from our wounded past.
- We become insensitive to our heart connection with our partner.
- We hold on for dear life, but feel disconnected and closed down.
- We become manipulative, blaming, abusive, violent, disembodied, and self-destructive.
- We are living in a trauma trance from our families of origin, but don’t realize the connection to our past.
The Presencing path begins with a willingness to remain present with our feelings and go deeper to imagine the relationship we truly want.
- We become curious about the connection between relationships in the past, particularly from our family, and those in the present.
- We open our hearts and feel compassion for the wounded child within each one of us.
- We find the courage to go to the very depths of our pain and our longing for love.
- At the very bottom, during the “dark night of the soul” there is an opening that can take us home to the love we so desperately long to have.
- This glimpse of our positive future opens, paradoxically, when we have given up trying to use our old knowledge and let go of what we know.
- We begin to forgive our parents and caretakers for the wounds inflicted on us, knowing they were children once who suffered their own wounding.
- We learn to forgive ourselves and heal our shame.
- We forgive our partner for the pain they have caused from their own wounding.
- We join our partner on a co-creative path that brings us together, healing our present relationship as we heal the past.
I’ve been journeying the Presencing path with my wife, Carlin, for more than forty years now. I can tell you it hasn’t always been easy. We’ve needed and reached out for a lot of help along the way. It hasn’t been all hearts and flowers like we experienced when we first fell in love. But here’s a secret that most people never learn. That crazy, head-over-heels, falling in love feeling that we believe can only happen at the beginning can become rekindled in relationships that have made it to Stage 4, Real Lasting Love. This love is real and can last a lifetime.
The path can be confusing and disheartening at times, but by God, it is real. And it is also the sweetest, most, power path human beings can ever travel. I call it the graduate school of life. Not everyone is ready to let go of their illusions and has the courage to walk this kind of sacred pathway. But those who do never regret their decision.
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