8/31 – A Couples Line of Development

Tom Habib

Thomas A. Habib

Habib, Thomas

Dr. Thomas Habib


A couples line of development is proposed from an integral perspective. The couples line specifies developmental stages, tasks for each stage and describes cultural messages that impede development. It reveals the nature and effects of an integral concept called a pre/trans fallacy unique to early intimate relationships and how this often results in widely arrested development at the second and third stages.  It locates the efforts of therapists who provide conjoint therapy, identifies developmentally targeted skill training, while providing both couples and therapist much needed direction for future growth. It also locates lower right (LR) quadrant structures that provide Arules for the road@, thus increasing stability and promoting couple progression. The couples line of development recognizes the need to deconstruct lower left (LL) cultural messages that are misleading and inhibitory to greater intimacy. Finally, preliminary empirical verification of the pre/trans fallacy is proposed.

Imagine you are sick and you have this wonderful neighbor who went to the drug store to get medicine for you. They also cooked your lunch, did a few loads of laundry, fed your children and vacuumed your house. Wouldn’t most of us feel what a great neighbor! Our level of appreciation and resolve to reciprocate, once we were feeling better, would be enduring and enormous.

Now think of your spouse and note the similarities in effort made day-after-day to build a life with you. Is the appreciation and gratitude felt toward your spouse anywhere near the level it would be for the hypothetical “great neighbor”?

Many therapists who have provided couples counseling have likely observed that the average couple can do 85% of their interactions well, yet the less than perfect 15% becomes a disproportionate focus of their concern and negative feelings about their relationship.  What is it that interferes with our feelings of gratitude so easily felt for our “great neighbor”?   I will propose that this proclivity toward disenchantment in part, stems from a collective expectation of love that is highly erotic and lacking empathy.  Why?  Because too many of us are looking backward in a futile attempt to resume the earliest stage of love.  A love we chronically long for and one that entraps our gaze in the wrong direction. New love has the ability to do this.  New love is, admittedly, a wonderful experience. A love where the intoxicating feeling last for hours rather than minutes.  A love that envelopes us and permeates our thoughts throughout the day. A love felt at a visceral level. A love we never want to relinquish and hope to keep burning.  A love free from the extinguishing dose of reality that arrives with more time (Bonds-Raacke, et al., 2001). A love that can only exist in the earliest stages of intimacy, prior to our eviction from the Garden of Eden after we have eaten from the tree of knowledge.  To further our understanding of the entrapping power of this stage and to prevent its inhibitory influence, we need to consider the pre-trans fallacy’s (Wilber, 2000) ubiquitous cultural message and the impact upon the intimate relationship.

 Pre/Trans Fallacy

A pre/trans fallacy is the mistaken interpretation that a behavior, motive, or understanding originates from a higher stage of development which has been described in integral theory.  Ken Wilber (2000a) frequently cites narcissistic baby boomers with authority issues who were nevertheless proclaiming peace, love and harmony as an example of an individual or group operating under a pretrans fallacy. He also offers as example judgmental religious fanatics (proclaiming a message of love) and the disastrous German nationalism of the 1930’s (catastrophically believing they were building a greater society) as fallacious pre-transcendent thinking. Wilber (2000a) ominously warns that a pretrans fallacy occurs when one confuses emotional enthusiasm fired by bodily sensations with the much more developed capacities of empathy and understanding. This article is going to propose that a similar failure to achieve empathy and understanding for many couples is impeding development and has other negative consequences at an individual and societal level.

This article proposes a couples line of development.   The central premise is that one of the most pernicious pre/trans fallacy (ptf2, elevationism) existing today (originating from the LL quadrant) adversely affects the intimate relationship and inhibits couple development. Unchallenged it undermines couple satisfaction, dyadic stability and consequently, the family.  Heavily driven by popular culture exploiting our deep need for connection, we are gorged in a collective obsession with this fallacy concerning the sustainability of early romance that is kept alive in advertising, movies, romance novels, fashion styles, plastic surgery and a highly eroticized and romanticized interpretation of relationships, all divorced from the person. The cultural message leads one to believe that we can return to the garden of early love, to the admittedly wonderful Asubjective feelings heavily influenced by the sensory body@ (Wilber, 2001).  Other lines of development inform us that this experience is neither Asustainable…or recoverable@ (Wilber, 2006). The result is countless couples unconsciously looking back, in the wrong direction in a futile attempt to recapture this experience. What is the cost of this societal fixation with this stage of love, one might ask?  A black hole that effectively freezes progress for most couples, at the Roles or Relational stage of development where their love stagnates. Couples do not know where to look for the rich state (feeling) experience in intimacy nor do they have a direction. By looking back to recapture what has passed rather than looking forward to what can be realized and achieved, many couples fail to reach the third stage termed First Love.

