Stage 2. Storming

Stage 2. Storming

This is the stage where circumstances ‘test the mettle’ of the relationship. After the ‘blind love’ stage involved in ‘forming’ the relationship, the ‘real’ person with whom you are spending time becomes evident. In this stage, you are really getting to know the fundamental nature of your partner. If you are engaging in a potentially unhealthy relationship, unless you can see the subtle warning signs, you are unlikely to see the ‘real’ personality of your partner. She may be adept at maintaining the illusionary behaviours she exhibited during the forming phase of a relationship, until you are well and truly committed to her. (“Yes”, you say! “She sure hid it well until the crunch time came. And I just didn’t see it coming at all.”)

Until now, both parties are generally on their best behaviour. However, after time and with extended time spent together, it is difficult to ‘be nice’ and ‘be good’ all the time. Again, this is different when engaging in a potentially unhealthy relationship. Cracks in the persona begin to appear and the real personality of the individual with whom you are in a relationship emerges. Again, it is here that you have to decide whether you ‘like’ the person, with whom you have formed a relationship. Another consideration is whether you ‘like’ yourself when you are with this person in this relationship. Do you like how you respond to her behaviours? Are you able to be totally yourself when with her? If your response is ‘no’ to any of these considerations, then again, it is probably not good form to get further involved with this person.

The ‘storming’ phase of a relationship also involves how you and your partner deal with conflict and differing opinions. The patterns you set up at this stage will, in all likelihood, influence the way in which you manage conflict throughout the remainder of your relationship. If you are able to set up positive patterns wherein each of you is heard, your position honoured, and you can negotiate an outcome that is suitable for you both, then the chances of this relationship sustaining itself through good and bad times are strengthened. You are seeking solutions to your problems, rather than focusing on the problem itself and being negative. If, however, you set up negative patterns where abuse and aggression are used by one of or both of you to manipulate, then this relationship, if it lasts, will in all likelihood, be rocky and fraught with conflict and many difficulties.

The ‘storming’ phase of the relationship is a most important one. It has the potential to determine how the relationship looks and feels. Unfortunately, many people do not understand the significance of this phase when developing an enduring and loving relationship. This has something to do with the social or cultural representations in the media etc., of how relationships unfold. People have a romantic notion of how relationships develop, and romantic movies and TV shows certainly fuel these notions. Although there is an acceptance that conflict may be part of the relationship or connection, seldom is there any appropriate representation of how it is that couples can manage this phase of their relationship. The romantic comedies and movies generally just do not deal with how you can resolve issues in a mature and sensible way.

Often it is not until negative patterns of managing conflict have been set up, that you become aware of the impact such patterns can have on you, your partner and your relationship. You could of course seek therapy or relationship counselling at this stage. However, if the patterns have become entrenched over the years it is difficult to shift from this dynamic. Such difficulties lie in the fact that the need to change is imposed upon both individuals involved as well as the dynamic of the relationship, which almost has a life of its own. Individual therapy is challenging enough. Having to consider another’s ‘issues’, as well as the ‘issues’ imposed on the course of therapy by the ‘relationship’, adds further stress to the process. Consequently, it is better to be proactive at the storming stage of the relationship than to be reactive at a later stage of the relationship. We therefore urge you to develop positive habits when dealing with conflict in your relationship at this early stage. This sets up good habits for your future together, when you are resolving differences of opinions.

During the storming phase of a relationship, it is best to set up positive patterns when managing conflict so that you are not in a position of having to attend therapy or worse, leave the relationship because of an inability to resolve issues. Remember, no matter how wonderful your life may be, there will always be something that you and your partner will not agree upon, especially if both of you are independent and your own person in the relationship. This is not a bad thing. What makes these challenges more comfortable to endure is a positive outlook, positive regard for the other and positive outcomes. By being able to achieve a positive outcome whilst in conflict, you are reinforcing a set of patterns, which constructively defines the relationship.

Another aspect of the storming phase of a relationship is the discussion of and agreement about significant individual and couple goals. If your individual goals are diametrically opposed to those of your partner, then it is absolutely necessary at this stage to agree to disagree about these or negotiate an understanding of each other’s attitude. If this is impossible, then one of you will have to change and whom it is that changes will need to be negotiated, as will the nature of such change. None of this is particularly easy and can potentially lead to conflict. However, if, as mentioned above, you are able to agree or compromise and achieve a positive outcome, then you will moderate the potential of conflict down the track.

With respect to couple’s goals, it is important that you be in agreement with each other about such elements as:

  • what the goal is;
  • timing (i.e., is this a long term or short-term goal);
  • amount of effort each partner is to put into the expected outcome;
  • how important the goal is; and
  • how to negotiate changes or conflict, if any.

Couple-goals can have a tremendously positive influence on a relationship, particularly during times of stress and/or conflict. Couple’s goals can be the glue that holds the relationship together at such times. Although it may seem tedious, particularly at the beginning of a relationship, it is important to discuss goals; and how you expect the relationship will look and feel once you have achieved them.

If you have managed to negotiate the ‘storming’ phase of a relationship, have been successful in setting up positive patterns of resolving stressful, and conflict-ridden situations, then you are in a better position to be able to move into and remain in the ‘norming’ and ‘performing’ phases of a relationship. These are discussed next.

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