The 3 Stages of Love (Where Are You?)

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I’m a huge fan of disillusionment.

Having an illusion ripped away from us can be profoundly liberating.

Dorothy had to discover the Wizard of Oz was just a conman before she could discover she already had the power to get herself home.

When it comes to love, disillusionment is essential, if also profoundly painful. It’s also inevitable.

For there’s a core reason why our relationships and … well, our entire lives, really, are so fraught with struggle and heartache:

[bctt tweet=”We’re looking for love in all the wrong places.”]

We spend most of our lives looking for love outside ourselves, expecting other people, circumstances, experiences, to give it to us. Eventually we realize – if we’re lucky – that love from outside sources is completely unreliable. Other people inevitably disappoint us, let us down, change in ways we don’t want them to, or simply leave.

Sometimes they leave mentally or emotionally even when they stay physically.

I once married a French woman only five weeks after we met. I was fresh out of the military and felt completely disconnected from my heart. The day we married on a pristine sunset beach in South Florida, my heart already knew what my head refused to accept: this love adventure was going to destroy me.

I expected this luscious French woman to love me in all the right ways.

Pretty quickly, though, she proved she wouldn’t love me in any of the ways I really wanted!

She wouldn’t kiss me good morning. She wouldn’t scratch my back. She wouldn’t let me spoon her at night. She would play with the dogs and not me when she came home from work. She wouldn’t even make love to me for most of the 8 months we were together; we didn’t even have sex during our epic honeymoon adventure in Mallorca, Spain!

Disillusionment hit me like a 105-pound French woman with a cigarette and an attitude!

[dt_quote type=”blockquote” font_size=”big” animation=”none” background=”plain”]Here’s the real gift: She woke me up to how poorly I loved.[/dt_quote]

The moment she didn’t give me what I wanted, I immediately found a way to withdraw my love from her – I’d get upset, complain about her behavior, check out emotionally, stop doing things for her, even threaten to leave.

I thought SHE was the nightmare. Turns out, I was!

This experience was a genesis for perhaps my biggest life lesson:

[dt_quote type=”blockquote” font_size=”big” animation=”none” background=”plain”]The only way to lasting fulfillment in relationship is by offering my love freely without expecting anything in return for it.[/dt_quote]

Which brings me to the Three Stages of Love.

Which stage you live in affects the quality, depth and magic of your experiences in life and love.

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Stage 1 – I need you to love me

In Stage 1, I need the outside world to appreciate me, validate me, respect me, love me. To experience love, I need the outside world to be a certain way. My parents have to approve of me. I need to make this much money. My girlfriend has to behave in ways I like. My friends have to treat me a certain way.

Oh my, what an unstable existence!

Love just evaporates the moment the world stops meeting our conditions!

If we can avoid cynicism, eventually we simply realize Stage 1 love isn’t reliable. It’s completely ephemeral, and thus not consistently fulfilling.

Disillusionment sets in.

Welcome to Stage 2.

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Stage 2 – I will love myself

I don’t need you to love me. I’ll give love to myself. I’ll take myself on dates and vacations. I’ll pamper myself with good food and clothes and trips to the spa. In fact, I’ll do something awesome for me everyday. I’ll meditate and do yoga, maybe go find myself in India. I’ll be kind to me and say affirmations in the mirror about how wonderful, beautiful, brilliant and delicious I am! I’ll say to myself, “I love you!” and I might even marry myself (self-marriage ceremonies are now coming into fashion).

I’ll develop both my masculine and feminine qualities so that I am a whole, complete individual. My life is more or less great with or without a partner. Not needing a partner feels really empowering to me, and safe.

Before long, though, I realize that safety becomes stagnant, maybe even suffocating. Although I love myself consistently which feels nice, I only give love to others when it’s appropriate and feels good, because I know they’re responsible for their own self-love, too. I also don’t fully accept another person’s love because I know it’s unstable.

Something is missing. Disillusionment is stirring.

Welcome to Stage 3.

