6. Dev is Sequential & Progressive - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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6. Dev is Sequential & Progressive

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Out of Dev Chrysalis Intimacy/Relationship

Out of the Developmental Chrysalis in Intimacy and Relationship Therapy
by Ronald Mah

There is an order to developmentā€¦ first, second, third, etc.  Ignoring the sequence by skipping or rushing developmental needs or developmental energy causes problems in development.  For example, babies need to wave arms and legs before sitting up, then crawling, walking, and running.  In particular with individuals, couples, and families, unsuccessful first attachment to intimate figures- parents needs to precede subsequent attachment to secondary intimate figures such as grandparents, babysitters, teachers, siblings and friends.  All earlier attachment experience in turn need precede the next intimate figures of romantic relationships.  Eventually, the next generation's intimate figures are their children.  Sequential development is highly connected to progressive development.  The development in the earlier stages set up the individual for his or her development in later stages.  Early stages of attachment, of problem-solving such as cognitive development, emotional intelligence development, communication skills, inter-personal skills including playfulness, and so forth are critical for later success or problems.  Whenever foundational processes are weak or unfinished, individuals especially in relationships continually have to manage current needs, while simultaneously trying to compensate for weaknesses in earlier psychic construction.  Taken together, sequence and progression problems in attachment leave individuals without the secure attachment that predicts healthy later intimate relationships.

The romantic intimate relationship itself has an implicit sequence and progression.  This sequence and progression can be hypothetically considered a natural process and/or be significantly influenced or challenged by cultural considerations.  The modern American romantic perception of the sequence and progression may or may not be anthropologically or ecologically naturalistic.  It can be argued that classic Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lover stories in many cultures and societies assert a naturalistic sequence and progression that is interrupted or corrupted by cultural models.  The lonely individual or distressed couple presenting for therapy may be examined for the sequence and progression of the relationship from some such varied models for discrepancies and expectations.  A common romantic model that many American individuals and couples aspire to may be

1. Initial attraction occurs and is reciprocated as the two individuals find it is mutual.

2. Tentative exploration for continued and consistent mutual attraction, interest, and compatibility during a beginning period of dating lasting from a few weeks to several months.  Exploration and experimentation may include sexual intimacy depending on personal, social, religious, and cultural values and expectations.

3. Positive experiences from initial exploration and experimentation lead to a commitment to monogamous relationship or exclusivity (professed or actual) after the extended initial period of dating.  This period can last for weeks, months, or years as affected by development (physical, intellectual, sexual, spiritual, economic, etc.) and/or be defined by chronological development (too young to co-habituate or marry, biological clock to have children, old enough to co-habituate or marry, etc.).  This monogamous or exclusive relationship may not be normative for some groups or individuals.  Such individuals or groups may or may not proceed to subsequent stages.

4. Positive experiences from the monogamous relationship take committed partners beyond immediate compatibility issues to a next stage that explores for long-term compatibility (life goals, children, career, etc.).  This can continue for months to years.  Sufficient positive experience may be gained to have confidence to move a next stage of co-habitation without legal commitment (i.e., marriage or domestic partnership- may not be available to same sex couples); and co-mingling of financial, social, and other affairs.  This may occur despite minor to major expectations from social, religious, and cultural models.  More traditional models do not allow for this stage.  This can continue for months to years.

5. Positive experiences from exploring long-term compatibility issues and co-habitation (if applicable) lead to commitment as life partners in marriage, as domestic partners, or as is otherwise conceptualized.  Once this stage is institutionalized, legitimatised, or personally validated, the couple proceeds to activate their agreed long-term goals and commitments with each other (including possibly having children).

When examining an individual or a couple with this sequential and progressive model, inconsistencies and mismatches may readily become apparent.  For example, in arranged marriages from more traditional non-modern American cultures, the first stage of initial attraction may be irrelevant, as may be developmental considerations at every other stage.  The individual partners or marries because of family, economic, and/or political reasons, or in the case of some faiths because the head of the religion pairs them off.  An entirely different couple's developmental stage model may need to be considered.  A somewhat comparable alternative model may not be based on romantic attraction.  They may include those from not only non-American cultures, but also Americans who marry for status, to get away from the family-of-origin, to run from abuse, for financial security, or various emotional or psychological issues confused with love.  Subsequent stages of exploration and experimentation may still be relevant but without the foundational emotions of love.  

The therapist should explore an assumption of a romantic foundation versus the actual experience of the individual or couple.  At potential issue, is a cross-cultural discrepancy between a professed relationship based on love versus an actual relationship based on some other contractual foundation.  As such, the individual or couple's problems may be from an unacknowledged loss from the lack of a romantic foundation for one or both partners.  Or, the problems arise from the desire of one or both of the partners to create romantic intimacy where there had been none.  In other words, one partner is asking for the contract or foundation of the relationship to be fundamentally changed or renegotiated.  Or if in individual therapy, the individual is complaining bitterly about his or her partner's lack of comparable commitment to the relationship.  The therapist may recognize this dynamic when an individual or the partner responds to the unhappy or dissatisfied partner by asserting, "I pay the bills.  I don't cheat on you.  You have a house over your head."  This indicates a contract based on financial support.  Or, "I clean the house.  I raised your kids.  I don't look at other men.  I let you have sex twice a week," indicating another economic contract.  But where is the love?  The therapeutic questions becomes if, how, and when it was lost versus whether it ever was a part of the relationship contract.

In the five-stage sequence and progression of the relationship presented, the partners and the couple moves into each subsequent stage based on positive experiences as they engage in exploration and experimentation with each other.  This is also known as dating initially, going together, co-habituating, and so on.  Using this simple model with an individual or with a couple to examine their relationship history, the therapist may find that an individual or a couple had moved from one stage to the next without an accumulation of positive experiences (insufficient quantitative change).  For some individuals, that the couple functions partly or entirely (or sub-consciously) from a non-romantic model, the lack of initial attraction or the lack of reciprocated mutual attraction is not supposedly relevant.  However, for the individual or couple who profess a romantic model, progressing into a more advanced committed stage despite the lack of positive experiences, do so or did so without the building blocks of the relationship.  This directs therapy to addressing the individual or couple's lack of sequence and progression.  

From another perspective, therapy may need to explore and challenge why an individual and/or the couple together ignored, denied, or minimized the lack of foundational experiences and moved forward to advanced stages anyway.  What was it about the individual or either person that he or she needed to or felt compelled to commit beyond what experiences merited?  For a client who justifies the progression by saying, "I was in love!" the therapist may be tempted to respond, "But were you also in stupid!?"  The therapist should hold firm to the assertion that progressing under such conditions/experiences does not make sense.  That is, does not make sense unless there is something more compelling than love that made it make sense.  In other words, what is the emotional, psychological, social, familial, economic, cultural, political, or some combination of compulsions that made it make sense at the time?  The therapy may be well served to explore attachment insecurity, depression, anxiety and fear, trauma, or other emotional/psychological issue that would have compelled an individual or both partners to ignore the reality of being out of sequence and insufficient progression.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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