Note: The entire expanded and revised book, Love Lingers Here, can now be purchased. The Link to this purchase is:
The second phase that characterizes most developmental plates involves conflict about what the relationship is and should be and/or about the relative influence which each member of the couple should wield in working on specific developmental tasks. In many cases, couples confront the unreality of their idealized images of the relationship. One or both members of the couple try to make the other member conform to their unrealistic ideal, then, when unsuccessful in this endeavor, attempt to “get even” for the other person’ impertinence, stubbornness or ignorance in not understanding, acknowledging and/or abiding by this demand for ideal performance.
Returning to the story of Narcissus that we introduced in a previous essay, one could describe this second stage as the draining of the pond beside which Narcissus sat in admiring his own image. Suddenly (or gradually, depending on the couple) there is no longer an idealized mate on which one can project unacknowledged or unacceptable strengths and desires. Our partner has become a real person, with real strengths and weaknesses, and with real needs. He or she is no longer on “good behavior.” Our partner now exhibits all of their psychological warts and blemishes. Each partner must find a way to accommodate their new love to the life they led before meeting this person. They must reshift their attention back to work, back to their children by a previous marriage, back to their favorite hobbies, or back to their old friends and family members.
In addition, the two partners must now face several important issues together for the first time. These issues revolve around several different domains or plates (to which we will devote considerable attention in later essays). Many couples find that the new home they purchased, which is supposed to bring contentment, actually heightens tensions in their relationship. The house has several flaws that were not noted before the house was purchased. Each member of the couple blames the other for this oversight. Similarly, a new child brings not only joy, but also new stress. Who will take the baby to the doctor? Who will stay up with the baby when he has a fever? Who will change the baby’s diapers? Both partners get a double dose of anger when changing the diapers. First, they hate dealing with the diapers. Second, they wonder why they are changing the diaper rather than their neglectful spouse.