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Stage 3 – I am love, itself

I have discovered an endless well-spring of love sourced deep within my very own heart. I can radiate love into the world because I now know I could never possibly run out! Effortlessly, I give love to myself and my partner, to bored workers at the DMV, to democrats and republicans, to the whole world. I still work towards a better world, but no longer with anxiety. I have finally learned to love everything this crazy life throws at me.

I instinctively move away from people who want to hurt me because I love myself deeply. Where I used to leave in anger, now I leave in love because I know only people in pain want others to hurt, too. Still, I’ll love them from a distance.

I’m free to live my authentic truth everyday. I don’t need validation from outside me.

Disillusionment is welcome, because I know it just points the way towards a deeper love within me that doesn’t depend on outside conditions.

If I have a partner, I love her with all of me, always curious to explore how I might make her life richer. She’s free to show up however she wants, because I simply love doing this exquisite dance with her. We’re also both free to end this dance whenever we feel that’s our deepest truth.

We simply let love show the way.

NOTE: These 3 Stages are inspired by David Deida’s 3 Stages of Intimacy model. My interpretation may be different from David’s model.

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The 3 Stages of Love (VIDEO)

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P.S. Move from STAGE 1 to STAGE 2 by learning RELATIONSHIP BOUNDARIES!

P.P.S. Explore and practice STAGE 3 in my “Love, Sex, Relationship Magic” Audio Course

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  • Love this article Bryan! The three stages are all so familiar to me, especially stage 2. I have a strong longing for stage 3 though and when I’m really in touch with myself and the world around me, I deeply feel I am love. But unfortunately I’m not always in that happy place. I learned to accept that I cannot always be on top of the world all the time… Could I? My question to you is: how can one stay stable within stage 3, without falling back?

    • Great question, Klazien. I believe this is where spiritual practice is so important. The only way to stay stable in Stage 3 loving is to connect with a source of love that does not originate in the outside human world. So whether that source is God, Allah whatever, an inner source of deep knowing, or some simple connection to the natural way of things, we will only find this stability of love in that source which never changes. Even a stable stage 3 person may move throughout the stages of love in any given day, as the personality is human and therefore inherently somewhat unstable. Find your source of love, God’s love, the heart’s love, soul love, universal love, whatever, and connect with that as often as possible. I believe that is at least one powerful way to anchor in this way of loving.

      What do you think?

  • “Where I used to leave in anger, now I leave in love because I know only people in pain want others to hurt, too. Still, I’ll love them from a distance.” – beautiful words Brian!

  • “Where I used to leave in anger, now I leave in love because I know only people in pain want others to hurt, too. Still, I’ll love them from a distance.” – beautiful words Bryan

  • Awesome advice! Going to look the kind of meditations that are all about connecting with love, to practice regularly. See what happens 🙂 THANK YOU!

  • I love this article! Thanks for sharing this wisdom with us, Bryan. I especially needed to hear it and just be love. Your comment about looking to your spiritual life also helped. It’s not easy to progress through the stages, but I am slowly trying to get there.

  • I’m kind of half on board with this. I got here via the “Choose her everyday (or leave her)” article, which I also partially relate to. I always look back and cannot see how I could have chosen her more, other than in that final moment where I was contemplating suicide and opted to leave instead. I struggle now with never knowing if ‘she’ (and this is more than one) was challenging me at such a deep level that I needed to step into a superhuman strength that I don’t realise I have. But also, you can’t love a brick wall, and if I keep choosing someone who is afraid to surrender into it and keeps pushing back, I will eventually go insane (as I pretty well did). And that is the disillusionment I feel now. I suspect I was loving the wrong women (or shoukd that be women who loved the wrong parts of me?)

