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Stage of Love #3 - Partnership: Becoming the Winning Team

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Stage of Love #3 - Partnership: Becoming the Winning Team

This is a constructive time in the relationship. Following the fusion of the honeymoon and the storm of the power struggle we emerge with a new awareness of who we are in our union. We are conscious of each other’s strengths and shortcomings. The differences between us highlight our separateness. In the 3rd stage of love we explore our individuality and self-actualization in the context of our relationship. Here two individuals create a partnership to build a shared life together.

Acknowledged differences between us allow for two main relationship configurations to emerge in this stage of love. One option is dividing the tasks of life along the lines of talents and inclinations of each partner. We could split the chores and responsibilities in such a way that one partner’s share does not overlap with the other. One is responsible for finances while the other is in charge of cooking. One does house repairs and the other cleans. One gardens while the other plans trips. If one partner is better at a task, it becomes their sole responsibility.

Splitting life tasks based on personal strengths creates a team in which the whole is built from two halves. I am going to use the analogy of a Pizza Tower. In this partnership configuration we have two Pizza Towers leaning against each other. This might feel like the best logistic solution, however, there are several nuances of this configuration to consider.

Let’s take a look at a California couple – Suzan and Samantha (names and some details were changed to assure privacy). The couple lives in between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Suzan’s career takes her all around California, with frequent trips abroad. Suzan and Sam adopted the Pizza Tower configuration in which each partner is responsible for a complimentary and non-overlapping set of tasks in the relationship.

They started online couples therapy after spending 7 years together with one prior attempt at marriage counseling two years ago. Both described reaching out to a couple’s therapist to help invigorate their relationship, bring back play and fun, reconnect sexually. We talked about the structure of their relationships and discovered how the Pizza Tower configuration they adopted contributes to current lack of vitality:

First, it further emphasizes and exaggerates the differences between the partners. “Oh, Suzan is a disaster in the kitchen” becomes a label that creates, rather than describes, the reality in the relationship. Suzan might be perfectly capable of making a delightful breakfast, for example, but since Sam took over all kitchen duties, Suzan does not have the opportunity to try out that aspect of herself.

Second, stiff delineation of responsibilities in the relationship creates predictability and boredom. There is repetitiveness to the day-to-day life. Each partner knows their roles and the ones of their beloved. There are no surprises. Aliveness mandates flexibility and a room to dance. Pre-determination sucks vitality out of the union.

Third, rigid division of labor breeds dependence. Sam might have never had to deal with financial responsibilities of the household. Bills, mortgage, business expenses, taxes and large purchases have always been Suzan’s responsibility. The partners become dependent on each other and fear of losing each other creeps in. Instead of choosing to dance together they find themselves locked into a pre-determined position, dependent on each other and lacking the freedom to choose.

A livelier alternative we discussed in our online couples therapy sessions is for each partner to establish a self-sufficient life. This is the Two Pillars configuration. Each partner becomes sufficiently proficient in all areas and tasks of shared life. In the Two Pillar configuration we might still delegate some of the life tasks to our partners, however, it is not because we cannot do it ourselves.

Here lack of rigid relationship roles opens a possibility for personal and shared exploration. It allows place for surprise and novelty. Flexibility requires us to permit greater degrees of freedom in the relationship. Since freedom is built on trust, strong mutual commitment and good communication are prerequisites for the Two Pillar configuration. Here we accept that each of us is a free and independent human being. We share our experience not out of need, but out of want. We don’t have to, but we choose to.

Unlike the Pizza Towers model, in which two halves create a whole of the relationship, the Two Pillars model is a union created by two wholes.  We do not lean against each other, but support the roof of our shared co-creative experience together. The roles of each partner in the relationship evolve and in contrast to “I can’t do it on my own” the sentiment is “We are better together.”

As our partnership evolves and we become a great team, the familiarity of the mundane ultimately takes a toll on the erotic aspect of our togetherness. Deeping intimacy and familiarity at times diminishes the possibility of newness and discovery. Excitement becomes harder to come by. We are great friends, but no longer passionate lovers. Our bodies change as well. Shifts in sexuality and sex drive play a role in the lowering of the erotic temperature in the relationship.

Many couples seeking couples therapy at this stage of love to rekindle the playful erotic energy in the relationship and find a way to bring back novelty, excitement and liveliness into the established shared life experience. We are faced with an opportunity to experience a deeper sensuality and sexual connection built on mutual trust. Changes in our body nudge us to learn more about our sexual nature and tap into unexplored territories of intimacy and pleasure.

Markers of the Partnership stage are Individuation, Team building, Boredom, Complacency

The Task of this stage is to create a strong partnership with our beloved, built on trust and cooperation. Here we are tasked with building a life together, establishing financial footing, buying a house, having kids, developing our careers, etc.

The Obstacle of this stage in addition to building a good team with our beloved, is in maintaining excitement and intimate connection in the relationship.

Failure of partnership stage tends to occur due to boredom and complacency. It takes work to keep excitement and adventure in the relationship, and the temptation might be to seek it elsewhere. Affairs, feeling mired in the mundane routine, or drifting apart are common. Trust and communication are the keys to recruiting our partner on our quest of newness and exuberance in our union.

Duration – not every couple reaches the Partnership stage. Some relationships end, and some get stuck in the previous stage of power struggle. If we got to the Partnership stage, we can only move beyond it once the task of becoming a team and successfully building the life together is complete. This stage is likely to take many years, since here we are building the foundation of our shared life experience.

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