Practice adaptability when transitioning between stages of a relationship

Noemi J. Mullins

A relationship is similar to a perennial tree; they both grow stronger as they learn to balance the growth contradictions. The roots of the plant must be strong. It must be an able dance on the wind to grow above. It needs sunlight and rain. It requires space and attention. It is constantly changing with the seasons. It must move when it has outgrown its plot or pot.

It is not an easy task to move a plant. It is important to assess its needs and determine how best to move them. It is important to determine what it will need to survive and adjust to new circumstances. The same considerations should be made when we are preparing to transition from one stage of a relationship to the next: from casual to serious, dating to marriage or partner to parent.

Stability and change are essential for every relationship, person, and living organism. If our relationship does not change, it becomes fossilized and eventually dies. If it changes too often and too quickly, it can become chaotic and dysregulated. This is how adaptability in relationships can be achieved.

We are changing faster than ever before

The way we balance stability with change has changed over time. In the west, strict gender roles are no longer relevant. Our roles and responsibilities have become more fluid and less rigid. There was little to no guidance on how to move from one stage of a relationship to the next for most of human history. Thanks to religious and social rituals, life’s additions, subtractions, and changes are a predictable process.

Many of us now have children or live together. We are creating the rules in real-time. Modern love has seen the rise of egalitarianism and autonomy and authenticity, and personal growth. This means that our relationships are constantly evolving. We expect more from our romantic relationships because we have gone through this transition, which has seen us shift from institutional regulation to interpersonal and intra-personal responsibility.

While we still desire the familiar elements of companionship and economic support for our families and social status, we also want to have a partner who is a source of comfort and love, and intellectual equal, and someone who can help us be the best version possible of ourselves at all stages of our lives. Many people want to have stable, lasting relationships. They want happy relationships. We must constantly confront change to fulfil our romantic dreams. Change is not always easy. Ellyn Bader is the founder and director of The Couples Institute. She says, “The task is to learn to be open with one another about what you think, feel and desire and to be able hold still while your partner does it–and then to manage those differences effectively.”

Steps of a Relationship Together

Have you heard the expression “opposites attract”? While it may not be true all the time, there is an element to that phrase in every relationship at every stage. We may be attracted to a planner but loves the spontaneity and freedom that our partner brings. The easy-going nature that once gave us the ability to see possibilities may make us anxious when planning our first major vacation. A minimalist boyfriend might love his girlfriend’s minimalist style, but they may not be able to live together. When a couple has to share their independence, it can be difficult to make ends meet.

Couples who are firm in their convictions and remain true to themselves or what they were at the beginning of the relationship will be more likely to accept change. Extreme compromise, in which one partner sacrifices their needs to satisfy the demands of the other or avoid conflict, is not a good idea. Although we may not walk away from one another, we will never be happy if they stay. A healthy relationship allows us to be flexible and allow our partners to change. We must first ask ourselves what we contribute to the current dynamic to be more adaptable. Then, we need to ask each other fundamental questions that will allow us to be more adaptable.

Questions to Build Adaptability

  • Is this arrangement still possible?
  • What can we do to survive and thrive in this transition?
  • What are we looking forward to talking with us from the previous stage of our relationship into the next?
  • What are we looking to leave behind?
  • What are we looking to do differently?
  • What does it look like to consciously enter a new relationship stage?
  • What are the most important conversations?
  • What affirmations should be made?
  • How can we shift our resources to meet the demands of this moment?
  • What can we do if we find it hard to adapt?
  • How can we remind one another that we are in this together?

Couples adaptability is about being flexible and open to changing situations. Pushing past our resistance allows us to become more flexible, just like a large body stretch. Consider all the changes you have made in the past: How you’ve grown and how you held onto it. Moving through stages of relationships requires that you grow around the change, keep the roots strong and allow the buds to move freely. Being adaptive means being open to the unknown but also open to possibility.

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