7 Stages of Relationship

Polite modern stories and air-brushed Disney films do little to prepare us for the rude realities of our chaotic loving intimate relationships.

As we all know, relationships are complicated, and often don’t go exactly as we would wish – they really do have a life of their own.

The 7 tasks for lovers is a really good map. A deep map, well-observed from the psychologists couch of Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I have read Women Who Run With The Wolves so many times, my copy has fallen apart and lost it’s cover… in my recent re-reading, I found this sensible and helpful nugget, which I think deserves further exploration.

The 7 stages are fundamentally about acknowledging the constant nature of change. Relationship is not a fixed thing. It is not an object.

Relationships are dynamic and alive. They thrive when the wisdom of the wild goddess is included. Facing this wise truth, helps us be realistic and successful in navigating the ups and downs of the relational terrain.

Relationship is a part of nature. Constant change is the essential creation pattern of nature… Life/death/life is ancient and instinctual. You know it from observing the garden, your childhood experiences and perhaps also from seeing your family… But until now did you know that it also lives in the natural many cycles of your life in relationship?

The miracle we are seeking takes time: time to find it, time to bring it to life.”

For a relationship to succeed we need to be friends with the cyclical nature of the world, the necessary small deaths and startling births that make up a relationship – not just our fantasies. There is nothing of value without death.

To love, one must not only be strong but wise. Strength comes from the spirit. Wisdom comes from experience with constant change, life and death.

There are seven tasks that teach one soul to love another deeply and well:


1  Accidental discovery of person as spiritual treasure

All lovers in the beginning are blind. At first one may simply not realise what has been found. While the ego is probably looking for fun, the lovers have meanwhile often entered sacred psychical ground. There can be an uncomfortable struggle between surface sense of identity and the realms of deeper unconscious soul.

In this first stage, illusions and expectations die, greed for having it all or wanting it all to be beautiful die… To love means to stay with what is, as it is.

Amongst the passion, many new lovers worry about small disappointments. Things that don’t meet their conscious ideas, expectations and prepared lists of “what I want in a relationship!” Perhaps their lover has an unexpected bald skull or rounded belly, oh no, what shall they do?!

The impulse is to run from the not totally perfect. But stay awhile, it can be a magical wonderful time…


2  The chase and hiding, hopes and fears for both

Reality is perfectly imperfect. We and the other person are of course flawed. In this stage, we may wish for someone better, a lover who is a bit more this or a lot less that… we may not want to give up our independence…

One partner may run away, the other may pursue them. This ‘dance’ can bring a lot of life into a relationship.

But there may not actually be anyone else that is better for us… there may not be anywhere to hide from the love… If one wishes to love, one will have to accept – to embrace the uncertainty of life.

To love truly, one needs to be able to manage one’s own fear of the unknown… This may mean consciously concentrating on calming and grounding – sensing the body, breathing more fully, taking extra self-care such as an exercise class or bath with candles, and reaching out to a friend.


3  Understanding life/death/life

If the relationship is love, then we are willing to touch the usually abhorrent ‘not beautiful’ in another person and in ourselves. Perhaps their anxiety or grumpiness… perhaps our fear or arrogance… We are revealed in our child self aswell as adult selves.

In both fairy-tale justice and the psyche, kindness to that which seems to be ‘less’ is rewarded by goodness. When we move forward, daring to come into contact with the not-beautiful, we are rewarded, expanded, enlarged… In this seemingly risky movement, we unravel the knot, the profound pattern for renewal. We learn the cycle of life and death.

A wild and generous patience is required in this stage by both lovers, to learn this pearl of great price. Take it slowly…


4  Relaxing into trust

The next stage is a transition, a healing and rebirth through the relationship. Willingly showing each other our vulnerabilities, and resting in the shared safety. A lover returns to trust, innocence, wishes, hopes, dreams. They love ‘even though’… despite the fact that they may still be nervous, unsure the partner is ‘enough’, that they have been wounded before, fear the unknown, etc.

A step towards commitment is the end of one kind of life and the beginning of another. Trust is required, in our own instincts. One ending is another beginning, whatever will be, will be transformative…

Trust yourself.


5  Resting in presence and goodwill of the other

At this stage the lovers let their hearts break open…

A Sufi prayer is, “Shatter my heart so a new room can be created for Limitless Love.”



6  Sharing future dreams and past sadness

The lovers hearts begin to sing new life… heart symbolises essence. When you realise the life/death/life cycle as teacher and lover, she becomes your ally, there is regeneration through song, rhythm, pulse, beat. Breath (pneuma) and psyche are both words for soul… expansion and increase…

Allowing the heart of the relationship to be sung…

A real pleasure.


7  Intermingling, the dance of body and soul

Love in it’s fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of a phase of love and enter another. To love is to embrace and to withstand. To make love is to dance with both life and death as partners.

Clarissa cautions women not to go from accidental catching to giving of their body, but to insist on all phases. Then, she says, the time of body union will come in its own right time.

To make love is to merge breath, flesh, spirit, matter one with the other. It is to come into cooperative relationship with that which one fears. 

Breathing is a real help in allowing fear to move through…

Giving one’s entire heart to the process, each partner transforming the other, they will be nourished to the end of their days.


Isn’t this beautiful? Worth knowing? I just had to share!

I imagine this cycle repeats in different forms within a relationship lifetime. And between relationships.

Wishing us all good luck navigating the dance of life/death/life within life.

It is our instinctual nature that has the ability to live through up and downs and still maintain relationship to self and other. Unpredictability must be admitted to a relationship for enduring love. The instinctual wild goddess knows when it is time for the next cycle of the relationship to begin…

Trust your deepest knowing.

At the end of The Sound of Music, the nun turned lover and mother, is asked by the teenage daughter what to do when a relationship ends: “Cry and wait for the sun to come out – because it always does!!”

In my end is my beginning.” TS Eliot

Julia Paulette Hollenbery
Julia Paulette Hollenbery
Julia Paulette Hollenbery is an Embodied Spirituality Teacher, Speaker and Author. Her book, 'The Healing Power of Pleasure: Seven Medicines for Rediscovering the Innate Joy of Being' is internationally published by Findhorn Press and is available to buy everywhere. Julia offers group workshops and individual sessions, bringing people into their authentic joyful confidence, for happy relationships, productive work and vibrant health. She has worked with numerous clients over 25 years, with The Grinberg Method, Craniosacral Therapy, Family Constellations and Kashmiri Tantra. She sees people in a way they have probably never been seen before, profoundly with acceptance and love. She invites people to envision and embody their potential. Julia is passionate about sharing her life-long love of the mystery, real sensual relationship and the life of the body. She is mother of a fiery young daughter, loves to dance wildly and spend quiet time in forests and oceans.

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