Healthy Styles of Happy Couples: 

How to Take the 5 Important Journeys

Into a More Peaceful, Passionate, Productive Partnership!

PART 1:  BONDING – It’s Never Too Late!  (this page)

PART 2:  TALKING – Move Beyond the Point Where 85% of Couples Get Stuck!   (click on “TALKING”)

PART 3: DOING – Building Something Meaningful for Both of Us!  (click on “DOING”)

PARTS 4 & 5 – BEING & TEAMING – One Plus One is Greater Than Two!   (click on “BEING & TEAMING”)

Part 1



Begin again!   It’s never too late!

By Ronna Phifer-Ritchie, PhD

Bonding is not merely the early stage in a relationship that helps us begin well; it is also an eternal invitation into beginning again, clearing away unhelpful distancing patterns and reconnecting with those divine reminders that we are here in this relationship, with the opportunity to choose into growing with this person!


Summer holidays often provide a wake-up call about significant connection lapses in our relationships: a kind of calendar alarm to bond again, to begin again.   This wake-up call wrapped up in the national permission to “unplug” from business as usual in the work world, is a reminder to reserve the time to create neurologically-soothing (body), connection-enhancing (heart), possibility-expanding (mind) bonding moments.   These experiences can strengthen our most vital attachments and build memories we can re-experience again and again, so we can keep growing up together as spiritual beings.


In romantic partnerships, bonding, or “falling in love,”  launches this series of body, heart and mind integration experiences with a partner that set a foundation in place for growth as a couple, and for the healthy development of our individual personalities inside the couple relationship.   Bonding starts that relaxing oceanic openness, that connecting childlike acceptance, and that exciting fiery curiosity that build a strong and healthy attachment between you and your life partner.   As Dr. Ellen Bader & Dr. Peter Pearson,  (creators of the well-known Couples Institute Developmental Model) point out, that boundary-merging dance is a very important kind of “temporary psychosis” because it actually builds tolerance for developmental challenges ahead. 

The Relationship Doctor






Bonding moments with our partner can put us in touch with our way of being in the world when we are AT OUR BEST!   Take some time to share your experience of your partner’s highest qualities with him or her.   Tell your beloved the things you admire about their mind, their heart, and their actions; the things that made you fall in love with them, the things that you may not have taken time to honor lately.  And then invite them to do the same for you.  The Enneagram of Personality can give you a great starting place.   How do you see these high traits showing up in each other?

TYPE ONE, THE REFORMER: Can be wise, discerning, realistic, noble, morally heroic.

TYPE TWO, THE HELPER:   Can be unselfish, altruistic, have unconditional love for others.

TYPE THREE, THE ACHIEVER:   Can be self-accepting, authentic, everything they seem to be–role models who inspire others.

TYPE FOUR, THE INDIVIDUALIST:   Can be inspired, highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.

TYPE FIVE, THE INVESTIGATOR:   Can be visionary pioneers, often ahead of their time, able to see the world in an entirely new way.

TYPE SIX, THE LOYALIST:   Can be internally stable, self-reliant, courageously championing themselves and others.

TYPE SEVEN, THE ENTHUSIAST:   Can focus their talents on worthwhile goals, becoming appreciative, joyous, satisfied.

TYPE EIGHT, THE CHALLENGER:   Can be self-mastering, use their strength to improve others’ lives, becoming heroic, magnanimous, inspiring.

TYPE NINE, THE PEACEMAKER:   Can be indomitable, all-embracing, they are able to bring people together and heal conflicts.



Bonding is the ignition foundation of attachment on which this relational growth adventurer burns bright.   It is a touchstone of neuro-biological memories that we can make use of when that adventure’s terrain gets challenging.    There are tasks to engage in as we work on the BONDING STAGE of our partnership; tasks that help us say to the world “We are a couple!”   Maybe we need to revisit those tasks and allow those tasks to invite each of us to relax our individual personality style a little more than we may have been willing to do up to this point:

Enjoy some time together (Try a couples retreat or workshop!)

Put some boundaries around (and energy into forming) a strong couple bond (Time to start leaving the electronic devices outside of the bedroom at night?)

Find some new areas of shared interest and compatibility (An simple exercise:  Both of you make a list of about 100 different activities you would like to share with the other one and then go out to dinner and have fun going over your lists and finding something new to try together!)

Actually sit knee to knee and eye to eye and talk about why we fell in love.    (Use “I messages.”  “The day I met you, I loved that….”  “What first attracted me to you was….”)

Have fun with this stuff!

