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  • Writer's pictureHazel

Psychosocial Stages of a Relationship

According to psychologist Erik Erikson, there are essentially eight stages of psychosocial childhood development. I'd like to extend this this notion to encapsulate the current trend within millennial dating. I feel it is appropriate considering the start of a new relationship is essentially the birth of something new- i.e. as delicate as a new child.

So ok,

What are the eight stages?

1) Trust vs Mistrust

2) Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

3) Initiative vs. Guilt

4) Industry vs. Inferiority

5) Identity vs. Role Confusion

6) Intimacy vs. Isolation

7) Generativity vs. Stagnation

8) Ego Integrity vs. Despair

Let's break each one of these down. According to Erikson within the context of childhood development, the first stage begins at birth continues to approximately 18 months of age. During this stage, the infant is uncertain about the world in which they live, and looks towards their primary caregiver for stability and consistency of care. If the care the infant receives is consistent, predictable and reliable, they will develop a sense of trust which will carry with them to other relationships, and they will be able to feel secure even when threatened.

Trust vs. Mistrust I suppose we can make the same assumptions for people when they are entering a new relationship. It is within the budding of this new flower do we begin to understand how delicate it actually is. The first stage sounds a little like "Can I trust this person with my vulnerability?"That's pretty much the gist of what happens in our subconscious mind when we first begin a new relationship with someone. Over the course of the first several months of the relationship, we are able to gauge out patterns of consistency and stability. This stage is integral to establish on firm ground before moving on to the next stage of the relationship.

Autonomy vs. Shame and Guilt According to Erikson, children at this stage are focused on developing a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will. If children in this stage are encouraged and supported in their increased independence, they become more confident and secure in their own ability. If children are criticized, overly controlled, or not given the opportunity to assert themselves, they begin to feel inadequate in their ability to survive, and may then become overly dependent upon others, lack self esteem, and feel a sense of shame or doubt in their abilities. This, I'd equate, the stages in the relationship where the man starts building things for his girl and the girl starts cooking food for her man. Something like that. In this sense, we can see if these behaviors are encouraged, they will continue. If they are met with criticisms and harshness, the individual will be less likely to repeat these behaviors as their confidence in personal ability is compromised.

Initiative vs. Guilt During the initiative versus guilt stage, children assert themselves more frequently through directing play and other social interaction. This is the stage of human development that begins to center more around socialization and connection-building. As we all know, close relationships with family and friends is integral to the success of a healthy relationship. You don't just marry the person, you marry into their whole life. I would equate this psychosocial stage of development to the point in the relationship in which the significant others start becoming intertwined with each family/friend unit. Initiative to want to be a part of their life and the guilt associated with not.

Industry vs. Inferiority This stage is associated with competency and the lack thereof. Typically, this stage is between the ages of 5 and 12. The mechanisms associated within this stage include arithmetic, reading and writing amongst other things including sports. As it pertains to relational interactions, I'd say in this stage we are likely to see whether or not a partner's attempts at fulfilling and meeting the needs of the other are accepted and held in high regard. Similarly to the stage of autonomy, it is important to at least acknowledge the efforts of your partner in this stage in order to build confidence in them as a partner. However, during this stage, the majority of validation stems from competency in the eyes of peers, friends and family. This is the point in the relationship where others will begin to have opinions on your ability to be a good mate. That is why it is so important within the relationship to establish a strong foundation within your social circles. Self actualization (or relationship actualization) cannot move forward without it.

Identity vs. Role Confusion During this stage, adolescents search for a sense of self and personal identity, through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs, and goals. The age range for individuals in this stage are typically 12-18 years old. However in the context of relationships, I would argue this would most likely resemble the time when the couple is having a child and the roles of the couple get multifaceted. It is during this stage that the partners must identify who they are outside the context of being a partner/parent- because those dynamics change tremendously.

Intimacy vs. Isolation This stage takes place during young adulthood between the ages of approximately 18 to 40 yrs. During this stage, the major conflict centers on forming intimate, loving relationships with other people. In a partnership, this may look like the struggle between dealing with personal issues on your own vs confiding in a partner to carry that weight for us. Modern theories around relationships insist that a partner should be your confidant, diary, stress pillow, etc- however, considering the state of relationships in this era, I'd say this is an unsustainable dynamic. It is simply not realistic to believe that any one person can fulfill all of those roles for you. Which is why this particular stage of development urges couples to find a harmonic balance between intimacy and isolation as we begin to navigate the various roles mentioned in the last stage.

Generativity vs. Stagnation We give back to society through raising our children, being productive at work, and becoming involved in community activities and organizations. Through generativity we develop a sense of being a part of the bigger picture. This is the stage in the relationship where I believe most couples start their "rebrand". Similar to the idea of renewing vows, this stage urges partners to explore various new outlets of creative productivity- whether that be adopting new hobbies, trying new things sexually, or starting a new business endeavor. The opposite, of course, is stagnation. Meaning the couple faces challenges of boredom and idleness- often sacrificing the spark that kept their relationship alive in the first place.

Ego Integrity vs. Despair Ouf. This one is the toughest one. Of course, why wouldn't it be considering this is the "end of life stage" in Erikson's psychosocial model of development. This is the stage of the relationship in which each partner must begin to assess and analyze their ego identity outside of the partnership- otherwise face the threat of existential crises. It is easy to get lost in someone. Most people do. Which is why, after the establishment of all the previous stages within a relationship, it is imperative to understand the "me" from the "we". This is typically seen amongst individuals that believe they haven't completely self actualized as a person before entering the relationship. The despair part, I'd assume, stems from the fact that the person who enters this stage may be a completely different person when they exit. Leading to all sorts of sadness and confusion.

All in all, this topic is an extremely heavy one and no where near talked about enough. I felt it necessary to do a mini analysis of what this looks like in the modern dating world because- let me tell ya- it is an absolute mess out here. If you are blessed to have a partner for life, I highly recommend doing your own internal assessment to determine which stage your relationship may be at in order to better understand some of the stressors you are facing. Remember, this isn't an actual interpersonal theory, so take everything as it resonates.

Namaste, readers <3

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