Safety & Attraction Stage

My premise is that new love, with its powerful emotions and sensations, is defined by a pre/trans fallacy that is present only at the lowest stage on the couples line of development. The stage where this fallacy originates is called Safety & Attraction. Despite its name, there is a huge eros consuming black hole at the center of this stage that threatens the intimate couple with permanent residency in a purgatory of hope (Habib, 2004).

The fantasies that are frequently experienced as a result of the LL fallacy include unrealistic Habib1romanticizing usually by women and excessive sexualizing by men (Farrell, 1986). Commercially successful romantic movies contain various depictions of these fantasies and often end with the couple basking in the glow of a new love which is the first stage, Safety & Attraction. They retain each sexes pre/transcendent fantasy and seemingly imply it’s sustainable and implicitly suggest that the highest stage of development has been achieved. Similarly, many men maintain a highly erotic view of women. The object of this fantasy was recognized in ancient Greece in the form of Aphrodite. It is my clinical experience when this erotic view of women is reality tested and deconstructed in therapy with a man, depression emerges, interpretations of deception are verbalized and the loss of the fantasy is acutely mourned. Once completed however, men are able to more fully reintegrate their sexuality into their relationship with their significant other.  This is a substantial portion of the emotional work likely to be addressed in the men’s movement which hasn’t quite materialized.  Kenneth Clatterbaugh (2000) noted the inability of it to gain traction and said it was in “serious decline” and “weakened by sectarian battles…and only continues to exist in academic departments.” I suggest there is still powerful unconscious resistance to give-up the respective fantasies held by both genders. These early relationship dynamics are tenaciously clung to and heavily embedded in many aspects of our social milieu. Without an effective challenge to the disorienting power of this pre/trans fallacy however, couples have not been able to raise their gaze and identify an alternate direction in which the love between two more fully realized and embodied individuals resides.

Figure 1 outlines the proposed stages of couples development alongside Terri O’Fallon’s (2010) individual stages of development. Some of the experiences and challenges associated with the O’Fallon’s individual stages are translated into the couple experience. This is done through the impulsive stage to the construct aware stage. Other issues unique to the intimate dyad, such as the pre/trans fallacy and other developmental task are included in each stage description.

As with any line of development, no stage can be skipped, levels unfold sequentially, and previous stages are incorporated into higher stages and revisited quite often, such as when accessing romantic fantasy or simple role assignments. This article is an ongoing effort to identify and empirically verify a separate line of development 1 unique to couples, emerging from the LL quadrant, yet to be proposed. 2

 Roles Stage

As mentioned, the reality of our partner’s humanity, for better and for worse, ejects all of us from the glowing feelings associated with Safety & Attraction. This is a challenging transition for couples frequently accounting for the end of most relationships especially for those early in the dating process. That is, a person chooses flight rather than accepting the limitations of the roles stage. Tolerance for the limitations of this second stage is acquired with the accumulation of experience thus increasing perspective despite the incongruences set up by the fantasies. As previously said the initial attraction during the brief first stage is heavily influenced by bodily sensations and chemistry and the decision to come together as an intimate couple is often swift and impulsive.

 As time goes on, conflict is inevitable since the relationship is based upon a rudimentary perspective of the partner and thus a compromised evaluation of their needs and perspectives (O’Fallon, 2010).   Consequently there are ruptures in connection (Hendrix, 2001). The interpretation of this diminishment of love is heavily influenced by each participant’s unrealized and projected shadow. Although substantial feelings of love frequently persist the perception of one’s partner is less idealized and there is a cooling of the state experience of the first stage called Safety & Attraction.