Next time, we’ll talk about the stage of couple development where our Enneagram Type rigidity and passions tend to flare up the most, the stage that most couples struggle with…..the TALKING STAGE (Differentiation).

PART 1 Continued:

Here’s How

YOU Can Use 




Here at The Relationship Doctor, I emphasize to couples that making the best use of developmental challenges in our relational lives is what causes us to grow up, BOTH individually (personality development) and as a couple (couple development).    Our best relating happens when we practice staying awake to how those growth paths (individual and couple) are colliding in time and space.  We then notice that those growth-path collisions are actually offering opportunities for us to step into these kind of “worm holes” of rapid relational growth.   The two growth paths accelerate one another!   So this series of articles is going to help you identify, recognize, and use wake-up calls and landmark tasks of those two growth systems in couple life: the personal and the interpersonal.

Individual growth can be discussed in many ways, but the psychological-spiritual kind of growth is very powerfully described in the Riso-Hudson Levels of Development for each of our own Enneagram Personality Styles – our style of being in the world and with others.   When we are REALLY HERE, practicing the kind of openness, acceptance, and curiosity that causes us to be in direct contact with reality, that moves us into health. When we are healthy, we can choose instead of just react in difficult situations, right?    Developing our personality health creates more awareness and choice for us.    We don’t just accept our own unquestioned assumptions or fall into reactive patterns of behavior as easily.  (The kind of auto-pilot behaviors show up and sabotage our closest relationships at times!)  And that helps us better tackle the developmental tasks of each phase of couple life, and come through each challenge with a better relationship than we had before the difficulties arose.

Example:  If I am dominant in Type One (“The Reformer”), the PRINCIPLED IDEALISTIC TYPE THAT CAN SLIP INTO BEING CRITICAL AND PERFECTIONISTIC WHEN STRESSED,  and I breathe and really make an effort to listen to my own words when I am expressing my frustration to my partner about an issue, I can create some room between my automatic relational style habits and what I actually say.   There I can actually relax into a “Level Shift” in my personality type, and choose communication that is somewhat less rigid and more an invitation to dialogue.   This can be very helpful as my partner and I begin to practice the “I Message” style of conflict resolution that helps us navigate from the BONDING STAGE (where I tend to assume I understand my partner completely because to think otherwise might threaten the idealized version of our relationship I am carrying around in my mind) into the TALKING STAGE (where I learn to love my partner with all of his or her thoughts, needs, and desires, however unexpected those might be to me).

Excellent developmental maps for couple growth are harder to come by.   This may be due to the fact that the powerful Bader-Pearson Developmental Model did it so well back in the 90s marriage and family therapy world.  (“Bonding, Differentiating, Practicing, Rapprochement, and Synergy”….What I talk about as “Bonding, Talking, Doing, Being, and Teaming” for the couples I work with here at the Relationship Doctor!)When we are moving through the tasks of a given stage in couple development, our individual style issues get triggered in new ways, and that acts as a new invitations to individual growth, which in turn allows us to tackle the developmental tasks facing us as a couple more effectively.   And on we go!

Example:  Let’s say my partner and I are transitioning from the TALKING STAGE (where there is typically a lot of processing time for building understanding and working through differences) into the DOING STAGE (where we start feeling enough confidence in the relationship that we experience an urge to use that “love fuel” to walk out our individual callings in life, and do what we were designed by God to do on this earth).   If I am dominant in Type Three (“The Achiever”), THE ADAPTIVE SUCCESS-ORIENTED TYPE THAT CAN SLIP INTO BEING OVERLY CONCERNED WITH IMAGE WHEN STRESSED, I may notice that I am very comfortable with the accomplishment pursuit tasks of this stage; and I could have a little trouble understanding why those DOING-STAGE activities are not of as much interest to my partner as they are to me.   However, one of the main tasks in the DOING STAGE of couple development is learning to bring the individual adventures of the day back to the committed relationship.  This task invites me to slow down any average or unhealthy tendencies toward unbridled self-advancement in my relational style.   If I am going to fully enter the work of this phase of couple development, I will need to notice and confront any reactivity my in relational style around reconnecting with the “team” experience in my primary relationship. 

When we can open ourselves to the this transformational intersection of individual and couple developmental stages, with all of their dynamic tensions and opportunities for experimenting and learning, we have discovered the formula for becoming the best team we can be:   At every stage of couple life, embrace the relational growth adventure God is providing, frustrating as it might be at times, because if you are frustrated, you are ready to expand!

Until next time,

Partnering with you in your journey into vibrant relational health,

Ronna the Relationship Doctor



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