Critical periods for an intimate relationship in relation to family systems changing

There are at least three phases that are seen as critical periods for an intimate relationship:

  • Having young children between the ages of 0-6 years old.
  • Having children in puberty.
  • Having children leaving the house.

Having said this, other life events or changes, of course will also be challenging times and critical phases for intimate relationships. However in this blog I will partly be focusing on the above phases. 

These phases are seen as years that are more challenging for a relationship, because there are changes on every fundamental theme in your life. 

Everyone and everything in the family system is changing:

  • Roles become different for yourself, your partner, the other family members (grandparents etc).
  • New balances in tasks
  • New work-life balances
  • Development of children 
  • Dynamics changing
  • Body transformations
  • Intimacy changes

What do we need in order to maintain a healthy relationship and rediscover each other in this vulnerable phase of life?

First of all; Reflect on yourself: intentionally making time to think about who you are, who you have become, what has contributed to that development, what you like about yourself, what you would like to develop more or less of, what triggers me, what past experiences can it be linked to in my youth. See the following quote: 

My primary relationship is with myself; all others are mirrors of it. As I learn to love myself, I automatically receive the love and appreciation that I desire from others. If I am committed to myself and to living my truth, I will attract others with equal commitment. My willingness to be intimate with my own deep feelings creates the space for intimacy with another. As I learn to love myself, I receive the love I desire from others. — Shakti Gawain

Second; communicate about each other’s underlying feelings and needs in a safe and respectful manner. This requires work around emotion awareness and regulation (being aware and in touch with your own underlying emotions and able to regulate your emotion). Realizing this is not about right or wrong/ partners fault or my fault. But this is about understanding and listening to each other’s needs and finding ways to meet each other’s needs. We can’t always know each other’s needs if the other person doesn’t communicate. Realizing that we will try to develop and meet each other’s needs, but also being realistic and understanding that 1 individual can’t always 100% fulfill some needs. Realizing that every relationship needs work to stay connected (reflections, small gestures, making time, effort, communication about emotions and needs). 

My colleague wrote a interesting blog related to communication in relationships “Communication builds intimacy in your relationship” – Joyce Ng (see our website:

Written By:
Flo Westendorp
Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

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