There is little anticipation or support in the culture to prepare us for this transition from Safety & Attraction to the Roles stage nor to assist us in moving into any stage. This is missed opportunity to promote couple development sans a couples line of development. All of this unfolds within a cultural mythology suggesting the sensation loaded love associated with the Safety & Attraction stage are sustainable. Doubt and fear that a mistake has been made selecting a partner is a persistent fantasy as is the mistaken belief that other people get to live with the intensity of the Safety & Attraction Stage. This is a needless pain and confusion that could be replaced by a recognition and anticipation of the transition. Prepared or not, the reality of one’s spouse’s imperfections combine with our own limitations, all functioning to end the idealized, wonderful trance of the Safety & Attraction Stage. This ushers in the Roles Stage.

As the couple’s center of gravity moves into the Roles Stage, often within in a matter of months, many, but not all, are aware of the loss of some of the potency of the early idealized love. Couples can now see differences in their partner and the limits of their unity is becoming apparent. The focus increasingly becomes the fulfillment of complimentary roles of boyfriend/girlfriend, wife/husband, mother/father. The couple may initially adopt traditional rules and patterns. The felt interior “we” is still very preliminary and undeveloped. Desires are strong and when conflicting needs arise they are negotiated without established problem solving patterns achieved in the Relational stage. In the Roles Stage those early powerful positive feelings associated with the before mentioned pre/trans fantasy return for briefer periods and seem re-attainable. This loss of intensity raises doubt and anxiety all the while the couple does the considerable work to establish dyadic operating patterns.

If the couple survives the transition through the early roles stage they begin to stand back and evaluate their needs and behaviors and make some of the needed adjustments. The quality of their evaluations of self and partner improve although the distortion rate or inaccuracy of interpretation is still quite high. On the positive side there are shared and maturing feelings of the more subtle aspects of love.  These feelings can revolve around shared goals, comfortable familiarity and eventually, devotion to their children if they have them. In the latter role stages the couple is beginning to separate out cultural messages from their early joint perspective. Friends and families are integrated into their relationship. The rate of change is rapid at this stage and can feel chaotic and consuming.

There may indeed be some couples who will be content with a state (feeling) experience associated with having a partner, a roof over their head and food to eat, even at this stage. The role stage was the highest stage of development before the mid-sixties. Today however, many other individuals are committed to the loftier goals of building a relationship with more capabilities. In either case they are not over reacting to the loss they feel in the diminishment of romantic love associated with the Safety & Attraction Stage. Masters (2012) has suggested they are exposing, facing, and directly working with whatever is immature within. Each developmental history concurrently impacts upon the couple’s success. The less healthy couple is much more prone to “anxious reactivity” (Lerner, 2013). Either must cope with a clear diminishment of the previously known intensity as they carry out the tasks to feed, clothe, and house their family. In the latter part of this stage the independence of each partner continues to emerge which will later serve as a source of renewal as two people move between separation and communion.3   A potentially deleterious impact of too much independence at this stage results in the imposition of rigid role patterns by the partners that will later manifest as conflict. These can include a mother/son or father/daughter patterns reflecting the couple’s failure to develop the trust associated with more desirable complementary patterns. At the latter part of this stage these partners can experience problems prioritizing needs especially if children are present. Finally, there is a strong tendency to blame one’s partner when interactions fail. The ability to look at the relationship objectively has not quite emerged at this stage which feeds distorted interpretations previously noted.

Relational Stage

Once they achieve stability at the Roles Stage and enough time has passed so that relational processes and structures have been successfully worked-out their center of gravity has reached the Relational Stage. These accomplishments would include give and take, problem solving, boundaries and various role issues. It is reasonable to assume that the achievement of this stage also correlates with positive developmental experiences in each partners background such as the absence of divorce (Amato and Keith, 1991) or a single parent (Amato and Kane, 2011). As expected our earlier years in child adjustment (Sturge-Apple, Davies & Cummings, 2006, Crockenberg & Langrock, 2001) and later, as adults in marriage (Dinero, et. al., 2011; Amato &  Both, 2001; Conger, et al., 2000; Caspi & Elder, 1988) show a later correlation with success in marriage and furthers the likelihood of progress along the proposed couple’s developmental line.

