Recently a neighbor came to visit. He told all about his family, his kids, his grandparents, his friends, his job, his hopes, his worries. When I left I turned to my wife and said, “He didn’t say a word about his wife. It’s as if she doesn’t exist in his life.” “Yes, I noticed. Wonder what kind of relationship he has with her at this point?”
That got me thinking about different kinds/stages of relationships and marriages, especially since I teach all about this. For those of you who have digested my Map of Relationships, this article may be fun. For me it is a reminder that I really like people in all these stages. When someone walks up to me, I reflexively start guessing “where they are now.”
Now, I see two general types of relationships. (Look at the picture below.) Lets call them Type 1 (yellow on the Map) and Type 2 (brown on the Map). Type 1 Relationships are all about attempting to make the dream of Vintage Love into a reality. Type 2 Relationships are not about Vintage Love. Type 2 is all about surviving and seems totally driven by the Lizard and about Survival. Type 2 is much more common out there.
Here’s my list of Type 1 relationships.
Type 1a – Singles, who have never been in a relationship. Built into them, and taught into them, is the idea of a “perfect” relationship. They may dream of, consume products that focus on “Falling in Love” and “Living Happily Ever After,” and they probably speak of Mr. or Ms.Right or my dreamboat or finding my life-partner, or soulmate. That dream is very much alive in them. Maybe they don’t have many skills yet, maybe not much awareness of how much learning will be required, but still it is a hot idea. (Humor: you find these people hanging out in the Mall. Type lifespan: till they find someone.)
Type 1b – Singles, who have been in at least one relationship. Oh, they also want the dream. They quit their last relationship because the dream began to seem impossible, hopeless – with that person. But they have been in this spot in the Map before. So they are looking for “Mr./Ms. New Right.” I enjoy how often you hear these people talking about their first Romantic Love as if it were a mistake or as “I didn’t really love them.” Also because of their “bad experiences,” they have been single for a while and can often be very unsure of themselves: pivoting between trying again or staying single. Some will actively avoid commitment, while “playing around” and using each other -lightly. If you look closely at the sadness in the corner of their eyes, you can see that they still know what is “wrong” (Power Struggle and feeling lonely inside a relationship) and want what is “right” (Vintage Love). As this group gathers more life experience, they are often looking for people to work with or who are already working on good relationships. (Humor: you find these people in single’s dance clubs and bars, with a general movement through online groups, golf courses, Farmville and toward single’s groups in churches. Type lifespan: normal minimum of 6 months for men, 6 years for women. Possibly for the rest of their lives or until they find someone.)
Type 1c – People in Love. These people are truly beautiful to watch. They glow, exuding happiness and energy. They believe they have it (Vintage Love) and they feel really good about it. There seems to me a wonderful childlike effervescence about these people. The drugs PEA and oxytocin have a lot to do with it, but i believe it is in their brains that their profoundly deep dreams of “rightness” that kick off the drugs.
Often they hide this state “of love” from others. The state leads to pulling away – Hansel and Gretel-like. Other people are likely to see and comment on how these people are “dumb as posts.” Dreams do that. My experiences are that if you have a group of singles and someone disappears from the group, usually it’s because they fell in love. (Humor: You may not often see these people, but check for their status change on Facebook. Type lifespan: 9 minutes to 9 months.)
They also really don’t want to lose this stage. I don’t want to scare anyone (scary thought coming up), but this can be the period where people kill each other in fear that good feeling is going away. “I shot her as she was trying to leave me.” Fascinating.
The desire for Vintage Love is an amazing force.
Type 1d – People in the Power Struggle. These people often lead quite split lives. At home they are fighting, sulking, struggling. Chaos reigns. They speak of “nice times” as either a thing of the past or as happening every-so-often. In public they can often put on an extremely different mask. I recall being in the middle of a fight with my first wife when a salesman came to the door. We stopped fighting immediately and actually had a “nice time” visiting with the stranger. Our ugly fight did not even resume till two days later.
What enables the Power Struggle is an intense desire for Vintage Love that is sabotaged by familiar and foolish skills that will never, ever, work. The two most common disaster skills are a) threatening to leave vs pushing for too much connection, and b) threatening each other for the “crime” of sharing disagreement. The core of the trouble is using threat in an attempt to get love.
In this type, some people cycle back and forth between painful tactics and the fantasy/pretend drama of Type 1c stage.
If these people separately chat with you, their sentences are full of complaints. “He doesn’t listen to me.” “She keeps secrets.” “He drinks too much.” “She looks at other men.” etc. Note that a complaint is the action of a baby crying to an adult. Complaints say, “I don’t like this and someone should fix it. But not me.” Lots of “blaming” and “guilting” is going on.
It seems to me that given our culture we need the pain of the Power Struggle to clue us in, to wake us up. I think we need to learn that we don’t know what we are doing. I think we have to get rid of our cockiness. We need to learn to do something better than we currently know how to. We need to learn/grow up – in order to get our dreams, Vintage Love.
Almost all couples I see in the office are Type 1d in the Power Struggle. They are often trying to move into Type 1e. (Not much humor here: you find these people everywhere. Type lifespan: 3 years.)
Type 1e – People leaving the Power Struggle by Exiting the Relationship. This involves at least one partner having reached a state of hopelessness about the relationship. They have reached the conclusion that Vintage Love is unobtainable with their current partner. They still want Vintage Love and are now figuring out how to proceed since their partner is a “dud.” They may be building up their confidence to talk to a lawyer to get a divorce. They may be quietly building up their confidence to move out. They may be building up their confidence to “tell their partner/parents/friends.” Confidence building and courage is involved.
