How do Relationships Work?

Sometimes we think that relationships seem to have a life of their own, without rhyme or reason, meandering all over the place and through time and emotional response. In fact, this could not be further from the truth. Relationships are far more organised and run through definite identifiable stages before they finish. Inevitably, they will finish. Whether by dissolution or death, at some stage every relationship has an end point, whether we want it or not.

Relationships, in a variety of forms, have been put under the microscope by psychologists and social scientists … tis what they do! As such, examining relationships so that the various patterns and stages involved in the development, living and ending of relationships are explained and understood. Such research then facilitates the development of appropriate skills, behaviours and attitudes to manage what is happening in the relationship, dependent upon what stage the relationship is at. This understanding of what is going on at the various stages and the implementation of the skills learned can assist the development of a committed and loving relationship. It can also help an individual or couple manage the stressors and potential conflict often involved in a relationship.

Bruce Tuckman[1] devised a psychological model for how teams work. His focus was a description of how organisational teams function (i.e., teams of people in the workforce). However, we have found that Tuckman’s model is also appropriate and useful when applied to couples’ relationships. (It’s a neat model that was a real eye-opener for some men, who thought relationships were the most difficult things in the world to understand.) Tuckman described six stages of team development and dynamics. The stages described by him include forming, storming, norming, performing, deforming, and mourning. (Yep…stages just like in relationships.) Tuckman also described what occurred at each stage. These stages and what occurs, in terms of couple relationships, is described below. See Figure 1 for the seven stages in the life of a relationship.

[1] (Tuckman, 1977)

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