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Sometimes it is useful to explore the stage of the relationship between the two main characters. Often the length of time they have known each other will provide a useful clue as to how the relationship has developed, along with a few hints as to where your writing can take it.

I have been working on such a stage for a love story, and have developed the following theory of how a male-female relationship could develop over time.

1.Blending (first year to 18 months)

Blending is the first stage of being together – a stage where all differences are overlooked. Using the same toothbrush, drinking from each Characterization resources can be found in the unlikeliest places like newspapers and magazines such as Hello, OK! and The National Enquirer.

These publications are full of true-life stories that document character traits of heroes and opponents. Being together all the time are all things that are deemed sexy. Blending is all about new experiences and self-improvement.

If one person loves classical music then the other will immerse himself in it to learn what the other person appreciates so much. This might start in a process of sharing and lead to a lifetime of enjoyment.

I have a friend in multi-media whose partner went to university and was studying for some sort of very difficult degree. He told me that he actually felt cleverer because his new girlfriend took such an interest in everything he was doing – to the point that he gained in confidence and spoke up at work. During blending, partners appropriate qualities from each other and integrate them into their own personalities.

The intensity of togetherness means that each partner feels as though they understand the other and, if they survive this period, look back at it as a time full of madness and magic. Can it be any different? How else would you be crazy enough to let a complete stranger into your life?

Common problems and challenges

– Each is frightened of letting go
– Each is frightened of upsetting the other partner
– Each is frightened of love being withdrawn
– Blending couples have no experience of falling out and making up again so their arguments tend to be huge and dramatic
– One partner, in particular, is afraid of losing his identity

Skill

– It’s hard, but you need to learn to surrender to your feelings
– Blenders put two fundamental instincts at war: we all long to be close and to be held, to hold and to be held by the other person, and yet we want to be masters of our own destiny

Hint Successful relationships strike a balance.

2. Nesting (second and maybe third year)

This is the stage where they decide to move in together, creating a new home. Sharing in this new experience becomes a new way of expressing their love for one another. Previously when they visited each other’s places it was easy to decide who did what, but now their arguments are over who does what. And sex becomes less frequent.

It seems that everything is becoming mundane and routine. And differences between the individuals are highlighted to the point where one can ask ‘Who is this person I thought I knew?’

Many nesting couples worry about their emerging difference to the point of ‘I love you but…’ and need reassurance that there is nothing wrong with their relationship.

It is just changing and developing into something new.

Common problems and challenges

– Familiarity can breed annoyance. Those quirky eccentricities you once thought charming have become nasty habits
– Rows often centre around male and female roles around the house regardless of how ‘liberated’ the couple. Moving in together can re- awaken role models developed in childhood`~
– Arguments go round in circles
– During blending, couples have eyes only for each other, but nesters have many people who re-enter their mutual lives and this can cause tensions

Skill

– Since arguments often revolve around simple domestic matters such as ‘You ruined the laundry with the wrong temperature’, some nesters try to avoid these arguments altogether. But these arguments are worth having as it is through them that couples learn how to resolve their differences. Far better to learn how to resolve one’s differences than wait until something big and unavoidable comes up, which might really damage the relationship. By learning how to confront these differences, you will grow and develop as a person. Anyone watching or reading your story will be drawn by the wisdom you impart.

Hint Remember that relationships do not stand still. Keep asking your- self: What are the best things that can happen from being with him/her? What are the worst? Confront these fears and really stare them in the face to see if they are real or not. Only then have you a chance of going to the next stage.

3. Self-Affirming (third and or fourth year) `

During Nesting and Blending it is all about sharing and working together.

In Self-Affirming it is about being confident enough to let the other partner go and do something on their own. Self-Affirmers will get as much pleasure from knowing that their partner is off doing something on their own as in doing it together. It takes a new kind of love to allow this to happen, to allow one’s partner the freedom (real freedom) to do what they want to do without possessing them.

Common problems and challenges

– If one has no special skill, or lacks confidence, it is easier to hide in a relationship as part of a couple rather than to develop and establish one’s own parallel identity
– One partner will often think that the other’s time alone is a threat to the partnership
– One partner is unable to voice his own independent needs ~
– Power struggles emerge

Skill

– If the couple has learned how to fight during nesting, then they will be better equipped to delve deep into their problems at this stage. In the first two stages, the arguments are about basic human needs. In this stage, the couple will try and negotiate as much personal time as permissible. This negotiation can be exhausting

Hint Compromise is important. Some individuals never learn to compromise because they think it is a sign of weakness. But compromise can be a sign of great strength. Sometimes, one of the couple will suddenly stop compromising in order to prove a point. It can be considered a form of betrayal when compromise is withdrawn. Compromise only works when there is something of equal benefit for each party, so look and see what the other person has sacrificed or benefited from and ask yourself over and over again: was this fair?

