When the “honeymoon is over”, you are ready for stage two – The Power Struggle Stage.
In this stage you + me=you vs. me. This is the stage when people are most likely to seek marriage counseling. It is also a critical stage, and can end in divorce. Many of my clients will come in at this stage saying “(S)he lied to me!” There can be a sense of betrayal in this stage. This is not what you signed up for! You are now aware of differences, but those differences are perceived as negative. You may scrutinize your partner and magnify those differences. It may feel like everything your partner does is wrong. You may feel that you have nothing in common, and you may feel the need to reclaim the part of yourself you denied in the romance stage.
Some of the results of this stage are that you pull away from each other and find yourself needing more space. This is normal. This is the stage where you establish boundaries and define unacceptable behavior. Many of the fights couples have in this stage have to do with the past. Our wounds come to the forefront, and we accuse the other of hurting us. It could be that our parents hurt us and our partner is unknowingly stepping on our toes. (Still, the hurt is real. This may be a good time to get individual counseling as well as marriage counseling.)
Some of the lessons we are supposed to learn from this stage are acceptance of differences as normal and that we are together as a choice and as a commitment, and not as a need. Another challenge this stage presents is to move the fighting from the past to the present. We need to learn how to fight fairly so that both people can win. We need to learn how to relate to each other as whole people. We need to understand that we are both separate individuals.
The wounds that are activated from childhood in this stage can be very frightening and very distressing. This is a tough stage through which to navigate, and it can take a long time. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with me or with another therapist. You can’t skip over this stage in any relationship. Please don’t become so frightened, worn out, etc. that you end your marriage. You can get help, and learn what you need to know to enjoy a satisfying relationship with your spouse. Be patient with yourself and your spouse during this stage. There are valuable lessons to be learned during this difficult time.