Life Cycle Development Stages

I find that clients benefit from normalizing many of the issues they struggle with. Letting them know that certain aspects of life’s challenges are shared by others is often comforting. Using life cycle development stages, we can reframe some issues as part of life, and move away from strictly problem solving in session to gaining insight into what it is like for them to be going through what they are facing, which is truly the unique part of life–personal experiencing.

Life Cycle Stages of Development:

  1. Independence: This generally occurs in adolescence/young adulthood. Markers of the beginning of the family life cycle in an individual are supporting yourself emotionally, physically, socially, and financially, development of unique qualities and characteristics that define your individual identity. As noted, Intimacy is a vital skill to develop during your independent, young adult years. Good intimacy helps you maintain family relationships while building new relationships that lead to starting your own family.

Specific goals of the stage:

  • Learn to see yourself as a separate person in relation to your original family-parents, siblings, and extended family members.
  • Develop intimate peer relationships outside the family.
  • Establish yourself in your work or career.
  • Establish your Identity, or who you are in the world.

Some of the challenges of this stage include:

  • Desiring more autonomy but not getting it
  • Struggling with sexual and personal identity
  • Finding a sense of belonging in the world
  • Retaining a relationship with your family of origin as independence is fostered
  • Lacking good models for making the move to a healthy fulfilling adult life

2. Coupling: The next stage is when a partner is selected for an extended period of time that tests your ability to commit to a new family and a new way of life. When you join families through a marriage or committed union, you form a new family system, which includes both partner’s personal ideas, expectations, and values that have been shaped by the relationships and experiences from the family of origin. In the most functional relationships, partners have the ability to take two different points of view and create an option that neither person had considered. It differs from a compromise in that it is not giving up something. Rather, it is creating a third, better option.

You may find that some of the ideas or expectations that you held in the past are not realistic at this stage. Some common areas of adjustment include:

Specific goals for this stage of the family life cycle are:

  • Forming a new family with your partner.
  • Make adjustments to unrealistic expectations
  • Learn advanced interpersonal communication.
  • Improve problem-solving skills.
  • Develop common spiritual and emotional development goals.
  • Set and manage boundaries in relationships.
  • Learn when to place the needs or importance of the other person above your own.
  • Realigning your relationships with your family of origin and your friends to now include your spouse

Some of the challenges of this stage include:

  • Transitioning into the new family system.
  • Including your spouse or partner in your relationships with friends and family members.
  • Being committed to making your marriage work.
  • Putting the needs of another ahead of your own.
  • You and your partner will have less stress if the transition into a new family system is smooth, and less stress often means better health.

3. Parenting: this is one of the most challenging phases of the family life cycle. The decision to have children is one that affects your individual development, the identity of your family, and your relationship. Divorce rates peak during the parenting stage. Children are so time-consuming that skills not learned in previous stages will be difficult to pick up at this stage. Your ability to communicate well, maintain your relationships, and solve problems will be tested. And if you have not learned compromise and commitment in the previous stage, you may not have the skills you need to transition well.

Specific goals when young children join your family are:

  • Adjusting your marital system to make space for children.
  • Taking on parenting roles.
  • Realigning your relationships with your extended family to include parenting and grandparenting roles.

Specific goals during the stage of parenting adolescents include:

  • Shifting parent-child relationships to allow the child to move in and out of the family system.
  • Shifting focus back to your midlife relationship and career issues.
  • Beginning a shift toward concern for older generations in your extended family.

Some of the challenges of this stage include:

  • Mismatched parenting values between biological parents
  • Setting positive boundaries with family of origin
  • Unrealistic expectations regarding child-rearing
  • Gender disparities in the home and at work regarding caregiving
  • Securing good, affordable , safe childcare

4. Launching: this begins when your first child leaves home and ends with the “empty nest.” When older children leave home, there are both positive and negative consequences. If your family has developed significant skills through the family life cycle and their own childhood development, your children will be ready to leave home and handle life’s challenges.

Specific Goals are:

  • Strengthen your partner relationship
  • Re-evaluate your career goals
  • Developing adult relationships with your children
  • Accept new members into your family through your children’s relationships
  • Reassessing your beliefs about life
  • Self-examination, education, and counseling can enhance your life and help ensure a healthy transition to the next phase

Some of the challenges of this stage include:

  • You may not have moved through the phases with the appropriate tools and attitudes
  • You may not have taught your children the skills they need to live well on their own.
  • If you and your partner have not transitioned together, you may no longer feel compatible with each other.
  • Some parents, women in particular, may feel a lack of purpose
  • Your health and energy levels may decline
  • You may also be caring for aging parents in this phase, which can be stressful and affect your own health.

5. Retirement: Welcoming new family members or seeing others leave your family is often a large part of this stage as your children marry or divorce or you become a grandparent.

This stage can be a great adventure where you are free from the responsibilities of raising your children and can simply enjoy the fruits of your life’s work. Retirement can be a fulfilling and happy time. Becoming a grandparent can bring you great joy without the responsibility of raising a child. Those who are without adequate support systems or not well off financially, though, may have a more difficult time in this phase of life.

Specific goals to reach for at this final stage of your family life cycle include:

  • Maintaining your own interests and physical functioning, along with those of your partner, as your body ages.
  • Exploring new family and social roles.
  • Providing emotional support for your adult children and extended family members.
  • Making room in the family system for the wisdom and experience of older adults.
  • Providing support for the older generation without doing too much for them.
  • Dealing with the loss of a partner, siblings, and other peers, and preparing for your own death.
  • Reviewing your life and reflecting on all you have learned and experienced during your life cycle.

Some of the challenges of this stage include:

  • Being able to support other family members as you explore your own
  • Maintaining your relationships
  • Caring for elderly parents
  • Changes in your financial or social statusLate Life: this stage is relatively new and necessary since many people live past the fifth stage and development marches on. The key emotional

6. Late Life: this stage is relatively new and necessary since many people live past the fifth stage and development marches on. The key emotional principle is accepting the shifting of generational roles. Couples in the sixth stage tend to be maritally rather than parentally oriented. The marriage is likely to become more egalitarian. The couple may continue to have an active and meaningful sex life. And marital satisfaction is likely to be at its highest point since the couple’s early years together. Family relationships are still important. Contact with children tends to be frequent. Strains may result if adult children move back into the home, however.

Women are far more likely than men to experience the death of a spouse. Both men and women whose spouses die face a difficult period of adjustment. There is a loss of identity and a variety of physical and emotional consequences of bereavement. Those who talk over various matters with the dying spouse make a better adjustment to the death than do others. Many eventually remarry, although widows are less likely to do so than are widowers. Companionship is one of the most common reasons that both men and women remarry after the death of a spouse.

Goals of this stage are:

  • Maintain our own interests and functioning as a couple in face of physiological decline
  • Shift focus onto the middle generation (the children who are still in stage five) and support them as they launch their own children.
  • Deal with the loss of our spouse, siblings, and peers and the preparation for our own death and the end of our generation.
  • Make meaning and retain a sense of being valuable

Some of the challenges of this stage include:

  • Declining physical and mental abilities
  • Possible death of other family members and friends
  • Normal aging such as wrinkles, aches, pains, illness, and loss of bone density
  • The chances of having a mental or chronic physical illness does increase with age.
  • Loss of meaning in life and/or increased death anxiety


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