“We enter into relationships because our lives are enhanced and enriched by this other person having different and unique qualities.
Ironically, it is also because they are different and unique from us that conflict and disagreement will arise.”
The Honeymoon Phase
During the early stages of a relationship there’s a heightened sense of excitement as we’re discovering and enjoying the qualities of a new companion. We may also be discovering new aspects of ourselves and experiencing a sense of adventure as we explore new activities with them.
In this “honeymoon phase” the intensity of the attraction tends to allow couples to gloss over – or just not notice – some of each others’ “less desirable” traits. In fact, there are neurological and bio-chemical changes that occur during these times, which contribute to the experience of elation and enthusiasm.
Some argue that this is just a temporary altered state and it isn’t real, because it’s not permanent. But, it’s very real. Yes, it can be intoxicating and exhilarating… most of us delight in this phase of falling in love. But, it’s also true that this heightened degree of attraction, which really is an imbalance of sorts, is not sustainable.
How long this phase lasts usually varies between 3 – 12 months, but inevitably the excitement must subside. Partly that’s because it’s dependent on novelty and newness… and as we spend more time with another person we inevitably become more familiar with them. It’s also because our neurological systems just aren’t designed to sustain states of heightened excitement for extended periods.
And yes, there’s also the tendency to be on our ‘best behavior’ during the early stages of a new romance. We also tend to set aside time for giving each other our exclusive attention. As we become more familiar with each other and the demands from the rest of our life start asserting themselves into the relationship, the ‘honeymoon aura’ begins to fade and the aspects of more typical interactions begin to balance back in.
So it’s inevitable that our early ‘rose colored glasses’ experience of the relationship needs to transition into a more typical day to day and ‘real world’ experiences with our companion.
The Post-Honeymoon Slump
As a couple moves beyond their heightened attraction phase they begin to encounter the areas where they don’t match up so smoothly. It’s quite common for couples to experience more conflict and disagreements as they begin addressing these issues. Sometimes this shift may seem to happen quite suddenly, going from everything just seeming simple because ‘we’re perfect for each other’ – to suddenly having disagreements.
This transition in the relationship can be unexpected and confusing for couples and lead them to question their compatibility. But, it’s a perfectly natural and unavoidable phase of a relationship.
It actually provides a valuable “testing ground” for the couple’s ability to constructively address and resolve differences and conflicts; which is essential for true intimacy and having a healthy long term relationship.
Ideally couples encounter and move through this phase before marrying or making long term commitments to each other, because it allow them to have a more ‘realistic’ experience of each other before making that decision. When couples marry while still in the ‘honeymoon phase’ they’re likely to have some unexpected challenges with each other during the early stages of their marriage as they go through this adjustment period.
Counseling can serve a valuable role in this phase by assisting couples to understand this natural transition and avoid interpreting it as failure. The timely use of premarital or marriage counseling can help them avoid unnecessary anxiety and conflicts by learning how to manage their differences in ways that can work for both of them, rather than falling into disagreements and arguments over them.
Counseling can help the couple understand that their connection with each other, which occurred so spontaneously early in the relationship, is something that requires active attention and nurturing in long term partnering. It can help them to discover their unique ways for affirming and experiencing their deep connection and how to integrate that into their day to day living.