“I, I, I, I Do” – Four Phases of Marriage
“Aww, you two are still in your honeymoon phase!”
I used to hate to hear that! We married each other for goodness sake… so yes, we love each other and we love being together! I would think to myself, “Sorry if our PDA makes you uncomfortable or jealous. Just because you are miserable in your marriage, doesn’t mean everyone is! We will be in on our ‘honeymoon’ forever! Humph!” (dramatic hair toss!)
Well, batman scene-change to 7 years later… to find me completely humbled. Sorry to break this to you newly-weds out there, but there is, in fact, a “honeymoon phase”. You and your spouse will inevitably exit stage-left. Ignore my sarcasm… the truth is that this is actually NOT a bad thing! It is just a natural progression of this great mystery called “Marriage”. Armed with the proper knowledge and tools, you and your husband can step through this and all phases of marriage, hand-in- hand, with love, understanding, and grace.
For us “post-honeymooners” out there, just add this to your arsenal of successful marriage resources. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a collection that would rival the size of The Library of Congress. But this one is short, sweet and handy. I suggest you print as a quick reference card – a reminder of your current phase, and how to proceed, especially when things get hairy.
#1 - Instinctual Phase
Your eyes met, your heart skipped a beat! After a few dates, you knew he was the one! Ok, so maybe it didn’t happen like that for many of you, but most of us can admit that we got swept off of our feet in some way, when we first met our husbands. If not, he would likely not hold that title today. You were young, sweet, cute, fit and free! He was also young, strapping, handsome and dashing! He was your hero and you were his precious find… his “good thing”. Wedding bells!!
As you settle into your marriage, there might be a quirk or two that you must get used to or you will have to overlook, but by and large, you chalk it up to the “ the two shall become one” process. Pursuing the ranks of the “Proverbs 31” woman, you are prompt to meet his needs and run your household accordingly. In return, your Kingdom Man is attentive, affectionate and loving, as he was when you met. The romance is high and you both are thrilled about your prospects together!
This is an awesome time in marriage, so you embrace it and enjoy it! Keep in mind that most of what happens between the two of you is based on the first “I”, instinct. You do things for one another based on your idea or instinct of what a good spouse is. It sounds right to ask him what he wants for dinner, fix his plate and tend to all his needs. Yes! It is right, and so that’s what you do! From his perspective, he knows that he should compliment his wife often, give her what she needs and surprise her with flowers and candy ( try fruit covered in chocolate to keep the He wants Before, not After Figure) every once and a while. Yes! He should, so he does! You may have gotten these ideas from books on marriage, TV shows, in magazines, or perhaps you observe these interactions among older, mentor couples in your church or family members who have been married for a long time. And these are all great witnesses to the testament of a successful marriage.
So yes, enjoy this time and keep riding high! Don’t sit around and wait for the other shoe to drop, i.e. the end of the “honeymoon phase”. Instead use this time to solidify your romantic routines. Enjoy each other and present a strong front of love and romance and set the standard for how you will show your love and appreciation going forward. Be very deliberate in showing and telling him how much you appreciate his romantic endeavors. Don’t take this time for granted. Go on as many dates as possible and enjoy your “honeymoon phase”! It will serve you well as your marriage enters into the next phase, the Informative Phase.
#2 - Informative Phase
Riding high on love, you decide that it’s time to expand your family. The idea of cute little “mini-me’s” running around is so exciting! Praise God, you get pregnant! You have your first child. Then your second, and then perhaps your third. Before you can catch up with life, it takes off again in another direction! Whereas before, you may have spent more time meeting your husband’s needs and making sure he was happy. Now most of your energy is devoted to the children’s well-being. Your days are filled with planning, cooking, cleaning, play-dating, car-pooling, just to name a few. From his perspective, he is really feeling the pressure. He is now responsible for a wife AND three kids! He knows that God has appointed him leader and provider, so he is now fully consumed with work. He is focusing on that next raise, that upcoming promotion or new business. He knows that he has got to provide!
In terms of your marriage, now is a critical time for you to move from Instinct, to the next phase, Informative. This means that as both of you become consumed with the many, seemingly unending responsibilities of family; you owe it to your marriage to share, share and share information! Unfortunately, instinct will not sustain your marriage through this phase. As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests, your instincts tend towards the most critical issue at hand. When you have three young, completely dependent children that will have to eventually go to college, it is no wonder that your attention is primarily given to their needs. So you must make it a point to communicate and provide your spouse with as much information as possible.
