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Stages of a relationship - independence stage is a time of seeking boundaries

Published 28.04.2020 - 28.04.2020 klo 14:57 - Produced by Family Federation of Finland
Self-determination is emphasized and boundaries for being together and apart are set in the independence stage. This is often seen as a power struggle in the relationship. At this point, we discover that the partner was not who we thought they were. We can also see those aspects of our partner that were not yet revealed or we could not see at the stage of falling in love.

Little girl to her mother: “Is it true that spouses in some countries do not know each other when they get married?”
Mother: “That happens in all countries.”

Sometimes a relationship gets trapped in a strong contradiction, in which a previously wonderful partner can be seen in very negative light. Sometimes your own reaction to a new situation may surprise you, and you may find aspects of yourself you were previously unaware of.

The independence stage is a time of seeking the appropriate degree of proximity and distance compared to the initial “entanglement”. At this point, you start doing things separately, not always together. Learning to solve problems, disagreeing, and ultimately succeeding in developing a mutual social reality; with whom we socialize together and with whom individually.

At this stage, for example, you agree upon hobbies; which are common hobbies, which hobbies you do individually. In this case, you learn to take your own space without threatening one another too much. It is only at this point that true intimacy becomes possible when the partners share their feelings and experiences realistically.

The relationship becomes more realistic

Unfortunately, many couples end up breaking up in the independence stage. Independence and taking your own space in the relationship gets too difficult, and eventually you get independent out of the relationship. Some get stuck at this stage and always look for a new partner at this point.

This stage indicates that the relationship is becoming more real. Relationship includes two different individuals, and over time, the difference becomes apparent. Otherwise, the other would remain the invisible child of the Moomin story, unable to express their true self, thoughts, or feelings. Relationship often seems to work when it appropriately incorporates some similarity as well as difference. Living together is not just a continuation of the life of either partner, but something unique that the partners create together.

What makes the relationship interesting is the fact that human behaviour is always situation-specific to some extent. We may act differently in different environments and situations. The emergence and development of a relationship creates situations to which we need to react and adapt.

For some, self-expression is only possible in a committed relationship with another person. In this case, committing to a close relationship also means a commitment to facing your own self in a new way. It also represents an opportunity for the processing of emerging themes, growth and development.

Power struggles can arise from seemingly small things

During the independence stage, the rosy hues may turn dark. Those aspects that you cannot accept in yourself can be reflected in the other, thus fighting them. The stage of falling in love represented intimacy and belonging together, whereas the independence stage represents distinctiveness, space for the things that are important to you.

At this stage, struggles may seem to arise from seemingly trivial matters. At worst, you may end up stuck in a relationship dominated by desperate struggle. There does not always seem to be a solution to this struggle for existence. The end result may be permanent bitterness, living in a relationship where you are emotionally separated or the relationship may end completely.

The essential question in a stuck situation is what is the life dream of you both that seems to be under threat. What are the matters that are the underlying issues behind the argument. The underlying question may be, for example, “is there room for things important for me in this relationship?” In this situation, you may ask your partner “what is your life dream?” and “what is the dream behind the story?” Why are certain themes vital right now and what do they symbolize for your partner?

An example might be a couple in which the other is a man of order and the other is not. The issue can be tidiness and order at home. The man of order may have a family background, for example, in which the parents’ mental health issues and alcohol problems were reflected as chaos at home. Partner’s lack of interest in keeping the home tidy may evoke distressing childhood images of an insecure home, depression, and loneliness.

The childhood home of the other may represent the other extreme; a sterile home in which it was essential to act according to the rules, but lacking security and closeness. For those, the partner’s demands for cleanliness mean a return to the distressing rigidity of childhood.

As long as there is no understanding of what the facts behind a particular matter mean, we fight over the wrong issues. But, since these issues, on a symbolic level, are larger than life for you, they cannot be succumbed to, even if you were not aware of the themes that lie beneath them.

When we ask one another what these things mean to us, it is possible to move on to face the life dream of one another. If you help the other to achieve the life dream, you lay a foundation for good intimacy in the relationship.

The “wrong choice” is a growth opportunity

So, why do we “make the wrong choice”? Why does not a person who wants tidiness choose a tidy partner?  One point of view is that only through this seemingly “wrong” choice can we face a central theme in our own life. And, the important thing is that it allows you to face an aspect of yourself that you have pushed aside in the past, in yourself and in life.

If you have had to put aside the sorrow of a little child in order to cope in the world, finding it again is like finding a lost child. Thus, this so-called “wrong choice” turns out to be the right choice because it gives you the opportunity to grow and heal through committing to a relationship.

When choosing a particular partner, we also choose a particular series of problems, some of which may be “eternal problems” and some may be resolvable. Problems are part of every relationship, and every person has a series of problems, no matter whom they choose.

An example could be Jussi, who married Liisa. He was annoyed that Liisa was too focused on others at the wedding already and Jussi felt he was left alone. But, if Jussi had married Leena, they would have had an argument already when getting ready, because Jussi is always late. If Jussi had chosen Leila, they would have had arguments because Leila thought Jussi was giving his mother too much say over the wedding planning.  If Jussi had chosen Lotta, Jussi would have given her the silent treatment because he would have felt that Lotta wanted to decide everything alone.

Choosing a partner can always include something familiar and something different. And similarly, in a relationship, the emerging aspects of the other may be partly familiar and partly new. Still, it may be that even if we seem to be completely different, the underlying basic themes to be solved can be very similar.

Both recognize the value of each other after becoming independent

Overcoming the independence stage is reflected in the emergence of a new level of commitment to the relationship, with a sufficient degree of reciprocity, both recognizing the value of each other, both expressing their feelings and needs, and those being sufficiently received and understood.

In order to be able to negotiate your own needs with your partner, you also need to be able to control yourself and approach controversial issues not too emotionally. Feelings of love are not negotiated. You must be able to distinguish the contradictory matters to be negotiated from these feelings.

After the independence stage, the relationship moves on to the love stage, which is about facing and accepting your true self and the other.

Authors: Relationship Experts, the Family Federation of Finland

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