In my years of providing marital counselling, I’ve noticed that marriage is a living, dynamic relationship that can be said to have a life of its own. It is filled with ups and downs, and develops distinct personalities as it goes through different stages in its lifetime. Thus, a married couple can find themselves relating to each other in a variety of roles through the years – as friends, as lovers, as spouses, as the parent of their child, etc. Understanding the dynamics of each stage of marriage will help the couple to navigate through the joys and challenges. The key stages of a marriage can be characterised by the 3 P’s – Pairing, Parenting and Partnership (Yeo, 1999):
The Pairing Stage
The pairing stage could well begin even before the wedding day when two individuals decide to enter into the romantic phase of the relationship. They learn about each other’s personality, discover likes and dislikes, find commonalities etc. The key adjustment the couple has to make in this stage is to transit from life as a single to life as a duo. In addition to attuning to each other, a married couple also has to learn to “make room” in their lives for their respective parent-in-laws, who will be ushered in as a part of their family.
The Parenting Stage
The parenting stage typically begins upon the arrival of the first child. What was a duo is now a trio. The key adjustment in this stage is to take on the roles of parents, in addition to their existing role as spouses. The husband relates to his wife not merely as his spouse, but also as the mother of his child, And vice versa. Parental roles and responsibilities with regards to care giving, discipline, education will now have to be ironed out. While significant portions of time and attention may now be given to the child, the couple will do well to continue spending pockets of quality time with each other to tend to their marital relationship.
For couples who do not have children, they may merge gradually from the pairing stage to the partnership stage.
The Partnership Stage
A couple transits into this stage when their children are grown up or have moved out of the household. Having spent the past many years focusing on parenting, they may have to now adjust to each other as a pair again. This is commonly known as the “empty nest” syndrome. Marital tensions that were once distracted by the tasks of parenting in the past may now surface. Especially so since the couple will now spend more time with each other. Growing together into their golden years, the couple can strengthen their partnership by pursuing hobbies, engaging in common activities and enjoying leisure time as a pair.
Yeo, A. (1999). Partners in Life. Singapore: Armour Publishing.
MCS, DCS, BASW, CTRTC