The Death of Love Isn’t Natural: The 7 Stages of Couple Separation
No one wants their relationships to end. It’s a terrifying feeling that we all want to avoid. But life seldom gives us what we want. Separation from your spouse or partner can most certainly be difficult and can severely affect your emotional, mental and physical health. Although a temporary separation between couples can often help to rekindle the relationship, most of the times a separation leads to a divorce and the death of the relationship.
“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source, it dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds, it dies of weariness, of witherings, or tarnishings, but never a natural death.”
– Anais Nin
Marriages rarely end overnight. They tend to unravel over time, in ways that are now fairly predictable
Thanks to research by Dr. John Gottman. In 1986 Dr. Gottman and his colleagues built a Love Lab to learn the secrets of lasting love and understand why love dies.
By studying couples for over 40 years, Dr. Gottman could predict with a 90% accuracy which marriage would fail, and which would succeed.
These are the factors he found most often contribute to the dissolution of a marriage:
The 7 Stages of Couple Separation
Stage 1: A Lack of Emotional Support
“To fall in love is awfully simple, but to fall out of love is simply awful.” – Bess Myerson
A deep friendship is the best buffer against nasty conflict. Dr. Gottman’s research concluded that couples who last turn toward each other 86% of the time, while those separated turned towards 33% of the time.
A lack of responsiveness and affection creates ambivalence about the relationship.
- “Does my partner love me?”
- “Do I matter to my spouse?”
A research study that followed 168 couples for 13 years discovered that the number one predictor of why couples split was not how often the couple fought, but how little affection and emotional responsiveness they offered one another.¹
Additional research validates that relationship distress was predicted by a partner who was unsupportive in their response – by minimizing a problem, not wanting feelings to be expressed, offering unhelpful advice, and insisting on their partner using that advice.²
When we become deprived of the emotional connection in our relationship, we become insecure. We feel uncertain about the strength of our relationship.
- “Can I trust my partner to be there for me when I need them?”
- “Is my partner hiding something?”
Stage 2: Escalating Conflict
“Absence is to love as wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small and kindles the great.” – Roger de Bussy-Rabutin
Dr. Gottman says that the most obvious indicator that a conversation is not going to go well is the way it begins.
Within the first three minutes, Dr. Gottman could predict how a 15-minute conflict conversation would end. His research concluded that 96% of the time a conversation ends negatively because it starts negatively.
When a conversation begins harshly, it invites a harsh reply:
- “You never make time for me. All you ever do is work. No wonder we have problems in our marriage!”
- “Solving how we parent our kids would help our marriage, but when I try to tell you about our kids’ routines and what’s important, you don’t do it. I even write out step-by-step instructions, but that doesn’t even work. I have no idea how to get through to you.”
While your frustration about a lack of responsiveness and teamwork is valid, beginning a conversation with blame, criticism, and sarcasm is a sure way to derail a productive conversation into a fight. When this happens, it can lead couples into nasty cycles of conflict if there is no repair.
Stage 3: Stuck in the Cycles of Conflict
“In a separation it is the one who is not really in love who says the more tender things.” – Marcel Proust
Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, proposes that conflict is a result of disconnection and an attempt to reconnect partners.
For some of us, conflict reconnects. For others, it disconnects us even more. The difference is not what you say, but how you say it.