The three stages of marriage

Real Help for Real Living

I believe life is very much like a roller coaster. You’re going up the hill, enjoying the upward climb. It’s great; a wonderful exhilarating experience…

Then it suddenly changes. You’re going downhill. Life couldn’t get worse than this. You hold onto the hope it will get better. Depending on the roller coaster, you can go down, way down, very far down. You hit the bottom. Life is over. It’s the end of the world. But then, suddenly, the coaster starts to climb and light is seen at the end of your tunnel.

Marriage can be a lot like a roller coaster. It has its ups and downs, too. Wes Roberts and H. Norman Wright look at the three stages of marriage in their premarital workbook, “Before you say ‘I Do.’”

I compare those three stages to a roller coaster. Roberts and Wright provide some words and ideas that go along with these stages.

• Stage 1: “Enchantment,” when you hear phrases like on cloud 9, perfect, just right, forever, infatuated, idolize, numb, fascinated, charmed, captivated, ecstasy, thrilled, preoccupied and we’ve arrived. It’s the upward climb of the coaster.

In the couple’s minds, there is no top to this roller coaster. Their love and marriage are going to be different. But, just like every roller coaster has its top, the “Enchantment” stage also has its top.

• Stage 2: “Disenchantment,” is when you start hearing things like: upset, terrible, absolutely wrong, I quit, hurt, put down, splintered, irritated, wretched, burdened, uncomfortable, bitter, trapped and we’ll never make it. Often, when a couple arrives at this stage, divorce seems to be the only way out. There is no bottom to the roller coaster. It also can be described as “What was I thinking?”

This stage is significant because, even if the couple doesn’t divorce, they can stay in the bottom of the roller coaster, wallowing in self pity, feeling trapped with nowhere to go. How many marriages don’t achieve real intimacy but operate more like a business, enduring each other rather than truly being in love?

• Stage 3: The next upward climb. It’s not driven by hormones or feelings, rather, it’s driven by acceptance. You don’t focus on your spouse’s shortcomings nor do you deny them. You acknowledge them while instead focusing on your spouse’s strengths. Phrases used to describe this stage are: feet on the ground, I need you, how do you see it?  Let’s work it out, I’ll help you, encourage, whole, refreshed, thankful, free, comfortable, friendly, growing and together.

I believe all couples go through these cycles. It’s easy for a marriage to get stuck in Stage 2, thinking the other person doesn’t make you happy. Divorce appears to be the only solution so one can find someone else to make them happy. Others endure each other’s presence. It’s the couples that work through the struggles, the challenges and the pain of Stage 2 who can move onto the next stage and enjoy the bliss and ecstasy of marriage.

I’ll be back in two weeks. Until then, live well, my friend.

The Rev. Tony Marciano is executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission, which provides a free, long-term Christian recovery program for men and women addicted to drugs and alcohol.

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