At the Relational Stage the couple has successfully laid down interactional patterns in how they relate to each other, which includes intimacy, problem solving, tasks assignments, alternating leadership, and more. They also have established, or are in the process of establishing, how they parent and engage family and friends.  Communication actually accomplishes a positive outcome at a modest frequency. Skills include conflict resolution while simultaneously regulating intensity. Reciprocity is practiced.  Flexibility allows adaptation and creativity. The couple is beginning to work together at a functional level and they are able to accommodate the regressive needs and sensitivities unique to the intimate dyad. The development of these complimentary patterns to accommodate regressive needs is of critical importance to mastering this stage  (Habib, 2014). Individuality is not in as much conflict with partnering as seen at the roles stage. In this stage reprioritization of self and others takes place which more centrally includes one’s partner. The existence of a strong self is necessary to maintain the dynamic process of separation and communion. Strong individuality also means powerful needs and development can take place outside of the couple’s relationship; an anxiety producing awareness the couple will not acknowledge until the latter stage of First Love. At the relational stage they are open to reinterpretations of their partner’s motives although the use of projection strongly persist. There is a shared narrative about their relationship. Problem solving skills increasingly open the couple to new information and perspectives on their relationship. Introspection and reflection by each person contributes to this process. The couple enjoys the tranquility of reliable and predictable patterns while minimizing unproductive conflict. In the later part of this stage, awareness of subtle energies by both members emerges with their ability to achieve forth person perspectives.

Nevertheless, at the relational stage they still live without a fully developed empathic appreciation of how much their partner does and who their partner is. Their respective gaze is still backward, all fed by the LL cultural messages. They are yet to mourn the not so distant pre/trans fantasy and the intensity and frequency of romance their relationship used to have. This gaze backwards continues to diminish their appreciation of their partner and thus both of their state experiences in the present. It isn’t until their respective drives for authenticity emerges (O’Fallon, 2010) the couple fully rejects the ubiquitously held pre/trans fallacy of early love. This signals the couple’s closeness to enter the stage called First Love.

Much of couples therapy begins in the Roles Stage and an effort is made to move the couple along to the Relational Stage. Understandably, couples in the Safety & Attraction Stage do not typically seek therapy. If a couple achieves the Relational Stage through therapy this is often a satisfactory outcome for most couples and the highest stage most couples will attain. This level of connection, however, is “…a betrayal of potential for each individual for the sake of the safety and comfort provided by their relationship” (Masters, 2012).  It is due to “…over-attachment to autonomy and their aversion to deep connectedness” yet to be surrendered, Masters states. This widely held fear of over exposure and vulnerability perhaps accounts for the use of deception rather than honesty noted by Bader et al. (2000) and frequently observed by couples therapist.

Collectively, it takes time to grow. Awareness and the pursuit of the Relational Stage of development was only more widely adopted in the late 1960’s with the onset of feminism and evolutionary expansion into green levels of conceptualizations (Beck and Cowan, 2005). Consequently, there are relatively very few couples at the next stage, First Love.  It takes two awakened people to sustain First Love….one is not enough4.   Sudden illness, loss, or extended separation can lead to a temporary state experience of First Love without rejection of the pre/trans fallacy. The death of a spouse in a relationship that has achieved the Relational Stage can permanently elevate the experience to First Love for the surviving member. For most however, once life returns to normal the couple will find it’s not sustainable. The center of gravity for most relationships is within the Roles or Relational stages often with an unspoken disappointment for the dearth of loving feelings and unnecessary doubt found within these narrow confines.  By taking an all quadrant approach, especially one that includes challenges to the ubiquitous pre/transcendent fallacy and other cultural messages in the lower left quadrant while defining the structural patterns and rules of the lower right, it becomes possible to refocus and elevate some couples to the centauric level of First Love.

The widely held cultural belief that love is “finding the right person@ is due in part to the ineffective challenges to lower left cultural messages which impede couple’s in their development. This culturally saturated misinformation must be replaced with the awareness that love is created by two individuals with presence, unencumbered by idealized projections.  Love must be recognized as an emergent that is only sustained in an evolutionary process by two unique selves (Gafni, 2012) showing-up and choosing to dance on the fluid edge of discovery and creativity. Love is not so much a quality of the relationship, Marc Gafni tells us, as a quality of the presence of two individuals. When this is realized we have achieved the stage called First Love.  The experience of who our spouse now can have similarities to that of our “great neighbor”.

