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Life is all about development, evolution and progression, and as we go through this maturation process, there are often typical stages we experience as we continue to grow.
For example, you will likely recall you went through certain stages and phases of identity development as you came out to yourself as a gay man and started to come to terms with your sexuality.
Here is an article about the well-known “Cass Homosexual Identity Development” model that details this process.
In much the same way that as individuals we grow and develop, so do our relationships.
When you start dating someone and work toward a long-term partnership, there is a common developmental trajectory you will likely follow.
There are a variety of stage models that attempt to explain intimate relationship development, though the great majority are descriptive of heterosexual love.
While there are many similarities in the qualities and characteristics of relationships with our heterosexual counterparts, gay/lesbian relationships also have some unique differences and challenges that may not necessarily follow some of these other relationship theories.
Alas, there is one such model that speaks to gay male pairings!
In 1984, David P. McWhirter and Andrew M. Mattison published “The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop.”
The authors conducted a research study over the course of five years in which they interviewed 156 male couples in loving relationships lasting anywhere from one to 37 years.
Their intent was to discover how male couples function in everyday life in terms of domestics, finances, sexuality and relationship issues.
What actually emerged from the study was a groundbreaking discovery that regardless of the differences between men, their relationships pass through typical developmental stages in the same way individuals grow and develop.
McWhirter and Mattison share their research findings in this book and identify six separate developmental stages gay male couples go through that’s essential for the growth and healthy maturation of their relationship.
“Each stage can become a building
block to subsequent phases.”
McWhirter and Mattison describe the various characteristics that are reminiscent of each of the stages, which also can become building blocks and bridges toward passage to subsequent phases and can identify other influences and possible crises or challenges that are common.
These oftentimes are inherent in the growing pains necessary for the development and health of the relationship and the partners within the system as well. Here is an article that details these stages.
However, this framework provides instrumental findings that not only dispel common myths and misconceptions that abound about gay relationships but also provides a valuable structure to help educate couples about the possible challenges they have, are currently or will eventually encounter.
This information could possibly help yield more positive outcomes for the maintenance of relationships through conflict that might ordinarily spell their demise due to increased awareness, preventative troubleshooting and skills-building to aid in more smooth transitions through such developmental challenges.
The stage model also provides positive normalization for gay couples and could be helpful to couples of other sexual orientations and relationship styles as well.
The anecdotal stories and case examples in the book also provide helpful supportive illustrations of points made and could be deemed inspirational and validating for couples. It’s a highly educational read!
Another relationship model I like that speaks more toward heterosexual relationships, though it has some relevance and applicability to gay relationships, is the Knapp Relational Stages Model. Here is an article that describes the stages in this particular model.
Want to play around with it and have some fun
This first link showcases the various stages of the model with snippets from popular movie scenes that depict all of the relationship phases.
This second link has you practice identifying the various stages as you watch snippets from the popular TV show “The Office” to add a little humor and enjoyment to this process!
What are your thoughts about relationship development stage models? What stage are you and your boyfriend/partner negotiating at this time? How can this help you navigate your relationship journey ahead?