The relationship between a husband and wife is like that of a diamond – precious, strong and, one hopes, with a lot of sparkle! Take a look at how the shape of a diamond can map the stages of our life together as a couple – and just where the challenges lie.

The relationship between you and your spouse is one of the most important relationships you will ever have. In her book Passages, author Gail Sheehy likens this relationship to that of one of the world’s most coveted gems, the diamond.

The beginning of a marriage is, for most couples, the realisation of a dream. It’s all about sunshine and roses and starry, starry nights as they dream of how they will live their lives together. The honeymoon can last for years as intimacy deepens. It is easy, at this stage, to communicate openly, to share thoughts and feelings about life, its challenges and hopes. This is the point at which couples begin to draw their diamond, very much at one starting point, together.

It is also a time to ensure that this new road has as few pitfalls and obstacles as possible. Make certain you manage your risks correctly.

As the couple settles into their togetherness, life starts to happen. Each may be building their career. Children may be on the radar. With the joy and wonderment that comes when the first child is born, comes a dose of reality. Responsibilities have doubled and the couple finds itself on the sometimes not-so-merry-go-round of chasing money, careers, goals, friendships, security. The pace of life is fast and busy. Other children may follow. Career decisions and corporate demands may feel like a never-ending obstacle course.

The busy years!

This is when a couple may feel like ships in the night, busily passing with only the briefest of communication. And this is when each partner begins to draw the opposite sides of the diamond shape.

This stage continues for as long as children are at home, and that depends on how many you have, and the age gap between them. On average though, bank on being on parent duty for between 20 and 25 years: juggling family holidays, school events and the corporate world.

In this blur it is easy to lose sight of your primary relationship, one that is often put on hold due to stress and busyness. It is now, more than ever, that it is critical to make time for the two of you to communicate and grow together. Get out your diaries and ink in “date nights” and weekends away, just the two of you. The woman needs to feel loved and acknowledged, and the man needs to know he is still the most important person in his partner’s life. Take a look at your relationship diamond. Chances are, unless you have continued to consciously connect with each other and have regular time together, this is the point where the opposite sides of your diamond will be at the widest distance apart.

Just the two of you again

And then, suddenly, the children leave home. This is the beginning of the Third Age for a couple…

Complex emotions abound, the most common being the “empty nest” syndrome. This is most likely to affect those women who have devoted their lives to mothering. The man may be at the peak of his career and in high adrenaline mode. But there is also the other side of the coin: he may be facing retrenchment or find no joy in the drudgery of daily work. It is very common for couples to feel vast spaces between them. They battle to re-engage, to discuss their needs and desires. Many individuals feel the need to spend time alone and then to come together to try and work out the way forward. Often couples now separate as they feel they no longer have anything left in common.

This is the critical time for the diamond to regain its shape – and that depends on the choices we make.

Ideally each partner should make a concerted effort to communicate, to work out the issues that drew them apart and to learn to fall back in love with this person with whom they have shared a life for 25 years.

Work for what you once had

The Third Age should be one of the greatest stages of your life. You are with a person who shares a history and children with you. The responsibility of parenting is mostly over. You can now spend quality time together with less financial strain. You have your best friend at your side and you can travel and experience new and exciting things together. This moving-back part of the diamond can be fun and invigorating as you discuss your new dreams and challenges.

But, for many, these conversations just don’t happen. This is a generation with the highest divorce rate ever. How sad to part at this stage and not to work at uncovering again the wonder of the person who wears your ring. Value each other as you would value a diamond and work at bringing those two distant points back together. The sparkle will be worth it!