First Love Stage

The fourth stage is given the term First Love because you are actually more fully in love with the person and have diminished both projection and idealization of the other.  Finally free from the powerfully ubiquitous and disorienting beacon beginning in Safety & Attraction love, the First Love couple is now more fully committed, and thus able to appreciate and love the person who is actually before them.  Unencumbered from mistaken expectations, this couple does not spend as much time working on issues arising from unrecognized shadow and the subsequent misinterpretations that exhaust resources and lead to fruitless destinations. Less burdened by the enormous distortions that uniquely characterize the intimate relationship,5 they are beginning to keep space open for alternate interpretations of their spouses’ motivations behind any event. This space allows for a more accurate interpretation and understanding of their spouse. Consequently, they handle ambiguity or Hendrix’s ruptures in connection without panic that is often manifested as anger, withdrawal, or contraction in less developed couples.  In effect, they are responding less to their projections and more to the immediate presence of their partner who is attempting to communicate. These are the words that go painfully unheard among couples at the Roles or Relational stages of development.

Couples at first love finally feel heard and understood. Subsequently, this couple reacts much less chaotically to irritations, disappointments and temporary emotional unavailability.  The process of communication is agreed upon and employed.  The process of how they connect does not need to be developed while working through content…painfully confounded at earlier stages. They employ LR rules of the road (Habib, 2014) especially concerning give-and-take and boundaries. Aware of the all important difference between content and process, an emotionally charged interchange is not allowed to overwhelm finite emotional resources. Knowledge of each other and oneself is cumulative and available for future interpretations that are consequently, increasingly less distorted.

At the stage of First Love this couple can integrate or loop back into aspects of the Roles Stage in their current process without fear of losing themselves or their identity. This can be seen in assigned duties where they can temporarily work in a hierarchical configuration. This helps avoid conflict other less developed couples would experience. In their sexual relationship, where maintaining the polarity between the masculine and the feminine (Deida, 1995) is combined with aspects of power (Schnarch, 2009), the couple is able to maintain a vibrant sexual encounter. David Daeda describes how the healthy masculine can open up a woman into her full femininity. A man in a relationship at the lower Relational Stage of development for example, occasionally moves too far and too quickly away from his power learned at the Roles Stage of development. Rather than bringing forth power and including “equality is…often overvalued so that differences tend to get flattened, marginalized or drained of vitality” (Masters, 2012). In this instance we are referring to Daedas’ masculine and feminine polarity. The diminishment of male power in the relational stage I have found sometimes correlates with problems in sexual performance. It appears that in an effort to become more mutual and equal, he rejects and thus fails to integrate masculine power to the detriment of himself and his lover.  Transcending without including masculine energy precludes a fully charged dyadic sexual polarity, David Deida and David Schnarch independently concluded.

At the stage of First Love there is a fully mourned and emphatic acceptance that the love of the Safety & Attraction Stage can never be exclusively sustained.  The couple live with a readily available awareness of their partner’s efforts and dedication.  Many day-in and day-out behaviors are recognized and completed as a declaration of love. The focus is upon the present, and the loss of that fleeting interlude with attraction love is finally accepted.  Nothing was really lost…only an illusion.  At this stage they are actively choosing to feel grateful, and this feeling grows in frequency.  Similar to individual cognitive discipline through mindfulness practices, the couple tap the abundance of contentment that is most always available. They are not heavily distracted by the images or recollection of new love that was never sustainable. Their gaze is finally in the direction of their partner rather than toward the false images widely present in popular culture. This mindful discipline clears room for an experience of loving appreciation and acceptance.

Dangers of the later stages of First Love include possibilities of love outside of the couple union and a transparency that makes it difficult to ignore.  Gafni (2015) has speculated that monogamous love may no longer be possible. The transparency in joint witnessing and awareness threatens fidelity and no solution may be immediately apparent.  Furthermore, old interpretations of the relationship may no longer seem adequate and doubt may rise when both partners have construct awareness (O’Fallon, 2010). This can make communication difficult at times. Absorption into concrete duties can help while acknowledging and accepting the confusion.

