Marriage goes through stages. For a long time, psychologists have debated over how many marriage stages actually exist. Is it 4? 5? or 7?
Although they agree that marriage does, in fact, go through stages, they can’t quite decide how and where one stage begins and another ends.
But regardless of the names and numbers assigned to them, they pretty much all boil down to the same 4 categories.
Personally, I like to think about them as the “seasons” of a marriage.
1. Romance (Summer)
2. Disillusionment (Autumn)
3. Misery (Winter)
4. Awakening (Spring)
How I learned about the marriage stages
Years ago, my husband and I were knee-deep in the stage known as “misery” (not that we were aware of it at the time.)
After we got married and the honeymoon stage was over, we spent most of our days together engaged in power struggles. We argued over cleaning the house, disciplining the kids, going out or staying in, lack of intimacy, lack of common interests, etc.
But eventually, something even worse than the power struggles began to take hold. Slowly and inconspicuously, the arguing started to fade away. And our life suddenly became quiet and unfulfilling. We had both given up. Welcome to “misery,” the third stage of marriage.
We were tired. Despite all of our great intentions to do life together and “not become a statistic.” We had both mentioned the “D” word more than once.
But it wasn’t until after an extramarital affair, that we realized we needed help. And that’s when we headed off to marriage counseling.
Interestingly, we learned that our marriage wasn’t all that surprising (not even the affair). In fact, we were nothing short of common and we were following the same exact marriage pattern that millions of couples before us had followed.
The bad news was that we had hit the stage of marriage that was the most difficult to navigate. We had hit the stage where most people give up and start over, only to find themselves stuck at the exact same stage again with their new mate.
But the good news was that we could choose not to give up and if we pushed through this… we would come into the final stage of marriage. The stage where people truly live happily ever after. The stage that 95% of marriages NEVER REACH.
So what exactly are the various stages of married life really like?
Marriage Stage # 1 – Romance
The “romance” marriage stage is a lot like the “summer” of your relationship. There’s a feeling of excitement in the air. Things may get pretty hot. You feel happy and free.
This is the stage that most people think of as being “in love.” Oddly enough, this is also the stage where people are farthest away from true love. (Stage 4 is sometimes called the “true love” stage.
You know this one: It’s that butterflies-in-your-stomach, just-want-to-feel-your-touch, could-I-be-any-happier stage that we all go through at the very early part of a relationship.
During this time, you’ll probably do some crazy things to be with the one you love and you may do even crazier things to prove that you are worthy of their love.
However, what you are actually building in this stage is a conditional love that’s built on your own ability to keep up the “perfect soulmate” routine.
Marriage Stage #2 – Disillusionment
The “disillusionment” marriage stage is a lot like the “Autumn” of your relationship. Things will start down some. It’s not terrible at first, it may even feel sort of comfortable as the heat fades and a cooler temperature sets in. But soon, the wind will start blowing, the leaves begin to fall, and colors begin to fade. Things are cooling off and you start to realize that winter is coming.
After we get married, we begin noticing little things that get on our nerves. The fact that our spouse chews really loudly or never closes the cabinet doors. The life we imagined that we would have with our spouse is suddenly in direct conflict with the life we actually have.
You may find yourself attempting to mold your spouse into the person you imagined they would be. Or you may find yourself depressed and believing that you married the wrong person.
The biggest problem with this concept is that both you and your spouse have come into the marriage with expectations. And neither one of you will ever be able to meet those expectations perfectly.
But before you start thinking that you should just move on to someone who can give you the life you dreamed of, know this: NO ONE will ever meet those expectations.
And even if you found someone who didn’t do all those annoying little things that your spouse does, you’d find new things to annoy you. New person, new problems.
At this stage, some people give up and start looking into divorce. But most people aren’t quite resigned to losing their marriage just yet and they find themself moving right into the Misery stage.
Marriage Stage #3 – Misery
The “misery” marriage stage is a lot like the “winter” of your relationship. Things are cold. All the vibrant colors of your summer love are hidden beneath the cold snow. You miss the warmth and freedom you felt at the beginning of your relationship and one or both of you may start considering moving to warmer climates.
Isn’t it interesting that there is a whole stage of marriage devoted to misery? I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching this stage and mulling it over.
I just felt a need to understand the REASON why a marriage must walk through the misery stage to get to the “awakening stage.”
And quite honestly, I wanted to know if there was a way to skip this stage? I’ve come up with the following answer:
Misery is an essential part of our growth as a couple. It’s the marriage stage where we are meant to give up all of our preconceived notions and pre-formed expectations for the life we hoped to live.
It’s the time in our lives where all of the dreams and plans we’ve built for our marriage have been torn down and we begin rebuilding it with a proper foundation, one that we’ve created together.
Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that “misery” is a means to an end. They feel like their marriage has hit rock bottom (it has) and they begin looking for a way out.
During this stage, things can become very loud if the couple begins throwing around harsh words in an attempt to hurt each other, or they can become very quiet if a couple has given up trying. (Trust me this is the most dangerous place to be.)
Couples stop having meaningful conversations and sharing fun, flirty, and joyful exchanges. Instead, they begin sharing those exchanges with other people, friends, family, and co-workers.
Unfortunately, extramarital affairs are often the result because the joy we once found in our spouse is now being found in an affair partner.
But instead of looking for someone to rescue us for this “misery,” or expecting our spouse to do all the changing, what if we simply began to work together to forge a new relationship that we could both be happy with?
Remember, every healthy marriage goes through the misery stage.
Keep in mind, if you have children, this will be particularly difficult for them. They will be acutely aware of the way your marriage problems are affecting family life, even at a very young age.
And although it will likely not be possible to hide it from them completely, recognize quickly that it’s hurting them and seek help right away in the form of a counselor or a marriage coach.
Moving past this stage is actually not as hard as most people think. It’s more about a willingness to let go and a commitment to work it out.
If you need help working through this stage check out our 21 Day Marriage Fix Series
Marriage Stage # 4 – Awakening
The “Awakening” marriage stage is a lot like the “Spring” of your relationship. You are both ready for a new beginning. You begin to sow good seeds into your marriage and you look forward to the upcoming harvest.
It’s estimated that only 5% of marriages make it to this stage. This stage is also called the “acceptance” stage because it’s the point in a relationship where we have accepted our partner for who he/she really is, flaws and all.
If you are in the awakening stage then you have moved past the point of trying to change your spouse and have decided to work together as a team to build a life you can both be happy with.
Now it’s important to understand that it doesn’t mean that you are done working at your marriage. Anyone in a happy marriage will tell you that it always requires some work.
But once you’ve moved into the stage of acceptance, or awakening, you’ve decided to TRULY love your spouse. Without conditions… despite expectations.
This means that even if your spouse NEVER remembers to close the cabinet doors, you plan to let it slide because being with your spouse is more important to you than having the cabinet doors closed.
Again, we have to remember that we all have bad days and we may find ourselves irritable at our spouse for silly things even once we’ve moved into this final stage of marriage.
But if your marriage has moved into awakening, then your spouse will forget about your irritability and may even attempt to “love you through it.”
The important thing to remember in this stage is that you need to connect with your spouse intentionally. Find reasons to hang out. Do a Date Night In. Share your joy with each other… and most importantly… FLIRT!