The 4 Stages To Intimacy

An excerpt from, "This Nightmare Called Marriage – Finding Your Way Back to the Dream!”

Let’s look hard at the reality of what you both will transition through if you stay with each other and commit to growth. Did you understand when you were saying that you loved your partner and planned to spend the rest of your life with them, that there would not only be very specific stages you would go through, but that they would inevitably bring about the kind of change that scared the hell out of you and made you feel like you were losing your footing altogether? If you did indeed have some kind of understanding of what would come up and said you would ride out these cycles, while doing the work necessary to move through these key stages, was there a part of you that believed you could do this with minor discomfort? That’s not a reality, I promise you! Please trust me on this one. Life cycles and the transitions we move through on our personal journeys rock us to the core, even as they are awe-inspiring! More than likely, you now are getting a taste of that, since you are here!  

Look back on the developmental stages you have already gone through in life. Do you remember how intense and fraught with angst and emotion those different periods were? From taking baby steps away from your parents as you entered school to unskillfully trying to stake a claim in your own life as a young adult, or by expressing new, radical views different from those around you, it was painful.  

 We will not go into all of the important stages and transitions you have already been through that have landed you here. However, suffice it to say that they were inevitable, unavoidable and depending on not only your parents level of emotional maturity, but your own sense of self and level of esteem, you may have experience navigating changes fairly well now or not at all!  Whatever you do, don’t be hard on yourself.  

Starting right now, you can take a deep breath and commit to finding out what it takes to start fresh, educate yourself on what a long term committed relationship really requires, identify the areas of growth that are calling to you and REVOLUTIONIZE your love! 

No matter what level of uneasiness or outright fear you are feeling as you read this, I encourage you to also feel the excitement underneath this undertaking! Your marriage can be a beautiful dance between two healthy, conscious individuals with a deeper level of intimacy than you imagined, by being bold and challenging yourself to be more. Keep in mind that this is a lifelong process, so that you work to see personal change and growth, not perfection!

Let’s lay out the 4 basic stages you will go through in a marriage so that you can begin identifying where you and your partner are right now. Accepting that these stages are unavoidable will help you change your thinking to create more ease in the ebb and flow of feelings.

I am grateful to Dr. Lee Baucom, Ph.D. and author of Save The Marriage for his use of the 4 STAGES TO INTIMACY below. He has taken M. Scott Peck’s work, centering around community and altered it for couples: 

4 STAGES TO INTIMACY

STAGE ONE:  Pseudo – Intimacy

This is where we all start.  Nearly every relationship starts with the assumption that “We are just alike!”  Sometimes a couple is amazed to discover such common things as favorite foods, music, books, movies, similar values and beliefs.  The couple looks at each other lovingly, amazed to have found someone with such similar interests and loves.  

Pseudo-Intimacy is based on these similar interests.  In fact, the individuals may find that they tend to ignore the differences at times and may choose to accentuate the similarities.  This maintains the sense of connection and of being alike.  

Eventually, one takes a risk and disagrees.  This marks the beginning of the end of the stage of Pseudo-Intimacy.  Some couples are years into a marriage before they risk this. Others find this on the first date.  Either way, both find themselves in a new relationship.  This leads to stage two.

STAGE TWO:  Chaos

Suddenly, the couple is aware of the feeling that “You changed. I need to get you back.” This would be far less chaotic if each could see these differences were there all along, but we all cling to the feeling of being alike.  

So the stage is set. Two people who are very different are each trying to get the other back to seeing things like he or she did.  The Chaos stage is marked by unproductive struggle.  Each states his or her view, but fail’s to listen to the others.  Why?  Both are convinced that their view is the correct view.  

And so they struggle, arguing, debating, haranguing and pleading; but both have discovered their voice and neither budges.  (Why would they since they feel “right?”)  In the end, neither moves, but both are amazed at how quickly someone can change. 

STAGE THREE:  Emptiness

After the stage of Chaos comes the most painful stage, the stage where the relationship is most likely to be abandoned.  In Emptiness, there is a deep pit of emptiness in one’s stomach.  It feels like the relationship is mired and lost.  The good news, however, is that this comes just before true intimacy, if you hang in.

If Chaos is the discovery of differences, Emptiness is the discovery that “We are nothing alike, and I don’t have a clue what to do with you.”

Unfortunately, the stage of Emptiness is a very vulnerable point for the relationship. People often assume “It is all over” even though this stage is so close to intimacy. When our stomach feels the empty pit, we become frightened. When we don’t know what to do with our partner, we begin to feel hopeless.  

