Love Lingers Here: Intimate Enduring Relationships X: Forming A Relationship
The third stage is called “norming” because a couple must establish the norms (values and rules) that will guide their activities as a couple. Typically, partners can’t establish solid, working norms for themselves until they have moved through the storming period and even a restructuring of their relationship (the remarriage process). This stage is closely related to the concept of covenant that we introduced in a previous essay. The covenant conveys and reinforces the essential norms of any enduring relationship.
Once the norms are firmly established, a couple moves to a fourth stage of “performing” when conflict tends to drop off and the couple finds stability and tranquility in their relationship. Ironically, this stage relates closely to the founding story of a couple which we previously introduced—the founding story becomes the building block not for the forming stage of the relationship, but rather for its fourth, performing stage. The founding story provides the continuity for partners in a relationship as they confront the ongoing changes and unanticipated intrusive events that influence and often disrupt their individual and collective lives.
These stages of development for the couple never reach an end point, but are rather part of a recurring cycle of development, with each stage being reintroduced frequently (though hopefully with a little more insight and wisdom on the part of both partners). The developmental stages are often reactivated when a major shift occurs in the relationship. This shift, for example, occurs when partners give birth to a child (or a new project) or decide to elevate their commitment (e.g. get married) or when one of the partners confronts the death of a parent, or experiences a significant career transition (new job, loss of job). A couple typically moves through all four stages again, though may move through the forming, storming and norming stages much more rapidly and effectively the second or third time the recycling occurs.