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As we move beyond the myths of couples living happily ever after in a life of tranquility and stability to the realities of complex, changing relationships, we discover both profound and chaotic change and some patterning and continuity in the changes that do occur. In general, we find that couples move through four overall stages of development, the initial stage being defined as “forming,” and the subsequent three stages being defined as “storming,” “norming” and “performing” — to borrow terms used by Tuchman.
The Four States of Development
The “forming” stage is one in which two individuals decide whether or not they want to establish a relationship that is intimate and involves some level of commitment. This is the stage of expansive vision and a promising future. This is the almost mystical—even spiritual—quality of these first moments together and show how these early expectations set the stage for the inevitable disillusionment that arrives. The concept of marker event that we described in a previous essay resides at the heart of the forming stage. Our interviews suggest that relationships often are formed not as function of formal events (such as marriage ceremonies) but as a function of events that have special meaning for the partners, i.e. the marker event.
The “storming” stage which usually follows the “honeymoon” stage of forming, involves conflict regarding control in the relationship and the role (s) that the partners are to play in their relationship and in various social groups. Frequently, storming is associated with the process of remarriage that we described in an earlier essay. While this second stage builds on our fears and our suspicion of true intimacy, it is also clear that storming is essential to the establishment of a firm base of trust and flexibility in an enduring relationship.