Reflections on “The Couple’s Journey”

romantic coupleSusan M. Campbell referred in her book “The Couple’s Journey” to a five stage path of growth, travelled by every intimate relationship. I could recognize aspects of my relationship in each of these stages and found it useful to understand the meaning and learning of these stages as a way of developing more compassion for my own journey.

Let’s go back to the romance stage: “Two people’s individual phantasies come together and fertilise each other. A shared dream is conceived.” (17) {Susan M. Campbell, Ph.D. The Couple’s Journey; Intimacy as a Path to Wholeness; San Luis Obispo, California, USA: Impact Publishers, 1980; page numbers in brackets}

We get excited about each others’ potential about getting our needs met. We discuss where we want to go together, filled with dreams and hopes for a shared future. We view each other with a wishful eye as we hang on to the good feelings. We see in the other what we want to see. We don’t want to take too many risks and tend to please rather than be honest as we resist disappointment and pain. This can not continue. Sooner or later we meet discomfort. The task of the romance stage is to develop a mutual vision, of what we can be together grounded in the reality of what is.

“Intimacy is a process, a journey of disclosing more and more of one self to another.” (23)

The power struggle stage “springs from the seeds of disappointment sown by the hands of wishful thinking and selective perceiving. For the struggle to flourish, it requires a soil rich in unacknowledged demands and accumulated resentments” (29). The first argument or conflict arises. We are confronted by our difference and try to change each other. We may also want to punish the other for not being who we thought they were. Our hopes and expectations are frustrated. Our deepest fears are roused. This is a time of challenge and usually a time of making or breaking, depending on our ability to support each other towards individual responsibility. Inner battles express themselves in external conflicts.

We may view the other as a threat or as the problem. We may need to assert our needs and wants. We tend to react to each other as we trigger each others’ childhood patterns – old beliefs about ourselves and each other – and compete for attention. When ‘giving in’ is ‘giving up’, we fight in order to win or be right. We both need to learn that ‘no’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘I reject you’, and that my resistance is often an expression of my fear rather than my resentment.

Our learning is about sharing power and negotiating conflicts. Our task is to establish trust and to move beyond a rigid position of ‘what’s in it for me’. At this stage we can learn to survive pain and disappointment and begin to recognize that we are two separate unique beings with our own interests, needs, triggers and rhythms. We need to develop more constructive ways of relating, that go beyond blaming, manipulating or playing games.

The stability stage provides insights into understanding our struggles. We recognize the mirror in each other, stop blaming the other and start focusing on the power struggles within. We discover, as long as conflicts are unresolved within me, they will be expressed as conflicts between us. We begin to view obstacles as opportunities and difficulties as stepping stones. We recognise childhood patterns and common themes like distance and closeness. We learn to hang in there, when the going gets tough and to each step back to look at both sides.

“Stability represents not sameness or continual peace so much as an attitude of acceptance: acceptance of the other as a real, live separate other, who may not always meet my expectations; and acceptance of the parts of myself that create such expectations.” (57)

The task at this stage is to become consciously aware that I am responsible for resolving my inner conflicts and that I need your help and encouragement in resisting going back into habitual and familiar yet unhelpful patterns. We both take responsibility for our part in the struggle, encourage and support each other and try to make sense of how we effect each other.

Then follows the commitment stage. “Commitment means taking responsibility for making it work.” (75) We let go of ‘if onlys’ and start to make conscious choices of how we respond. We both support each others’ self expression in the knowledge that “my truth serves your truth” (John Welwood). We learn to live with our differences, our mistakes and become discerning about when to do what in the service of our aim.

We value mutually beneficial solutions that reflect a win-win attitude. There is a high degree of honesty and trust that we can make it. We have earned each others’ trust through the confrontation of many differences and changes. We basically feel like we can be ourselves and are at ease with the ups and downs and phases of moving apart and coming together. We are a team interested in mutually feeding and nurturing a dynamic and lively relationship.

“This then is the essence of commitment – the willingness to go forward in one clear direction, knowing that we can change that direction any time we chose, since we are in constant subtle communication and are not bound to the past.” (102) We basically learn to live in the present.

The co-creation stage involves two central developments: “The ability to choicefully respond to the environment in a way that recognizes our impact on it and its impact on us. The ability to relate to the world outside with the same sense of mutual responsibility and responsiveness that we share with our partner.” (104f) This is a time where we want to share what we have learned with the larger world. We both are in our authority and see ourselves as part of an interdependent whole. Our relationship becomes a refuge, a spiritual path, and a stronghold for relating to the larger social systems. Intimate relationships are a powerful way to learn more about who we essentially are and how we relate more fully to other humans.

“Thus, the aim of the Couple’s Journey is to experience a quality of relationship where my love for myself and my love for my partner are two inseparable parts of the whole – where getting what I want serves us, and giving to you serves me as well. This inseparability of self and other is what the term ‘wholeness’ implies: We recognize our unity, even while celebrating our uniqueness.” (10)

Mirjam Busch

Copyright © 12/1999 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Integrative Dialogue #11, Dec1999

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