Spiritual Stage

The Spiritual Level of love, the highest stage this writer can envision, is  rarified ground attained by very few.  Both members of the dyad have completed large amounts of individual and couple growth work and can cohabit second tier space6. The relationship is capable of transparency and their interpretations empathic and trusted.  There is a Aclear and empowered authenticity@ (Ramirez, et al., 2013) enabling presence.  A presence that is readily available and received as a gift.  Each person has familiarity with the nuances of their inner world and are ashamed of very little. They recognize influences uniquely generated by their respective developmental histories and decide what re-occurring patterns are useful or not, and which inhibit presence. Each of their current identity reshapes and positively influences remnants of earlier identities in a downward, dynamic, healing process (Forman, 2010).   An emerging narrative is continually supplemented via dialogue and rarely derailed by defensive road blocks seen earlier.  New uncovering’s are sought after by both members of the dyad with wonderment and joy, and received as the gift they always have been.

There are well established LR7 interactional patterns capable of mediating intimacy, regression, cooperation, problem solving and disappointment at the Spiritual level. These well developed LR interactional patterns capable of handling powerful regression, for example, mediate the surfacing of encapsulated identities (Noam, 1988; cf. Forman, 2010) into recognizable patterns in the present that can be responded to and soothed. Feedback, divergent opinions and desires are accepted without disruption or chaos. Both members are aware of dyadic ambiance and their words are chosen to preserve it. The inauthentic nature of anger is recognized and rarely relied upon to convey complex or sensitive feelings which underlie anger.  Partner or interactional deficiencies are neither catastrophized or allowed to stagnate as a source of hurt or rupture. Deficiencies are expected and noted. Time is liberally applied for reflection, decision making and for the emergence and integration of that held as shadow. This couple is aware of the steady flow of cultural influences which are held outside of them unless they decide it works for them.  The process of relationship evolution is expected and viewed as an ongoing expansion of the “We”.

When this couple’s love peaks, they are using intuition and other subtle energies for exploration or to heighten presence. Both members of the dyad are simultaneously opening space into an area greater than either could do alone. Choices are woven into patterns that serve the couple in ways that were previously unrealized. The couple can co-create intuitive bursts of insight and revelations. The couple may make radical changes in where and how they live. Convention may be ignored and others may view the couple as out of control or irresponsible. There are consistent experiences of spiritually altered states, jointly witnessed cognitions, and morally guided concern for self and partner (Forman, 2010). They do not always need to nor can they verbalize what’s felt and witnessed. These are universal and illuminated experiences (Ramirez et al. 2013) jointly held as they creatively advance into novelty (Whitehead c.f. Gafni, 2012). They move through never ending areas of exploration, as cosmic tourist, curtailed only by their finite individual energy.  The non-dual periods of their connection allows them to experience the “One”, to sample the One Taste (Wilber, 2000b). The experience is of the beloved, the soul level of development.


A couple’s line provides a developmental trajectory and the means to assess a central dynamic of intimate dyadic stage development.  Without a developmental model the professional counselors and theorists have been limited to teaching or researching skills associated with a static assessment of the couple, lacking sequential development.  Communications training, problem solving, and the quality of connection have been prescribed irrespective of critically focused developmental diagnostics that located the challenges a couple is encountering. This article has described the inhibitory developmental influence of the pre/transcendent fallacy in the early stages of a couple’s relationship. It has deliberately chosen this pre/trans fallacy and has emphasized the central inhibitory role it plays in the progression of a couple’s development.  We have touched upon LL8 messages that need to be reconciled and have incorporated LR structures that support successful dyadic process. It is important that the professional counselor (and other people in a position to influence) challenge the myriad of cultural messages that sustain the pretrans cultural fallacy and help the couple to become aware of the significant role they play in the arrested development of intimacy.  Furthermore, much of the empirical research in the couple’s literature has no unifying framework other than a single theoretical silo that cannot easily incorporate the findings from other theoretical perspectives. The quadrants in integral theory provide this meta framework. A couples line of development in conjunction with the issues associated with each quadrant identifies the stage and necessary task of each relationship.   This organizing meta perspective has been successfully applied to business, education, medicine, environmental studies, diplomacy and more, all using a common language.

An awareness of the juxtaposition of this pre/transcendent fallacy to the stage of First Love might enable the clinician to help the couple reconcile what will be felt as a loss of their respective pre-transcendent fantasies and to reorient their efforts toward appreciation and acceptance that dyadic commitment deserves.  Couples are searching for a path to higher stages of development. After mourning and honoring their pre-transcendent ideals, the passageway is clear for movement along the couple’s line of development and to discover the direction in which First Love resides. For men, Aphrodite becomes somewhat more like Athena and for women, the vision moves from Adonis to Apollo. Guided by the couple line and the impact the four quadrants have upon its development…couples increasingly experience contentment and deep appreciation for their spouse…finally relieved from the pursuit of Eden.

