The 7 Stages of Marriage

Building a successful marriage is a lifelong challenge. Understanding the different stages of marriage and the phases you’ll go through as a couple may help you build a stronger and more fulfilling relationship.

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Young couple kissing
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Stage One of Marriage: Passion

This is the honeymoon stage, when romance and intense attraction bond a couple together and lead to commitment. In retrospect, it often seems as short-lived as springtime—by two years, most couples have usually lost that initial magic, though this can vary by couple. But when it is happening, the passion stage is very strong and significant. It is a wave of feel-good brain chemicals orchestrated by Mother Nature to make the two of you forsake all others and take action to ensure the survival of the species.

Even if you’re marrying later in life, or for the second time, nature supplies these delicious bursts of neurotransmitters to make you bond. Couples not only frolic and fall madly in love in the passion stage—they begin to establish the trust, respect and emotional intimacy that will support their relationship forever.

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Couple fighting
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Stage Two of Marriage: Realization

In this stage, the honeymoon ends, and a more real vision of the rest of your life together begins. In this stage, you discover your spouse is not only human, he also doesn’t load the dishwasher or lower the toilet seat. Disappointment and early conflicts are the hallmarks of this difficult, unavoidable period, as the two of you make the first steps toward accepting each other for who you really are.

The mission and challenge? No less than laying the groundwork for a long future together based on acceptance, respect and openness to change. You’ll need to assertively discuss and emphatically listen as you both introduce your deepest personal needs and wants. This creates a foundation for being truly known, understood and supported in the years ahead.

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Couple post-fight
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Stage Three of Marriage: Rebellion

She misses her friends; he misses his cool toys. She wants to travel; he wants to play weekly softball. She wants to build her career; he wants to build his career. Even for couples who successfully navigate the realization stage of marriage and lay the foundation for a happy, respectful coexistence together, a time inevitably emerges when self-interest often overtakes the interests of the marriage. And when this happens, be ready for the battles.

Love amid the power struggles of the rebellion stage is tricky business. You both believe you’re right, so of course your partner’s wrong. That means you’re simultaneously offended at being called wrong and claiming the moral high ground. Is this any way to run a marriage?

Experts say the drama of the rebellion stage are unavoidable. Learning the art of the good fight is the mission now—often it is the nature of the battles, rather than the substance of the discussion, that leads to trouble. Why? Rebellious thoughts, when met with anger and frustration, often lead to rebellious actions, such as infidelity, outlandish spending, or saying yes to the sudden offer from work to transfer to a new city. Any of these can spell disaster for a marriage.

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Baby girl
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Stage Four of Marriage: Cooperation

As marriages progress over time, they inevitably become more complicated. Careers grow, houses get bigger, personal commitments grow deeper, and children arrive. In the cooperation stage, marriage takes on a business-like personality. Set aside all that love and emotion and personal-realization stuff: There are mortgages to be paid, investments to be handled, careers to be directed, health to be managed, and—first and foremost—children to be raised.

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Middle-aged couple smiling
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Step Five of Marriage: Reunion

If you have children, the cooperation stage often lasts 10 to 20 years—then suddenly it is gone. Your parenting commitments are lessened, your finances established, your career set, your mortgage paid. What then? For happy couples, it is a time to appreciate each other again, not as parents and providers but as lovers and friends, thinkers and seekers. Achieve this and there’s peace, happiness and reconciliation.

That all sounds wonderful but this ideal is often hard to achieve. The embers of passion need stoking; the disillusionment and distance of middle age need to be managed; the roles and expectations of the marriage need recalibrating.

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Financial problems
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Step Six of Marriage: Explosion

Job loss, major health problems, a move to a new city, financial troubles, the illness or death of a parent—as you pass through midlife and into the golden years, major life developments seem to come one upon the other. In the explosion phase, either you, your spouse, or both of you are dealing with major, life-shaking events that could affect your relationship for a day, a year, or the rest of your lives. While the other six stages tend to occur in order, the Explosion stage can happen at any time in a marriage—though it happens most as we pass through our 40s and 50s.

Confronted by a personal crisis, your marriage can be a source of solace or be sorely tried by the unexpected pressure of new roles, new limitations and new fears. The mission of the explosion stage: Deal the best you can with life’s challenges and changes, but at the same time, keep yourself happy and healthy. Letting your marriage see you through can be as simple as sharing daily joys, provided you sometimes practice the Zen-like art of putting aside fear and stress.

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Stages of marriage
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Stage Seven of Marriage: Completion

It’s no coincidence: Lots of surveys find that marital happiness soars after several decades of a shared life. Experts say simply that it’s because the kids are grown, and couples know each other very, very well. But there’s more to it than that. Knowing each other isn’t merely about tolerating each other’s habits, quirks and needs. In the completion stage, “knowing” each other has a far deeper meaning-and a bigger payoff as well.

Part of being a happy man is to never lose the boy within; the same goes for women-there is the spirit of a young girl inside, no matter how many wrinkles edge the eyes. Maintaining a childlike love of life, laughter, nature, and each other is the real secret to a perpetually blessed relationship. It is also living in the present, not the past. In the completion stage of marriage, there is never a belief that the best times are over-they should always be today and tomorrow.

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