Marriage – what does that word make you think of? Do you see it as the ideal goal for your life, rosy and full of love and commitment? Or does it scare you to be fully devoted to just one person? Regardless of your thoughts on marriage, it’s important to be well informed about what it involves. Marriage is one word for the state of commitment you sign into on your wedding day, but it’s not just one thing – there are actually many stages of marriage! Check out the 6 stages of marriage, the challenges that come along with each, and how you can overcome them all to enjoy a long lasting marriage.

1. Honeymoon Heaven

Honeymoon periods can vary depending on how long you’ve been together, how quickly children come, and if you lived together before marriage. But in general, the honeymoon period is when you and your partner are completely engrossed in each other. You can’t get enough of your significant other, and want to learn everything about them while you start a life together.

Some of the challenges are that you’re so engrossed in each other, you might ignore some of the bigger issues. You can’t live too much in the moment in this stage, even though that may bring you happiness. This is prime time for you two to decide where you want your life together to go, and over what time period. You need to establish yourself as a strong couple all around, instead of just having fun in your own little world (or in the bedroom!).

2. Settling In and Settling Down

You got to know your partner during courtship, and then everything was rosy during the honeymoon period. Once you settle down together, you need to settle in to your life. You’ll learn things about your partner that you might not have previously known, especially if you didn’t live with them. Or maybe you were just so happy in love, it was easy to push these things aside. Well, now you’re a team. You’re building a life together so you need to accept things about your partner (and yourself!) and adapt to it.

One of the challenges can be a power struggle, as you both try to remain individuals while forming a solid partnership. Each of you will be working on fully developing your careers and social lives before children come into the picture, and it may be hard to balance this while still staying in love and focusing on your relationship. This is often a prime time for divorce, but you need to make your relationship a priority to make it to the next step.

3. Family Central

After accomplishing major goals in yours lives, you and your partner will probably be ready to start a family. Whether this means you’re adopting dogs or having children, it’s a new territory to negotiate. You’re adding members to your family, so things are not just about your and your spouse anymore. You have to make room for others without losing track of the love you have for each other.

There are a lot of challenges at this stage. You’re adding in kids, maybe even a home and mortgage, all those things grown ups do. You have a lot to balance, which means there is a lot of stress. So much depends on you – kids need your help, bills won’t pay themselves, and all of that takes money and effort. It’s easy to push your marriage to the back burner at this time, and let yourself blame your partner for any problems you may be having. Again, it’s important to make your relationship a priority, or it probably won’t last through this rocky phase.

4. Finding Yourself

After your children go to school, there is more freedom for your and your spouse. You kids can do more for themselves, and they’re away during the day, so if either of you stayed home with the kids, you can now go back to being a two income household. You both will have more time and space to figure out who you are, whether you’re working on re-establishing a career, starting something new, or just trying to find what hobbies you’d like to fill your newly-freed time with.

Challenges at this stage are similar to the second stage of Settling In. You and your spouse are both trying to find yourselves again now that the kids are more independent. You’re able to have time to yourself, and you might want that just for yourself – not with your spouse. This is another rocky stage because time alone is so rare, you crave it, but you might be alienating your partner. The solution is, of course, to keep your relationship a priority. If you want time alone, talk it over with your spouse. Make sure there are no hard feelings. Give each other space but come back to each other for support and love as you transition.

5. Empty Nest

Once your kids leave, it’s just you and your spouse again! That sounds amazing, but it might be more stressful than you’d imagine. You have to learn about your partner again, just like during your courtship – and hopefully like during your honeymoon phase! For so long, you’ve both put the kids and family first, but now you’re able to focus on each other again.

It can be challenging to adapt to being “just the two of us” after so long, especially if the last stage of Finding Yourself was particularly solitary. Partners might grow apart without the kids to keep them together. The answer is, yup, you got it! Make your relationship a priority. Talk to each other about whatever’s on your mind. Don’t keep worrying about the kids or trying to keep in touch with them to save your own relationship, because they need to start their own lives. Make things fun with your spouse so you feel like you’re dating again, splurge on yourselves and see how your relationship can evolve.

6. Compassionate Love

Wow, you’ve made it through all the stages? That’s rare these days, with divorce rates so high. Once you’ve made it this far, you know you’ve got true love. You and your partner have tackled every stage of marriage and come out on top of it all. Celebrate! You need to congratulate yourselves for making it so far, settle in to your golden years and love each other and the family you’ve created.

Featured photo credit: Eugenio Wilman via flickr.com

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