Something was bugging me recently. It was making me feel irritable, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. So I spent some time thinking hard about what was up.
Finally, the thing that was nagging at me became clear. When I realized what it was, I blurted it out to my unsuspecting spouse, “I want you, me, and us to move into the stage of Synergy!” He looked up from his newspaper and said, “Huh.”
Synergy is the final stage of development of the Bader-Pearson Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. I gave my husband a quick review of the developmental stages, which he has heard A LOT about.
The first stage of development is called Symbiosis, also known as the Bonding Stage. This is when people join together and become “we .” They focus on appreciating each other’s qualities and the similarities they enjoy. The bonding hormones of oxytocin and vasopressin flow freely, making the bonding stage feel dreamy and delightful.
The next stage of development is called Differentiation. It is the stage that often takes relationships down. They misunderstand this stage's challenges and often think something is wrong with the relationship. “You changed!” is a common form of thinking. Whereas things felt easy in Bonding, things can feel rough in Differentiation. People don’t realize that the challenges of the stage are normal and healthy parts of relationship development. Differentiation Stage tasks involve learning to be clear about your thoughts, feelings, and desires while being open and curious about your partner's.
Exploration is the next stage in the Developmental Model when people focus on their individual talents and consolidate self-esteem. Members of the couple are concentrating on their own thing, and less concerned with their partner. If they zip through Differentiation without learning all it offers, they can feel disconnected from each other in the Exploration Stage. Only by going back to Differentiation to learn its lessons more fully will they be able to move on to the next stage, Reconnecting.
According to the Developmental Model, Reconnecting is characterized by “solidifying the ability to move close and move apart.” In this stage, partners have distinct, independent interests and activities, as well as closeness and intimacy. Previously, I had self-assessed that my spouse and I were in the stage of Reconnecting. I had felt satisfied with Reconnecting. But now something was changing, and I wanted some Synergy, the stage where one plus one is greater than two.
I knew a lot about Synergy from studying the Developmental Model of Couples therapy. I knew it described those couples that were relationship masters. It characterized those couples many people look up to that are each strong individuals and a dynamic team. They often have foundations, retreat centers, big ideas, and big bucks. Think of the Obamas, the Gottmans, or Bader and Pearson, the originators of the Developmental Model.
Could regular folks like my hubby and me have Synergy? And why did I want it anyway?
Identifying and expressing my ardent wish to move into Synergy felt great. I felt a shift by announcing it, even though nothing else had changed. I realized I didn't need to be in the stage of Synergy as much as I needed to say that I wanted it.
Then, as I described to my husband what it was that I meant, my desire became more apparent. I wanted that feeling when you are motivated and excited about life, and your partner is motivated and excited about life. You generate your own enthusiasm and share it with your partner who is generating their own enthusiasm, and you each feel even more motivated by each other’s energy. A team of dynamos, dear. That’s all. Are you in? Fortunately, it was before 8 PM, and my husband remained fully awake for the conversation.
Synergy for regular folks
I had always thought that a requirement of relationship Synergy was to be a couple halting climate change, curing diseases, or ending world hunger or at least having a foundation. But was that what I was after? Selfishly, no. I didn't even want to take in a foster dog. But, I did want that feeling of propelling forward in life, making things happen, sharing in, and multiplying excitement, even if it was just getting our taxes done on time and doing high-fives.
My husband and I have been discussing Synergy a lot around the house. We spring it on each other when we want some recognition. “I made your lunch. Synergy.” Or when we want the other to do a chore. “It would be a boon to our Synergy if you would clean the bathroom.”
I feel like it’s happening the more we talk about it, joke about it, and keep it in mind. Maybe grand accomplishments aren't necessary to enjoy some synergy. I think it's partly an attitude, and I think it’s working.
Meg Luce, M.S., is a Marriage and Family Therapist in the Sierra Nevada Foothills of California where she helps couples create satisfying relationships. You can find her contact info at https://NevadaCountyTherapist.com