To make this Type more interesting, often their “hopeless” partner gets “clued in” and starts to move/grow/learn. That makes things sometimes worse because a “growing-hopeless partner” is a contradiction, and one has fewer excuses to leave.
Another horrible complication is if the leaving partner finds someone to “fall in love with.” This is a nightmare of trouble as the leaving partner is comparing their known, and problematical partner, to a dream of a new partner. This is a bit like an affair, Type 2d relationship.
This is often a dramatic, and enormously painful, period. My paper on “What to do when he/she leaves you” is a tribute to these people, and is the most read paper I’ve ever written. (Humor: this period is a bit like a painful pimple. The longer you leave it alone, the worse it may get. Type lifespan: 3 months to 2 years – lots of ouch.)
Type 1f – People in the University of Life. These people are learning, trying out new things, noticing what doesn’t work and generally co-creating a Vintage Love state. They are going to Marriage Workshops, seeing therapists, reading books together, and generally sharing lots and lots. My experience is that they have lost most or all their cockiness about “what works”. They see “lack of trust” as a problem to be fixed. They eschew threat. They also strongly reject the common advice in our culture to “sit down, shut up, and get back to work.” They want all the goodies of the Biological Dream.
They often withdraw from society a bit. I think lovers (Type 1c) do this for the same reason. They are protecting and furthering their growing success of a partnership. They tend to experience society as a direct threat to that goal. (Humor: Listening to Rush Limbaugh, “I’m right,” is a direct threat to marriage and Vintage Love.)
This is often a lengthy period of patience and hope, growing by small bits, growing to bigger bits. My wife and I spent a long time there. (Humor: Oprah! Type lifespan: 3 years to 28 years!)
Type 1g – People in Vintage Love. Continuing to learn, these people display the traits of Vintage Love and live a life of peace, order, and playfulness. They tend to be generous to others, but are also careful about not letting their delight be trampled on. I think that most of these couples are invisible in our society. A few are visible. Many like to say they are there, but look closely! (Humor: you often find one of these couples people on the board of some charity. Type lifespan: Forever!)
Type 2 relationships are built around not having Vintage Love, even as a dream. They often carry the memory of “giving up.” Since the Biological Dream is part of all humans, these people renounced that dream and passed through Door #2.
Type 2a – People quietly living behind Door #2.
Personal Note: When I first wrote about these people, back in 1998, I named that stuff we all learn about relationship from our folks as the Homestyle Marriage. (Perhaps I liked homestyle cooking or fries.) Using that name I could call these Type 2a people those who “went Home” or went back to the frequently sad reality that they fell in love to avoid. This place was called “GOING HOME” in the very worst sense of the phrase.
But when I taught my concepts in Istanbul one year, I found the word “homestyle” didn’t translate very well. Too much of Americana! So I changed my chart to refer to the “Traditional Marriage” as being what my folks showed me. Door #2 became simply Door #2 and I’ve referred to these people, Type 2a as living in Door #2.
This group represents the vast majority of “stable” couples in our culture. They are characterized by pervasive “threat avoidance”, low intimacy/togetherness, low playfulness. I think we see them all the time. They are not usually young and they display a sense of wisdom, of “rightness”, to the outside world which does not permeate their togetherness. Lack of trust/safety becomes a stable piece of art for these people. (Humor: Normal marriage. Type lifespan: Forever or the first tragedy.)
People leaving Door #2, but still inside it, make up the last types of relationships. These three types are very similar to Type 1e except that drama is sometimes much higher. The longer they’ve been behind Door #2 frequently the bigger the bang. Of course, when you leave Door #2 you are possibly moving back to a Type 1 relationship. I’ve seen several different transitional patterns:
Type 2b – Where the level of Fighting (Lizard behavior) begins to bring the attention of “society” or “outsiders.” In this situation the type of fighting has escalated so that someone outside the partnership intervenes: neighbors, children, authorities, etc. Sometimes this is physical violence that someone else notices, bruises, black eyes, etc. Sometimes this is throwing things around or yelling that attracts the neighbors who call 911. I like to notice how the rules for what is permitted or at least to be “not noticed” change over the years. (Not much humor: couples often cycle into increasing violence, but they may find and put a ceiling on how far they will go. Police cost 6 months of your life and $5000. Type lifespan: 1–10 months.)
Type 2c – Where the level of Leaving (Lizard behavior) begins to reach the Divorce level. Type 2 relationships often about getting lots of space between you and your partner. I see people using work for Leaving (work-aholics, long haul drivers, traveling salespersons, military, even an onsite archeologist). Often it starts with something as simple as having different work-shifts. The tactic is to avoid conflict by avoiding contact. This group involves someone reaching their limit of distance. (Not much humor: When you chat with these people they don’t mention their partner. Type lifespan: This can build for a long time, 10–20 years.)
Type 2d – Affairs. These are often almost comically identical situations. The most central feature I believe is a shift from Type 2 toward Type 1: comparing a Type 2 relationship (like mom and dads) to a Type 1 relationship Romance and aimed at Vintage Love. The outcome can vary. (Boy is that an understatement.) I haven’t spent a lot of time writing about affairs just because the dynamics seems pretty straightforward. One person has woken up and is moving toward a more full state of aliveness (Vintage Love), is moving toward a dream partner who they think will help, and is moving away from a person who has probably been asleep behind Door #2. The affaired-against partner has been “asleep” for just slightly longer than the affairing partner. Oh the woes and the wonderful potentials available. (Humor: only from the outside can you see the slapstick humor and there is lots. Type lifespan: 6 months till discovery.)
I think this is it. Everyone is currently in one of these types of relationships. I think it covers everyone. (Him. I may have to think about those in retirement homes where a partner has passed away. I’d rather not.)