Many romantic movies teach us a damaging myth when they end with a simple “happily ever after.” They lead us to believe that true romantic love will last forever with no effort.
But the truth is romantic love, otherwise known as infatuation, is a chemical reaction in your brain that can last anywhere from two minutes to two years. And once your brain returns to normal… you may be in for a rude awakening.
You start to notice things about your partner that you didn’t before. Things that will trigger feelings of anxiety and disillusionment.
You might think, “You’ve changed!” This may seem like a logical explanation, but usually those behaviors were there all along. They just didn’t bother you until those “love” brain chemicals went away.
Beyond this, you will also begin to grieve the loss of romantic love – including going through all the stages of grief.
If you have thoughts like “Oh my gosh, he acts just like my dad!” or “Wow, you sound just like my mother!”, then it is likely you are in this stage. You are just “waking up” from those love chemicals and are surprised by what you find.
“There’s no way I married my parents, right? Right?!” You may not believe that you ended up with someone who brings back the struggles of your childhood, but there is a reason you ended up with this person: to work through and move past those struggles.
When you were a baby, you inflicted pain on your parents, crying, screaming, or even physical actions like biting and hitting. Your parents recognized this as a cry for help and acted quickly to satisfy your need.
Now as an adult, you do the same thing to your partner to try to get him or her to treat you as they did during the romantic love stage. But of course, your power tactics have become more complex:
- And so on…
I only care what you can do for me. You may find yourself acting in a “tit for tat” manner as you try to figure out what these revelations mean for you and your relationship.
This is the stage where many people separate. You don’t know how to move forward, and you believe it is hopeless. Why even try? Nothing will change…
Do These Stages of Grief Sound Familiar?
If you recognize these stages of grief, that means you are experiencing the end of the Romantic Love stage and are now in stage two: The Power Struggle. Think of it as a “love hangover”.
It is important to recognize that power tactics and bargaining will not work to bring back that early feeling of connection. Instead, you need to bring an end to the Power Struggle stage through Dialogue.
The IMAGO Dialogue is by far the most effective communication skill for couples, and IMAGO Therapy and/or the IMAGO Workshop teaches partners how to become competent and then skilled with it, which will transform the Power Struggle, so you can repair faster, avoid conflict better, and spend more time in the more mature, lasting, and more deeply fulfilling stage of Real Love. This is what Romantic Love is really about.
Infatuation is easy. (Go to any middle school and its presence is rampant!) And it is often the basis of unconscious partners who cheat. Real Love means getting us to get together, bond, and give a preview of what it’s like (with education, skill and work) to eventually enjoy in the marriage of our dreams.
As part of the Dialogue process, you will need to unpack your own childhood baggage. And you will need to grow in order to help your partner heal from past unmet needs.
At the end of the Power Struggle, you will have learned how to…
- Accept, appreciate, and eventually celebrate the Difference which immature, unconscious (or temporarily ‘insane’ folks in Romantic Love) partners fight about
- Navigate conflict in a healthy and productive way
- Heal and forgive one another
- Be yourself – and allow your partner to be him or herself by creating Safety, the only utterly non-negotiable element both in Dialogue and also getting out of the Power Struggle quicker and back to Real Love
The key is not getting stuck in the “despair” stage. If you are having trouble moving past the Power Struggle, get competent help from a fully vetted professional specialist in couples therapy, such as a seasoned Certified Imago Relationship Therapist. Not all help is help, and in fact, often can be dangerous to the relationship.