Relationships are a funny thing, aren’t they?
At one moment you could be binging Netflix together for days on end, and the next you can’t stand sitting on the same couch.
I’ve always been fascinated by relationships (in all forms), and understanding what it takes for a human connection to form, develop and sustain the roller coaster of life. It’s one thing to learn about it from the outside looking in, but quite another to be the guinea pig of your own experiment.
Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with numerous experiences over the years; however, becoming more self-aware has made me more cognisant of what seems to be going on. In this article I’d like to share a framework I’ve begun to notice that I believe takes place in all of our relationships. By no means do I want to advertise this perspective as throughly researched or ‘proven’, since it really is just a product of my observations. While that may turn some of you off from reading on, I sincerely hope those of you who do, gain insight into your own relationships and what the best approach may be moving forward in them.
Yin and Yang. The Dark Side and Light Side. Winter and Summer.
If we look all around us, life is nothing but a never-ending cycle between extremes. When one cycle ends, the next one begins. Over and over, without effort, the seed sprouts into a plant, which then produces seeds before dying, leaving a new seed to follow the same sequence.
I believe relationships are no different.
They are cyclical… seasonal. They grow destined to die, only there for us to discover new ‘seeds’ that too will grow and eventually die.
I’ve come to notice 6 unique seasons our relationships go through – Birth, Growth, Gradual Death, Final Death, Reflection, Rebirth.
*To reiterate, this is just an initial hypothesis at what the seasons are and I am more than happy to explore added/different seasons that any of you wish to share in the comments.
Let’s journey into each of these seasons more in-depth…
Like a new baby entering this world, the birth of a relationship is truly a joyous moment. Often unexpected, it usually appears when we’re not necessarily looking for it (or at least not attached to the idea of it happening). It’s a phase where everything is new and exciting. The is no past to interfere and therefore a very little idea of what to expect. In addition, since it happens so surprisingly it leaves little time for us to wander to the future, since we become so enthralled by each other in the present. It truly is the one phase we wish we could have over and over again, even if it were the same person.
Like a spark that lights a candle, which in turn breaks through the darkness, there is so much to celebrate about the birth of a relationship. What we have to be careful of though is remembering it is just but one phase in the natural seasons of a relationship.
Leveraging off the excitement of the birth, a relationship then naturally moves into the second phase – growth. Here, a relationship continues to remain exciting, because if it weren’t, it could easily end without any real pain or regret… there is very little emotional investment.
Growth can take place both on the rational and emotional planes. Many times, it can be different for the people involved (i.e. one rationally benefits from the relationship while the other emotionally does). What I’ve found is that at this stage is where communication becomes key for any chance of sustained growth. While conversations around “What are we?” or “What is this?” or “Where do we want this to go?” might not be the best mood setter (especially in an intimate relationship) it ensures both/everyone is on that same page in regards to the direction of growth. While it might seem like an overly rational approach to what will naturally become and emotional relationship, what your aim to do here is ensure there are no unintended side-effects that can be caused by different perspectives on the relationship. For example, if one person is enjoying the other person’s company while the other person is falling in love, boundaries can be set to ensure that if the “enjoying company” person one day doesn’t feel like meeting up, it doesn’t come across the the “falling in love” person as though they are not loved or lovable.
What’s important to also keep in mind in this phase is that an idea of the past and future are created, whether you want it to or not. This means that expectations are bound to form due to the past and uncertainties/hesitations because of the future. Be open about this and communicate vulnerably to each other so that you tap more into the human connection of how the experience is affecting you, rather than working independently or haphazardly in trying to get to a useless label.
As the growth phase develops, so do emotions. Over time you will naturally become emotionally invested in the other person/people, which then makes the stakes high in losing her/him/them. Due to the fear involved in undergoing the pain of this loss, it’s easy to stop being honest with yourself and stretching the truth (or hiding it) in order to keep the relationship going.
While this may seem at the forefront a good idea since it can potentially increase the longevity of a relationship, it actually begins to become a silent killer for growth, which in turn shortens the longevity. It is much harder to grow with someone/others you don’t trust.
As you begin to say things you don’t mean, or don’t say things that you’ve created meaning around, things become out of sync. Instead of working to understand each other’s differences that were identified in the growth phase, you begin to judge each other on the expectations created due to the past. Instead of discussing the changes in the future of a relationship, you try to avoid the conversation and mask it as ‘being in the present’. Slowly but surely, the end looms, but due the high emotional attachment at this point, the relationship is held together to avoid the pain of the inevitable.
