The three stages of marriage

Real Help for Real Living

I believe life resembles a roller coaster ride – you’re going uphill, enjoying the upward climb and its wonderful, exhilarating experience. Then, suddenly, it all changes.

You’re going down the hill, and life couldn’t get any worse than this. You hold onto the hope that it will get better, and depending on the design of the roller coaster, you can go down–very far down–until you hit the bottom. Life is over, and it’s the end of the world. Then, the coaster starts to climb back up and you finally see light at the end of your tunnel.

Marriage can be a lot like a roller coaster, with its ups and its downs. Wes Roberts and H. Norman Wright, in their premarital workbook, “Before You Say I Do,” look at the three stages of marriage. I compare those three stages to a roller coaster.

Roberts and Wright provide some words and ideas to go along with these stages. They refer to stage one, the upward climb of the roller coaster, as “enchantment.” Words and phrases that describe enchantment include on cloud nine, perfect, just right, forever, infatuated, idolize, numb, fascinated, charmed, captivated, ecstasy, thrilled and preoccupied.

In a couple’s mind, there is no peak to this roller coaster. They think “Our love, our marriage is going to be different.” Just as every roller coaster has its peak, the enchantment stage also has its high point.

Then they enter stage two, or “disenchantment.” Some words or phrases used to describe it include upset, terrible, absolutely wrong, “I quit,” hurt, put down, splintered, irritated, wretched, burdened, uncomfortable, bitter, trapped and “we’ll never make it.” Often, when a couple arrives at this stage, divorce seems to be the only way out.

Stage two is significant because even if a couple doesn’t divorce, they can stay hurdling toward the bottom, wallowing in self pity and feeling trapped with nowhere to go. How many marriages don’t achieve real intimacy, but operate more like a business, with the two partners simply enduring each other rather than truly experiencing love?

During stage three, the roller coaster climbs up the next hill. This time, the climb isn’t driven by hormones or feelings, but rather, acceptance. You don’t focus on your spouse’s shortcomings,  nor do you deny them. Instead, you focus on your spouse’s strengths. Words and phrases used to describe stage three include feet on the ground, “I need you,” “let’s work it out,” “I’ll help you,” encourage, whole, refreshed, thankful, free, comfortable, friendly and together.

I believe that all couples go through these cycles. It’s easy for a marriage to get stuck in stage two, with both parties feeling that the other doesn’t make them happy. Divorce appears to be the only option that allows both spouses to find joy and happiness. Other couples live out the rest of their lives enduring each other’s presence. But it’s the couple who works through the struggles, the challenges and the pain of stage two who eventually move onto stage three where they enjoy the “bliss” and the “ecstasy” of marriage.

I’ll be back next month. Until then, live well my friend.

The Rev. Tony Marciano is the executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission. The Charlotte Rescue Mission provides a free long-term Christian recovery program for men and women who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

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