  • Once you find yourself at Stage 3 it is a state of mind that never really leaves. I discovered Stage 3 in my mid-20’s and found I attracted people of a similar persuasion. Unfortunately I also attracted Stage 1-types. You say that at Stage 3 “I instinctively move away from people who want to hurt me because I love myself deeply”, I met and fell in love with a passionate and affectionate man who adored me, sadly I did not recognise that he was deeply emotionally damaged and deeply entrenched in Stage 1, For him I was a bottomless wellspring of love and affirmation. I survived a 20-year relationship before I realised he would never grow if I did not remove myself from the situation. It was the best thing I ever did, for him and for me. We are still the best of friends and we still love each other deeply but resolving not to let him take my love but just receive it from a distance has allowed him to look into himself for love. Some habits are very hard to break and he still has a way to go but I can see by the types of people that he now attracts, that he is really getting there.
    Hopefully, my own children will benefit from my insight. When my son was 4 and I was pregnant with our youngest son, I explained that love is like sunlight that radiates from inside you. It never runs it. I explained that kisses and cuddles are like flowers in a garden that grow when you shine on them, a shared garden where anyone is free to come and enjoy. Eight years later, my sons still sleep together, they are openly affectionate with each other and show a level of consideration that is not common in young children especially siblings.

  • It definitely resonates with me and the life lessons I’ve been so harshly learning (thank You Universe) and what Jesus even said to the woman at the well after 5 marriages and living with the 6th guy – the well spring is within! It only took us over 2,000 years. LOL Thanks for doing the work and sharing it freely!!!

  • I recently came to embody the truth that my partner was simply mirroring my deeply unconscious abuse of myself. How could he do anything else since everything outside of me is simply reflection of my perception on life. I had known this intellectually, which is quite different to ‘knowing’ it on a bodily level.
    I had the choice to leave or stay and work through it. I’m fortunate my partner is on the same spiritual path as me, and I found that as soon as this dark shadow had come to the light for me to acknowledge and accept as part of me, my partner reverted to the sweet, loving man he truly is.
    The things we hate about our partner are the deepest shadows we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves, our partners are only showing us what needs to be shown. Spiritual work requires shadow work, and relationships are a fast track… If somewhat painful at times:)
    Thanks for your great work Bryan.

  • “The moment she didn’t give me what I wanted, I immediately found a way to withdraw my love from her – I’d get upset, complain about her behavior, check out emotionally, stop doing things for her, even threaten to leave. I thought SHE was the nightmare. Turns out, I was!” – wow, this is me to a T. I am in stage 1 but don’t know how to get to stage 2. 🙁

  • I had been in a long term relationship. It’s really difficult to pick the broken pieces of mine. But right now, I think I am in stage 2. I know I do not need others’ love and approval, but it is still traumatic for me to give my love to another person. I am afraid that i will just get hurt again. It’s just that I am not yet completely healed. Hopefully, will arrive to stage 3 soon. 😀

  • I think I go between the 2nd and 3rd. I tend to live more in the 3rd. I know based on how happy I feel, its almost magical when I am in the third. My interactions with others is much different and I certainly smile a lot more! 🙂 I go between wanting to be in a relationship and being happy being single. I have started to notice the energy of the men (people in general) I interact with and how different they are. This is something I haven’t really paid attention to before. I recognize anger and bitterness as pain and react in a more compassionate way rather than letting them pull me into their storm. I love David Deida’s work. He inspires me also.

    Bryan I have only begun to start reading your posts and love every one so far! It began with the choose her every day post. I realized how I neglected to choose my mate every day. What an eye opener. Thank you! 🙂

  • I’ve just started substituting conscious writing that nourishes my mind and soul by those I love and admire for my mindless news reading automated behaviour from the past. I can already tell how valuable this shift is going to be.

    Thank you for allowing your truth to be a unique and positive contribution to men everywhere.