4.Collaborating (five to fourteen years)

Couples use the security gained from their relationship over the first three stages to embark on new projects. This stage is called collaboration because of the huge amount of support the partners have to give each other. The excitement and freshness of the projects or ventures breathe fresh energy into the relationship.

Alternatively, the couple may embark on a joint project using complementary skills. The most common is having children together. Or they might start a business together, or travel together. Whatever the choice, whether it is an individual or joint goal, it imports new energy to the relationship and avoids stagnation.

During this stage, reliability and dependability replace the insecurity and fear of losing the other one (present in previous stages). Couples have earned their easy familiarity and have developed complementary skills. A shared shorthand is used for sorting out differences rather than spending hours of negotiation.

Common problems and challenges

– Taking each other for granted
– One partner developing faster and risking leaving the other behind
– If there is poor communication, one partner can get wrapped up in an outside project and neglect the other
– There is a line between separate activities and achievements which enrich a relationship, and those which cause a couple to grow apart This is probably the most difficult stage. In the UK most relationships end after 11.3 years. Common folklore refers to this stage as The Seven Year Itch. Successful relationships learn to balance the familiar with the new, fresh and bold.

Skill

– Lack of possessiveness is important. This is especially hard when one partner launches into a new project when the other isn’t quite ready for the change. Couples at this stage need to be generous enough to bless each other’s projects and believe that they will succeed, rather than that they will undermine the relationship

Typical scenarios

– ‘It’s not practical.’ Forget the practical – anything is possible in a dream
– ‘It won’t bring in any money’. Dreams feed your soul and express who you are. Your project doesn’t need to bring in money if it means that you learn something new about yourself
– ‘I’m not talented enough.’ Dreams are about enjoying yourself, so it is not always important how well or badly you do something, just that you do it

5. Adapting (years 15 to 24)

These couples are adapting to the changes thrown at them rather than dealing with the internal changes in the relationship. These problems can vary from children leaving home, to the ageing or death of parents.

By now each partner has given up the idea of what the other might have become and tends to think: ‘He/she’s always been like that and probably always will be.’ What’s the point of nagging about his bad habits? They are actually quite endearing. It is ironic that, when you let someone go like this, this is when he is most likely to bend and change. Couples at this stage feel contented and companionship is important. With increased confidence, and caring less what people might think, this is often a period of sexual reawakening. The downside of accepting a partner, warts and all, is that it can make change seem impossible. This viewpoint can quickly change from reassuring to depressing. Couples need to take a fresh look and transform any stalemates to positions of possibility.

Common problems and challenges

– Taking each other for granted
– Not showing emotion
– Thinking that the partner is incapable of change and that splitting up is the only option
– During a crisis, one partner will try to return to an earlier stage: ie a guy who has been fired might turn to home improvements as during the nesting stage; women who have shouldered most of the responsibility of caring for children and ageing parents may return to self-affirming
– One partner thinking that the other has enough to worry about and so ceases to confide their own problems
– Sleeper problems, like the death of a parent, can reawaken reassessment of one’s childhood with a knock-on effect. These problems are hard to spot

Skill

– Couples will assume that they know each other well and will hear what they have known about the person from the past, and not really listen to what the other person is actually saying about the present or the future. It is best to listen, really listen, to what is being said or unsaid.

6. Renewing (years 25 to 60)

Often older couples are the most romantic and the closest. Closeness at one stage was based on the promise of a future together. Now the bond is based on the reality of a lifetime together. Renewing partners look inward to common experiences: shared jokes/stories. They are the least likely to split up.

Common problems and challenges

– Sometimes at the renewing stage one partner is afraid to voice his concerns, especially when other people start encroaching on the couple’s time together, for example if the couple’s children expect the couple to spend too much time looking after grandchildren
– Health worries can be isolating and turn closeness to claustrophobia

Skill

– As we grow older we start to become caricatures of ourselves. For example if you have always been known for being late, you might start doing dry runs of journeys to make sure you arrive on time. Patience and understanding are key for negotiating through these insecurities

Hint
It’s pretty hard to hate someone on another continent, or in a different state. Believe it or not, I have read a number of scripts where the opponent is plotting his counter-attack from across the ocean. Long- distance relationships will not work. In real life you would tend to get as far away as possible from someone you really dislike. Try to create togetherness for your hero and opponent. Squeeze them together. Make them occupy the same space. Force them to cohabit. The energy this creates will make your script glow. Good stories show the values of the opponent conflicting with the values of the hero.

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About 

Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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