What’s important to recognize in this phase is how sneaky it really is. As we get to know people, we create a mental construct of who they are (character/identity) and use that as a reference line of who they will always be. The problem is as humans, we are always learning and growing from our experiences and are slightly shifting and changing in every moment. Our true Self is in a constant battle with our ego, slowly trying to push it’s way to the forefront of humanity, only to be tricked and knocked back down by the ego. It may seem that the people in the relationship “can’t make up their mind” and that’s because we live in a world of changing perspectives where our mind’s can never be “made up”. However, since we’ve create a reference point for the individual we began to grew emotions to through the birth and growth phases, it can be extremely difficult to allow them to grow out of being that person we came to develop strong feelings for.
Finally, at some point, the pressures of the gradual death become too much to bear and the final death comes to be. Like a wave crashing on the shore, CRASH!… it’s messy, chaotic, and driven by irrationality. The pain that was seemingly avoided during the gradual death phase is superimposed into a mega-pain that comes in like a wrecking ball at this moment. KABOOM! The fireworks you never want to see light up the darkness that was taking over the relationship.
The final death sucks balls. But we need to constantly remind ourselves it is an important phase in the evolution of a relationship. It is not the end of a relationship, but rather the end of a chapter in a relationship. It’s where we finally allow ourselves to bring closure on the fact that the reference line we once created about the other others is no longer accurate in referring to them… they’ve changed, and there is nothing we can do about it. I guess you could say this moment is the hard acceptance of what ‘is’ as opposed to what ‘used to be’.
The key to this stage is being expressive, vulnerable and considerate at the same time. If trying to comprehend being those 3 words at the same time in this phase doesn’t overwhelm you, you probably haven’t fully come to understand what I mean by those words.
No matter how ‘well’ you think you’ll be able to pull off this conversation, it’ll most likely be a shit show. Your emotions will attack you at every moment your vulnerability tries to expose itself and your true expression of sadness and pain will switch like a light switch to an ego-driven spew of anger and blame. You’ll feel almost bi-polar as you this surging energy of emotions that’s been building up is released through your body almost uncontrollably, seeking the light of day for which it earns.
Again, should communication be a foundational element developed in the growth phase, and maintained throughout the following phases, this will ultimately turn out much better.
Like grieving the death of a loved one, you will then move into a reflection phase. This could last days, months or years, all depending on how much capacity you have to work through all the pent up emotions and change perspectives from a more rational point of view.
I find meditation to be the best medication. By calming the mind, becoming aware of your thoughts as just ‘thoughts’, and expressing emotions without falling into them, will allow you to speed up the process of closure and coming to a much more balanced and healthy view of what the relationship is now.
The key here is to create the necessary space and boundaries with the others involved in the relationship until you are able to see the relationship differently. Once you do, be patient with yourself. You will know if/when is the right time reach out again to the other person/people if you truly love them.
Be patient with yourself. Suppressed emotions may unexpectedly appear and your job is to simply move through them until they no longer have a hold on you.
What I believe is often forgot in relationships is that they are cyclical, meaning the death does not have to be ultimate. One may choose to end things once and for all; however, I find in the process of doing that we strengthen emotional barriers rather than learning to become unconditionally loving of one another. We convince ourselves to move on and come up with every reason of why the other person/people were bad, horrible, not worth loving, only to create a negative pattern that will follow us from relationship to relationship.
Rebirth can be just as amazing as the initial birth of a relationship. It’s a chance to practice unconditional love and see someone beyond our inherent tendency to create judgements and labels of that person based on their past.
Remember that in this phase, actions speak louder than words. There will likely already be trust issues that developed from the gradual death phase, so telling someone you changed will be much less effective than showing someone you’ve changed. As I write that, it’s important to note your intention should not be to show them you’ve changed though. It should be to re-build a positive relationship in your efforts to become more unconditionally loving towards others. You know you have truly reached the rebirth phase when their acceptance of your change is irrelevant. Where you efforts to create a new relationship are dictated by their response to it. If they need more time and space, you should be able to give it to them.
So there you have it! Wow, that was long lol. If you managed to get to this sentence – kudos! I would love your thoughts/insight/feedback in the comments. I will also be sure to share any new insights/energy in regards to this as it enters and formulates in my consciousness. Until then, I hope what I’ve shared provides some value to your relationships.
As a final note, relationships, like people, are not meant to be perfect – they are meant to be whole. And to be whole we must go through the necessary seasons within the cycle. So don’t be afraid! Any resistance to do so will only create a facade of perfection that will lack depth, meaning and true understanding of human connection.