As a relationship and marriage coach, I practice Relational Life Therapy techniques developed by Terry Real. One concept I want to share focuses on three relationship phases.
To begin, the relationship we want is comparable to the body we want. Most of us consistently wish our bodies were better or different. We almost never feel 100 % satisfied. Some days we are at peace with our bodies and others unhappy, for multiple reasons. The delta between the body we crave and the one we have can be a source of frustration and stress. It also provides a useful analogy for our romantic relationships. As Terry Real puts it, we need to work with the partner we have, not the one we think we deserve!
A healthy relationship learns how to navigate inevitable conflict. Thinking relationally opens you to see your partner not as an adversary but someone you cherish. The key is staying focused on nurturing the relationship, thinking in terms of relational and not individual power. Giving your partner what they need—if you can—enhances the relationship and in turn benefits you.
The three phases occur sequentially along the relationship ebb and flow regardless of how long the relationship lasts.
Phase #1: Love Without Knowledge
Terry Real refers to this phase as love without knowledge. It is when you feel very connected to your partner, but in truth know little about them. Picture the first six months of a relationship. I talk about how each person sends in the “representative,” the partner we want to be or the partner we think is expected of us. It can work, for a while but eventually the representative fades and our true self emerges. It is a relationship phase that blurs and confuses fantasy and reality. Once conflict and disagreement occur, or our rose-colored blinders fall away, the relationship moves into the next phase.
Phase #2: Knowledge Without Love
Terry refers to this phase as knowledge without love. With the blinders off, we revert to repeated questioning about whether the relationship is a good fit. We start to experience the real deal as the fantasy version fades. When this happens, a rupture can occur in our beliefs around the relationship and our partner. Reality breeds disharmony and disagreement, which can happen each time we or our partner is triggered. It is at that point we either conclude the relationship lacks long term potential, causing us to exit, or we move into the third phase.
Phase #3: Love With Knowledge
Terry refers to this phase as love with knowledge. It is when we see our partners three dimensionally. We know their imperfections and how and why conflict can occur in the relationship and choose our partner anyway. This is the phase where we reconnect with our partner, where we choose to love the partner we have and stop wishing for a different version. We accept both our flaws, recognizing that is how it should be. This stage also witnesses how we use communication skills to better the relationship and how repair brings a deeper understanding, improved self- and other-regulation, and ultimately allows learning and growth.
Terry invites us to question ourselves: Does what we gain from the relationship outweigh mourning about what we’re not getting? If yes, we should make peace with what we’re not getting and concentrate on what’s working in our relationship.
Accept and surrender to what is and love what you have.
Once in the “knowledge with love” phase, all relationships continue to pass through what Ed Tronick describes as harmony, disharmony, and repair. These three stages represent connection, disconnection, and coming back to repair. Repair happens when we take an honest look at our role in the disturbance and try to understand our partner’s roll at the same time. It is about staying curious about what we are making this mean and what they are making it mean as well. It is about recognizing our wounds that are triggered as well as their wounds that are triggered. Terry says that the answer to who is right and who is wrong is who cares!
No matter how much work we do on ourselves, we cannot prevent disharmony. No worries. The gold is in learning how to repair with as much grace and ease as possible. Cherish yourself as well your partner and keep in mind to always remember love.
Stay tuned for more tips on how to have better communication and repair skills with your partner.
If you want more help in the meantime, schedule a complementary discovery call with me and see if this work is a good fit for you and your partner. (LINK)
Love and light,