Don’t take for granted that just because he was the king of romance during your Instinctual phase that he knows and remembers what makes you feel special. You must inform him of what you need emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. For example, don’t be frustrated that you may have to tell him to be romantic. He is trying his best and sometimes, he’ll need a reminder to stop and give you some attention. Grab his hand and tell him that you’d love for him to take you out sometime!
He must do the same for you by informing you of what he needs. He should not be afraid to tell you that he misses when you use to give him back rubs. Or that he hates cous cous, even though the kids love it, and prefers white rice with his dinner. Avoid being over-sensitive and make it okay for him to be honest with you.
Many couples make the mistake here of relying on instinct. They think “Well he should know what I need by now!” or “She wasn’t like this when we first got married!” Frankly, there are just too many things happening in life that can divert your spouse’s attention and energy. You must be deliberate about voicing your needs! Not only is it critical to inform each other of your respective needs, but you must also inform one another of what works well. “Honey, I love your lasagna!” or “Thank you for working hard to provide everything we need. It makes life so much easier!” Simply put its positive reinforcement.
The point here is to just be very vocal and share all information pertinent to the success of your marriage during this mostly stressful time. Don’t let life suck the energy out of you. Reserve enough to open your mouth, communicate and inform one another. This the foundation on which you will firmly enter into the next phase…the Intentional Phase.
#3 - Intentional Phase
As you are making it a point to communicate and inform one another, the intentional phase happens organically. Assuming you two love each other, as information is shared, each of your actions towards one another becomes intentional. As the wife, you are intent on hearing your husband, and cooking white rice for his meal, instead of cous cous. For your husband, he is intent on stopping on his way home for a bouquet of roses, for no particular reason, other than he knows that you will appreciate him for it. After all, these are things you both have informed each other of earlier.
Don’t be mistaken. These actions should not be taken out of pure obligation. In fact, this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of marriage. Here is where you put in the WORK and where your love for one another is demonstrated. I caution you to not take on this phase mechanically - going through the motions. Instead, be very present and match your heart to your intentions. This can be especially difficult in the midst of the chaos of life. To use the already over-used metaphor of “foundation-depth to building-height ratio”, sometimes you may have to dig deep for that heart-felt intention towards your spouse in order to experience the heights of the next phase….Implementation.
#4 - Implementation
The word “Implementation” in the Project Management world refers to the time when all of the designing, building and testing of a new technology or process is implemented into production. By this time, all the kinks have been worked out and the product, technology or process should be meeting whatever need was defined at the onset of the project. In terms of marriage, the same should hold true. All of the communication, work and tests you’ve endured should lead you to this phase, when your marriage is meeting the need, as defined by God. The needs are helpmate, provider, protector, defender, lover, encourager, motivator, enhancer, revealer, and finally best friend.
God’s design for marriage involves the solidarity of family so that man would not have to be alone. As God exists as a trinity, with two other parts of the whole, so He intended (as we are made in His image and likeness) for man to be one part of a unit (husband, wife and children). Marriage and family provide the framework for us to operate in the world, fueled with love, acceptance and unity with our spouse and with our family.
How many of you know and watch that one couple that appears to be like one person. They complement each other so well and you watch secretly praying that one day you and your spouse will have the same dynamic. It’s likely that this couple doesn’t just impact your life, but you see their positive impact on other couples, perhaps the church and in the community at large.
Be assured that this couple has faced the same phases of marriage. I’m sure they will tell you so! They road the highs of the Instinctual Phase. Then, with the goal of remaining married, they were sure to communicate clearly and often during the Informative Phase. They did the heavy lifting required in the Intentional Phase, when life got especially hard, and now they are implementing all of the knowledge and experience they gained from the previous phases. Though there may be a few kinks to work out in production, they are now experts at communication and problem resolution! We thank God for those couples, as they bless us tremendously as examples of successful marriage!
Your New Vows
During the wedding ceremony, when we enter into covenant with our spouse and with God, I wish that it would be required to say “I, I, I, I Do!” Not a hesitant stammering, but as an acknowledgment and reminder of the phases of marriage to which we are vowing. So in your hearts, and between one another, make your vows again, with these four phases in mind. The alternative could mean some less-desirable “I’s”… insult, irreconcilable difference, intentional hurts and in some cases, injury!
Love you all!