Great! That means you are ready to move on. It is hopeless to change the person back to something he or she never was.  It is possible, however, to move to something new. That something may be a renewed and fulfilling relationship.

Emptiness has to be waited out. There is no way to avoid it if the goal is intimacy. There are ways to lengthen the stage of Emptiness.  

One way of lengthening it is to decide to move back to Chaos. At least it feels like you are doing something. Perhaps the fighting is pointless and useless, but it is active. Unfortunately, this is a move backward. While it does feel like some connection, there is deeper connection beyond Emptiness – much deeper than the connection before.

Moving back to Chaos does little but prolong the movement toward intimacy. But it is a strategy that many try.

Another strategy is to move back toward Pseudo-Intimacy. There, the couple felt the connection.  Each knew how to interact, even if it was just on the surface. But again, Pseudo-Intimacy is no shortcut. It, too, prolongs the necessary movement. It pretends the everyday similarities are deep enough to maintain a relationship. 

The only way to intimacy is through Emptiness. Going around Emptiness is impossible and going backward is counterproductive.

If you find yourself in the stage of Emptiness, there are some strategies you may wish to use to continue moving through the feelings of emptiness.  

I suggest four strategies for moving through the state of Emptiness:

1. Decide to hang in. When couples are experiencing the feelings of emptiness, it’s easy to consider dropping out, getting away from the feeling. Make a decision to hold on, to continue moving through this stage.  People often fail to realize they can make the decision.  There is more destruction by moving back and forth, vacillating on whether to give up or hold on.  Make the decision to hold on and trust that this is a stage. 

2. Decide that things must improve. Unfortunately, it is at this stage that we feel little energy to improve the relationship.  In fact, we often feel drained by the feelings of emptiness.  So make a decision that things must improve in the relationship and take it upon yourself to make some of these changes.  It is possible to own the situation without owning the problem.   

3. Decide how to re-energize, re-invigorate and re-impassion the relationship. What would it take to bring energy into the relationship?  Do you need to play more?  Do you need a fresh perspective?  And what will bring the passion back?  Part of the antidote for emptiness is fullness;  bringing the creative side of you back into the relationship will fill the relationship. 

4. Move toward acceptance of the other. This is key. If the statement, “I don’t know what to do with you” marks the stage of Emptiness, the answer is simple – accept each other for who the other is. Love them for their differences; cherish what they bring into the relationship. 

These strategies move you forward through the emptiness, and move you to the final stage:  Intimacy. 

STAGE FOUR:  Intimacy

After viewing the first three stages, you are probably anxious for the good news. That would be Intimacy, the goal of this journey. Intimacy is an appreciation of the differences, an understanding that these differences cause growth in both and add strength to the relationship. At the stage of Intimacy, the meaning is “We are not alike, and that is what makes our relationship so wonderful.”

Intimacy is a full appreciation of the other. It is when we move beyond our “projections” about the other and see them for who they are. When we are caught up in our projections, we see them for who we want them to be, good and bad. Some people see only the bad in the other, while others are only able to see the good.  In actuality, neither is fully correct.

Yet how we see the other person so profoundly impacts how we treat them that we must take the risk and see them for who they are.

It has never ceased to amaze me to meet the partner of someone I’ve seen in my practice.  When there are problems between the two, and especially when there is a divorce on the horizon, the view of the partner is skewed. I hear about the evil of the other, their lack of love, kindness, etc.  Yet when I meet them, I never find the horns and pointed tail that I would have expected to find.  

Instead, I find another human who is just as hurt and just as confused as the person in my office.  For deep reasons, neither can see the other for who he or she is.  That is the task of Intimacy:  to see the person for who that person is – and treasure it! 

As we look above at the cycles of marriage through Dr. Baucom’s 4 Stages of Intimacy we land on an important formula:

True Intimacy =  Romance transitioned to Disillusionment transitioned to Mature Love         

However you describe it, the essential point is that marriage is a process. It evolves. It helps to know what to expect at the various stages, otherwise, normal transitions may be misinterpreted as loss of love or reasons for divorce.

As you are probably beginning to see, saying “I do” and pulling off an intimate, mature, meaningful relationship means both people agreeing to do deep, personal work for the union to flourish and not go stagnant. It means riding out the highs and lows and using them as teachable moments.  If you are scared to death that you not only did not base your marriage on this in the beginning, but are concerned that your spouse may have no interest in any kind of self-reflection or growth work, wanting things to just “get back to the way they were”, set that fear aside for now. Worrying about anyone other than you right now will only block the process.  Change begins with you and moves out from there.  

Do you know where your relationship is on this journey towards intimacy? I'd also love to know if you had any ah-ha's while reading through this! Please share in the comments below.