Research Questions & Directions

The role and existence of the romantic pre/trans fallacy central to this proposed couples line of development is a new concept in the couple’s literature with no empirical corroboration.   At the time of this writing the author has begun an emotional Stroop study to ascertain if there is a delay in response time (RT) when women are presented with romantic cues that suggest that this fallacy is active. In this investigation we are employing a dual task attention paradigm, the emotional Stroop task, to assess prolonged attention to subliminal words associated with this romantic pre-transcendent fallacy.  The study is a 2×3 design. The initial IV with two levels is romantic and nonromantic short videos presented to half of the subjects as part of the study instructions. The other IV with three levels is 3 categories of words (lexically balanced, Balota, et al. 2007) that will be presented subliminally prior to a Stroop test. The 3 word levels are romantic words (adore, hot), words that describe people but without romance or physical attraction (smart, consistent) and finally, neutral words (door, sidewalk). We are predicting an interaction effect.

Numerous studies have suggested that when attention is drawn to emotionally valent words, subjects experience cognitive intrusion impairing performance on these emotional Stroop task. This has been demonstrated, for example, when the emotional concerns involve anxiety including panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (Williams et al., 1996, Matthews and Klug, 1993), sexual abuse (Freeman and Beck, 2000), and depression (Joormann and Gotlib, 2007).  Specifically, there is a significant delay in mean response time for words subliminally presented that have emotional concern for the subjects, presumably leaving less attentional resources for naming colors. In this study it is hypothesized that a threat is not responsible for over attention but rather a preoccupation with the persistent pre-transcendent fantasy unique to the intimate relationship. Consequently there is less cognitive resources available as suggested by other studies. A positive finding in this study would suggest the mistaken direction of attention by women proposed by the couples developmental line. If this study proves significant, we will next look for a similar process in men.


1 A previous less developed form of this topic was published. See Habib, T. Eulert, D. Perspectives, The Journal of Humanistic Studies. October/November, 2011 pgs.13-15.

2 Masters (2012) has proposed four stages of intimate relationships. They are me-centered, we-centered codependent, we-centered coindependent, and the highest stage, being centered.

Ucik (2010) lays out the eight stages of spiral dynamics in a matrix suggesting compatibility issues arising out of sixty four altitude combinations. Bader et al. (2000) delineates four marital stages, the honeymoon, emerging differences, freedom, and together as two and the role of deception rather than honesty.

3 An article is now being written that will elucidate the dynamic pattern of dyadic boundaries and how this leads to the renewal and enhancement of intimacy. This article will also reveal problems associated with poor boundaries including pursuit patterns that can appears as an attempt to get a reluctant spouse to communicate or the frantic efforts to retain a partner who is threatening dissolution. Treatment suggestions and the relationship of boundaries to a couples LR structure (Habib, 2014) will be discussed.

4One member who can sustain and re-enter 2nd tier space can briefly open up a 2nd tier experience for the couple. Nevertheless, as previously noted by many concerning individual development, this will not be the couple’s center of gravity.  Brief experiences of this space nevertheless can promote the growth of their partner.  It is widely believed among clinicians that most couples at the beginning of their relationship have developmental similarities. This is why there is a Aclick@ upon meeting and a level of comfort.  But as time moves on, growth can be uneven and not simultaneous for members in a committed relationship. It would be worthwhile to study couple relationships where there are differences in developmental stage and to empirically verify the variables associated with this trajectory of couple’s development.

 5 It is estimated that the distortion rate in intimacy ranges from 50% for couples doing well to 100% for less fortunate couples. A couple’s agreement of perception concerning communication has been shown to correlate with marital satisfaction (Yelsma, 1984).  A successful couple is mindful of the likely chance of misinterpretation and has the ability to stay open to alternate interpretations concerning emotionally sensitive events. For example, the mindful couple’s dialogue may sound like this: AWhen you said that, I felt you didn’t care that I worried. Is that true?@ (remained open)  Their successfully reoriented spouse might respond back with AI am sorry, of course it bothers me to know you were sitting here worrying.@  This couple has repeatedly experienced the difference between what they thought to be true (or an assumed underlying motive in their spouse) and their spouses actual motive or intent. Also, they are not overly reliant upon anger to express vulnerability.  Knowing that distortion in interpretations (unintegrated shadow) are at a peak with intimacy, is crucial for successful interaction and a hallmark of first love capabilities.

