Why so many midlife grow to be disaffected with marriage, and find out how to save yours
In my book The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages Of Relationship And Why The Best Is To Come, I say, “Stage 3, disenchantment, can either be the beginning of the end of your relationship or the entry into a truly lasting love. " I know. I've gone both ways and helped thousands of couples around the world save their relationship from ruin. I went through two marriages and divorces before understanding the five degrees of love and have been happily married for forty years.
As a marriage and family therapist for more than fifty years, I have come to believe that the main reason most marriages fail today is because people have a flawed map of finding an intimate, passionate relationship that goes beyond the Time lasts. Most people are still stuck with an outdated view of love that would lead us to believe:
- That there is a special person that each of us must find in order to have truly lasting love.
- Once you find them the rest is easy. You will fall in love, build a life together and live happily ever after.
- If you become disillusioned, it means that you have found the wrong partner, are licking your wounds and are looking for your "one and only" again.
This is not a love card for happy until the end. It's a roadmap to lost love and loneliness. Here are the 5 levels of love that I believe provide a better path to success:
- Level 1: falling in love
- Level 2: Becoming a couple
- Stage 3: disillusionment
- Level 4: Creating truly lasting love
- Level 5: Change the world with the power of two
To be successful in love one must systematically look at the entire process and understand that stage 3, disillusionment, is key.
When most people first hear of disillusionment, they think of the loss of their hopes and dreams. I hear things like this: "He's not the man I thought he was. He's become argumentative and mean. I think I should get out of this relationship." Or I hear, "She has changed. The woman I fell in love with was exciting, passionate, and kind. We haven't had sex in months and nothing I do seems to turn them on. It's time for me to go "
I tell those who come to me for help that Level 3 has different goals. First, it helps us realize the illusions that were there when we first fell in love. We all project our hopes and dreams and our ideas of what life will be like with our only true love. We seldom see the real person and they seldom see who we really are. In stage 3 the veil falls and we begin to see who we really are. It can be scary as hell, but necessary. Second, we find that most of our problems in our current relationship stem from our families of origin. Third, by healing the past, we can heal the present and vice versa.
There are two ways we can respond to the disenchantment in stage 3. We can move away, withdraw, and leave the relationship either physically or emotionally. Or we can go deeper. Dr. Otto Sharmer developed a model for this journey in his book Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges.
In the book he describes two clashing mindsets, each of which creates a different dynamic and social field. The amazing artist Kelvy Bird captures these ideas in the graphic above. “Absence – is the state of separation from others,” says Scharmer, “which leads to the destruction of others and ultimately ourselves.
"Presence – is the state of the common sending and shaping of the upcoming future by opening our inner instruments of knowledge."
In a recent article, Theory U Marriage: How Midlife Couples Can Navigate the 5 Stages of Love, I turn to Dr. Scharmer's theory based on the work I have developed over the years to help couples navigate the five stages of love.
How to take the present path
Disenchantment with really lasting love
The old love card focused on finding the perfect partner and living happily. When the veil is lowered and the conflict and disillusionment begin, we get lost and walk the path of absence:
- We are blinded by the inner voices of judgment, cynicism and fear.
- We deny our own responsibility for problems and blame our partner.
- We anchor ourselves in beliefs from our wounded past.
- We become insensitive to our heart connection with our partner.
- We hold on for dear life, but feel separate and closed.
- We become manipulative, accusing, abusive, violent, disembodied, and self-destructive.
- We live in a trauma trance of our families of origin, but do not recognize the connection to our past.
The presence path begins with a willingness to stay present with our feelings and envision the relationship that we really want.
- We become curious about the connection between relationships in the past, especially those of our family, and those in the present.
- We open our hearts and feel compassion for the wounded child in each of us.
- We find the courage to go into the depths of our pain and our longing for love.
- At the very bottom, during the "dark night of the soul," there is an opening that can bring us home to the love that we so long for.
- This view of our positive future paradoxically opens when we have given up using our old knowledge and letting go of what we know.
- We begin to forgive our parents and caregivers for the wounds we have received because we know they were once children who suffered their own wounds.
- We learn to forgive ourselves and heal our shame.
- We forgive our partner for the pain he caused by his own wounding.
- We guide our partner on a co-creative path that brings us together and heals our current relationship as we heal the past.
I have been on the path of presence with my wife Carlin for more than forty years. I can tell you it wasn't always easy. We needed and tried to get a lot of help along the way. Not all hearts and flowers were as we saw them when we fell in love for the first time. But here's a secret that most people never learn. That insane, head over heels sensation of falling in love that we believe can only happen in the beginning can be resuscitated in relationships that made it through to Stage Four, Real Lasting Love. This love is real and can last a lifetime.
The path can be confusing and daunting at times, but with God it is real. And it's also the cutest and most powerful path humans can ever walk. I call it the graduate school of life. Not everyone is ready to let go of their illusions and has the courage to walk this sacred path. But those who never regret their decision.
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