There was an article in The Times recently about some research into words for love in many different languages. The conclusion was that there are fourteen different kinds of loving feelings! On the other hand, anthropologist Helen Fisher concluded that there are three basic kinds: sexual lust, romantic attraction, and long-term bonding attachment.
Relationship counsellors Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson describe five stages that people go through in long-term relationships, starting with the early “madly in love” stage of intense bonding and passion. That gives way to other stages, in which the couple each recover their individuality and selfhood, and progress towards interdependence and cooperation. As you can imagine, the problems can occur when the couple move from one stage to another: something’s changed, and if they don’t realise this is normal development, they may think it’s all gone wrong, or may think they’ve fallen out of love!
Terry Real, another relationship counsellor, calls this the development from “nose to nose” energy gazing into each other’s eyes, changing to “shoulder to shoulder” energy where they are side by side, both more outward-looking, working as a team. I like the image of “nose to nose” and “shoulder to shoulder”.
As couples move out of the bonding stage, and realise that they don’t necessarily have to agree about everything after all, they discover that their partner’s feelings and needs are not the same as their own. That’s not a bad thing, but they need to develop good conflict resolution and negotiation skills. They may feel as if they are growing apart, but it is actually a normal and necessary stage. The arrival of children can complicate things further.
Looking at couples, I am always interested in how their relationship has grown and developed. I often wish couples would come and talk to me sooner, before things have gone too badly wrong and they’ve lost the goodwill that allows them to discuss things. However, when they do come, things are often not as bad as they think! What seems like a problem to them, may be a normal step in the relationship growth. I am always interested in how their relationship works, what each of them needs from it, and what external factors may have affected it. And where it is going!