 6 Second tier space refers to the upper end of several developmental lines concerning the individual. It is most widely referred to in Spiral Dynamics (Beck and Cowan, 2005). It is theorized to occur when a person reaches the turquoise stage of development that is characterized by an integrative view of one’s own development, evolution in general, and what Wilber describes as the entire spectrum of consciousness. The philosophical underpinning is integral theory. The interested reader new to this area of philosophy may want to read Wilber (2016) that contains both Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory. I also suggest the first half of McIntosh (2007) to understand the cultural evolution from ancient, to premodern, to modernism, to post modernism, to integral.

7 Lower Right quadrant work involves the all important system underlying a couple’s interaction. These systemic patterns specify how give and take is realized and the important role of dyadic boundaries. There are multiple systems underlying successful and unsuccessful couple interaction that require a much wider scope of identification. I have found that couples have benefitted by becoming aware of these patterns and laying down pathways that meet their intimate needs. When structured, regression can be navigated without lapsing into dysfunctional patterns that undermine the dyad’s bid for connection (Gottman, 2011).  The Roles and Relational Stages is especially prone to these problematic but ubiquitous patterns of regression. The upper stages are less dependent upon regression associated with problems and may chose for example, to reveal vulnerability.  Future articles need to address these lower right patterns that are of course co-arrising. 

8 The pre/trans fallacy that feelings of love can be sustained as experienced at the Safety & Attraction Stage is only one that requires deconstruction to make space for other worthwhile culturally held values and expectations. For example, the commonly held idea that love is a constant rather than a feeling that rises and falls (and actually only felt at an estimated five minutes per day for a couple at the Relational Stage) is important to know. I often tell couples burdened by this idealistic expectation that commitment is a constant, not their feelings of love. The erroneous expectation of love as a constant fuels the pre/trans fallacy. It is important to examine how we live in relationship to our ideals. They are useful beacons that must not be allowed to contaminate contentment.  By definition, an ideal is a place we are unable to reach at this time, if not forever. Future articles need to explore LL messages and the positive and negative effect they have upon the intimate dyad. 


I am grateful for the time and expertise the following people put into this article. Don Eulert, Ph.D. Director of The Center for Integrative Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego, for his contributions in an earlier version of this topic. Mark Forman, Ph.D., Clinical Director of Life Design Centre and co-founder of Integral Theory Conference, for his generosity and rigorous challenge to theoretical accuracy all enveloped in his clinical knowledge of couples. Venita Ramirez, M.A. principal at Pacific Integral for her help in understanding the role of regression in the upper stages and always for a magnetic presence I’ve come to love. At the time of this writing I have been in discussions with Terri O’Fallon, Ph.D. and Kim Barta, M.A. on possible research using the Stages Assessment test to help verify and define the Couples Line. I am excited and grateful for their generosity and encouragement. I am also in debt to the late Paul Pinegar, Ph.D. and Kabir Kadre of San Diego Integral for their readings, resources, suggestions and availability. My prose was tamed into a comprehensible style by Christine A. Baser, R.N.,Ph.D. who I am also thankful for 32 years of marriage that has enormously contributed to my understanding about coupling and for her collaboration on the Stroop Study.  I am grateful for the numerous lay readers and recipients of the Couples Line who consistently told me how helpful this map was to them and thus verifying the ultimate application of this work.  Finally, I am grateful to the peer reviewers at the Integral European Conference, 2016 in Siofok, Hungry for awarding A Couples Line of Development the Best Scholar-Practitioner Paper, Honorable Mention.


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About the Author

Thomas A. Habib, Ph.D. was founder and managing partner in a private group practice for 26 years consisting of clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, MFT’s and interns. He is also adjunct faculty at Center for Integrative Psychology within the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego.  As Physician Well Being Chair at CHOC Hospital at Mission in Mission Viejo, CA he applies integral principals and state experiences in various presentations.  He is currently in private practice with a specialty in couple therapy in San Juan Capistrano, CA and enjoys the stimulating discussions as a member in San Diego Integral.

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