  • I found your blog randomly through the viral post from your blog that seems to be viral. I am
    Not religious, I will never be religious. I’m
    Not really good at conveying my
    Message because it’s obviously a flaw I’ve had for over 12 years. My husband and I have been married for 12 years now. I can probably tell you ( when I’m not in a sad mood of course) the less than 20 days of our life together that I can recall genuinely being happy, feeling happy. Am I depressed? Yes, I am, I can admit it. I’ve taken medication before, only once, I didn’t go back, usually time and money is the reason. Time and money is always the reason I don’t do a lot of things I’d like to do.
    In the 12 ( 13 in June) the trips my husband and I have been on just the two of us, is no more than 5. The amount of trips we have been on as a family with our four kids, has been no more than 20. Why are we still married?
    Because we are stubborn.
    I tried to send him to your blog, he thought I was crazy. He found religion ( apparently again) few years after we got married, as he was getting out of the military. I lost myself shortly After getting pregnant with our first child ( 1 at of 4) and from then on, I have not had one friend, including my husband. We’ve done counseling, first one said we need to just call it because he can’t give me what I want. We had decided to wait the sessions out to the last one ( you know military one source) and hurricane Katrina hit and we never went to the last session. A few months later I was pregnant with baby number 2. Everything was on hold again. Then the time came for moving again. My husband had two knee scopes, was looking at the possibility of back surgery and no longer allowed to re up in the navy. So it was time to move “home” we moved to his home, not mine. We bought our first house and planned out third child in hopes of a girl. Our third son came along. Unfortunately during that pregnancy we became our worst to each other. He “found” religion, I pushed further away from
    It. With no real support ( his parents were never support) I was so far gone I actually left my children at the house after a huge fight. I then realized I had no choice, because I had no where to go that night…. Literally no where to go. Not one friend, no family, absolutely nothing. I went back, defeated, and gave in with no compromising on his end. We tried counseling at the church that we fought about. just when we were back to divorce being on the table. I was pregnant again, with our daughter. Since her birth, we’ve fought some, we’ve done some
    Counseling, the difference now is that we have no communication at all. I’ve gone to sleep angry more times than we have literally “dated”.
    But the thing is, if I tell you the story about us before kids, you will tell us we should have never been together, ever. Because it’s true. We shouldn’t be together, and I don’t understand why we are.

  • Thank you for writing this – I have studied Deida and your words reframe and expand on his work poignantly.

    I recently broke up with a loved one, and had the experience of living as love throughout the majority of the relationship. I chose him – the way he is and the way he isn’t – very early on. I’m now instinctively moving away from those who “hurt” me, although I might say those who don’t have a commitment to live as love or aren’t living as love consistently. I’m looking forward to what’s next and I love the paradigms you present here.

  • Brian. I love, love, love this. I took David’s workshop last summer and he talked a little about these but in a two day stint, it’s hard to get into it in depth for too long as there are so many things to talk about. His workshop blew my mind and I’m forever changed. I love how you’ve explained all these stages. SOOOOOO helpful at distilling it down to the core. I’m looking forward to incorporating this mindset into my life. Yay! Thank you!

    • Hey CC! Yeah, David’s work has been instrumental in awakening my own understanding of what it means to be not just human, but a human MAN in relationship to both feminine and masculine energy. Profound!

  • Hi great read! Just wondering if one feels disillusionment in a relationship, does that mean that one has not reached the third stage of? For example, if you feel you may have grown apart, therefore the love is…. different. Are you loving in an immature way if you desire to leave? I guess my main question is with the three stages in mind isn’t it possible for a person to stay in a relationship with pretty much anyone, with the caveat that no one is hurting the other? In other words, if you have reached the third stage of love, even if you feel like your partner doesn’t fulfill certain aspects of your needs, the fact that you realize that “you are love” means it doesn’t matter that your partner doesn’t completely fulfill you. You will be “self fulfilled”, therefore you can stay in a less than fulfilling relationship. Is that a completely stupid way to interpret the three stages of love?

    • To a degree, yes, a “3rd-stage kinda love” does realize you don’t need anyone to complete you. However that doesn’t mean you’d stay in a relationship that was less than fulfilling to the deepest yearnings of your heart. In fact, OFFERING 3rd-stage love can even mean LEAVING a relationship that isn’t fulfilling. Mature love means being HONEST about what’s happening for you. It doesn’t mean holding yourself accountable to some abstract notion that “love” means you should be willing to spend time with whoever’s around. Does that make sense?

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