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Want. Hate. Love.

Love grows and changes.

A beautiful and frightening statement. Love is a lot like Choose-Your-Path novels where you get to a certain point and have to make a choice. Ok, I'm faced with a fire-breathing dragon. Do I A) Scream and try to run wearing ridiculously high heels falling several times? Or, do I B) Whip out my sword and fight back?

Much like in a novel, especially those written by the romantics, it's too easy to expect love to be something that happens between two perfect people who are perfectly compatible. As the years go by, nothing changes. Both people remain romantically in-sync by remaining individually the same. I expect this isn't reality for most of us. So, what does real love look like? How can a healthy, realistic relationship be nurtured for a life-time? Most important, how do the unique qualities of working in law enforcement fit in? A look at three stages of love can help people remain realistic and optimistic about finding and keeping love in their lives.

Stage 1: Romantic Love

This stage is amazing. Also called the infatuation stage, this stage is a time of sheer ecstasy. Often spontaneous and passionate, when a person is in this stage they feel happy, energized and alive. You do all the little things and are on your best behavior. None of your partner's needs or wants are too small for you to try and fill. Once, when my husband and I first got together, I finished my regular third shift in dispatch and was getting ready to do a double on first shift. He worked third shift in patrol. I typed him and told him all I really wanted in life was a donut. It was a sort of joke between us with him being a cop and all. I didn't think about the request again. About an hour after he got off shift, the dispatch room door opened and in he burst, still in uniform, wearing a Krispy Kreme hat and holding a box containing 12 freshly made donuts for me. What made this extra special is that the dispatch center was no where near the station or our house.

Romantic love is about how you feel. Your body is full of positive energy and your brain flooded with endorphins. You're literally high on love. Sexual energy is at an all time high also. For me, that first time my husband came in the door in uniform... ok, I won't go there.

Many people try to spend as much time with each other during romantic love as possible. The length of this stage varies and can last anywhere from 2 months to 2 years. Most wish it would last a lifetime.

The downside of this stage is that both people are on their best behavior and when less-than-desirable traits do exist you're more likely to ignore them. At this stage, neither really knows who the other person really is. When you start to let your guard down and let the other person get to know you, that's when you move into the next stage.

Stage 2: Power Struggle

The power struggle stage is one of the hardest because it's when you start to notice the other person is... well, a person. He or she is human with all the inherent flaws and not-so-awesome qualities you overlooked during the infatuation stage. Troubled, but necessary, this stage is an adjustment and part of the development of a relationship. Love requires work. If we were to meet up with Cinderella and Prince Charming a few years into their marriage, I doubt it would be at another ball. It would probably be in the lobby of a therapy office. This stage might come on gradually as you feel more and more restless and dissatisfied or it might explode all of a sudden. The onset might be very different for each partner. What you both do have in common should be the desire to work through this stage and move past it. Essentially, you must both have the same love story.

Some common triggers of relationship problems are

  • finances
  • housework
  • friends
  • family
  • personal habits
  • lack of communication, and
  • WORK

To assist in working through the conflict, a prior discussion of comfortable communication style and an agreement on how to approach problems is helpful. Confronting and resolving conflict during this stage allows the relationship to mature. Compromise is key. When our son started school, my husband and I were conflicted as to how to handle it. Prior to that time we had both worked second shift and our son had a sleep schedule like ours. We were both able to spend time with him in the early afternoon and late at night. Now, he was in school and in bed during those times. One of us had to adjust to make it work. Neither of us wanted to because we both like the excitement of our jobs on swings. We were eventually able to determine my going to first would be the best solution. I was able to let go and do what was necessary for our family and our relationship. Like Brenda Shoshanna states in her article, "Let it be Revealed: Secrets of Building Uplifting Relationships," "We have been programmed to believe that if we get what we want, we are a success. But for relationships to be truly successful we must learn how to deal with not getting what we want at all."

Stage 3: Unconditional Acceptance

Once you make it through the power struggle stage, you move into the acceptance stage. You are comfortable with your partner. You're aware of their short-comings and they are ones you are willing to live with. There are still power struggles and the need for communication is still just as important, but in this stage there is comfortableness. Each person is comfortable with themselves and able to ask for what they need from the other. It's marked with lowering expectations and forgiveness. It's a mature love. Unfortunately, so many relationships fall during the power struggle stage and do not reach this level of connection.

These stages of love do not have to run consecutively. They often blend together and relationships jump between them. What is important about these stages is they bring awareness of the work love requires. Couples who are committed to each other realize the infatuation stage can continue but it takes work. They know power struggles will arise but are dedicated to communication and compromise. They strive for unconditional acceptance and are rewarded with a relationship that is healthy, loving and fulfilling. With law enforcement work as crazy as it is, having a loving backdrop makes all the difference. When you come home from the streets, if you can walk in the door and into the warm presence of your life-partner, soul-mate and the person who sits back-to-back through life with you, nothing can be sweeter.