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The 3 Stages of Love — From Romance to Power Struggle to a Life Dance of Conscious Love

When you fell in love, you viewed life through rose-colored lenses. You saw mostly one another’s perfections, shared your hearts willingly, told each other everything. You forgot your limitations, fears, and inhibitions. You felt loved and—connected, empowered and whole. You hoped it would last forever and thought, “This is how life should be!”

It all began in the ‘falling in love’ stage.

What happened to bring you down to earth? The falling in love stage, alas, turns out to be only a preview of how a mature and genuine love relationship can be—once, that is, you and your partner develop the ability to consciously nurture your relationship, self and the other, with empathic compassion — especially in testy, stressful, challenging moments.

Lacking this ability, inevitably, things started to go awry. The veil of perfection dropped when your partner started to find fault with you, and as it turned out he or she had a few attributes you couldn’t bear either. In fact, the very traits you once admired in each other may now seem unbearable to each of you. When the veil of perfection lifted:

You entered the ‘power struggle’ stage.

In this stage, you lowered your expectations. You began to “expect” your partner would let you down. It seemed they were no longer willing, so you couldn’t trust them to cooperate or make you happy on their own.

  • With each clash, your hopes were dashed again, and your sense of security in the relationship felt more and more out of balance. Increasingly, the relationship felt different and so did you in the presence of your partner.
  • Whereas it once felt “good” to be together, now you never knew what to expect. The focus shifted from relating out of love to out of fear.
  • Desperate to get back the love you once shared, you resorted to using punitive tactics – such as instilling your partner with fear, shame or guilt – to get their attention. In their defense, your partner used their own version of punitive tactics. You each hoped this would “work” to get the other to no longer disappoint or hurt or anger you. (You learned these from your parents, by the way; it’s how they let their disappointments be known!) This of course didn’t work…
  • Instead, your conversations were increasingly focused on one another’s “wrongdoings,” perhaps blaming the other for the problems in your relationship. If only they would stop getting angry all the time! Or, if only they would sit down and talk about issues they’d get resolved!

Unless interrupted, this reactive and rigid pattern of, essentially, both seeking to find fault, condemn and punish the other—all with the hope that “this” will somehow teach the other to restore the love you want and deserve—is what really robs you of the hope your relationships needs to thrive.

The good news that awaits you!

The good news is that, though the power struggle phase is inevitable, it is also supposed to end. It is designed, if you will, to challenge each of you to dig deep and stretch yourself to give in ways that help you heal and experience your own emotional fulfillment. But wait, there’s more good news:

  • Believe it or not, your life partner is likely your dream soul mate, though he or she may now be in disguise, and, like you, hurting inside.
  • As a first-rate school, your marriage is an ideal training ground where you may develop skills you need, as you stretch yourself to nurture emotional experiences that you yearn for in return.
  • In a sense, power struggles serve a very important function. When resolved in healthy ways, conflict is nature’s plan to help you strengthen your emotional intimacy.
  • Conflict affords an opportunity to help you get to know and understand your self and your partner more deeply. When partners resist one another’s requests for change, it is often because one or both do not feel recognized or valued as individuals in the relationship.

Keep believing!

It is not easy to break free of old patterns of relating, however, it is even more painful not to make these changes. There is a common tendency to change only when the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of changing! The power struggle phase, if you will, corners each partner into making painful, albeit necessary, changes.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. LAO TSU

The choice in life seems to be between the pain of stretching out of comfortable places or the suffering that comes as a result of avoiding pain. The key to growth is allowing yourself to deepen your present moment awareness of life in and around you from higher dimensions of consciousness.

What is the dance of conscious love?

As life partners, you have an inner capacity to energize the empathic connection you need, one day and moment at a time, and create the bright and mutually satisfying future you desire together. By making your love responses conscious ones. What is conscious love? It is:

  • Love that is expressed in conscious actions that seek the highest good for self and the other.
  • A learned ability to be empathically present and connected to your compassion, simultaneously, for your self and your partner.
  • Living your life in ways that seek to consciously enhance and enrich you as individuals and your marriage relationship.
  • Becoming consciously aware of the power of your choices and your emotional presence to your partner in your interactions.
  • An understanding that, for you and your partner to be fully present, with complete access to the amazing abilities of your brain and body, you must know how to calm your own and your partner’s sense of safety in the moment.

The bottom line is that unless you feel emotionally safe in relation to the other, your hearts are not open to fully give and receive love.

The emotional bond created by your “romantic love” in the first stage that survives the “power struggle” of the second stage has an excellent chance of evolving into an infinitely more powerful, nurturing and gratifying connection.

A life dance of conscious love is one in which each partner takes complete and total responsibility for becoming a whole person in the relationship, a willing contributor in making conscious choices to cultivate and keep the relationship strong — in the safety of conscious-love.

The 3 Stages of Love — From Romance to Power Struggle to a Life Dance of Conscious Love

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2011). The 3 Stages of Love — From Romance to Power Struggle to a Life Dance of Conscious Love. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Feb 2011
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