Relationships are often fun and thrilling at the beginning. When the attraction and passion are so strong, it is easy to think that it will always be this way. Feeling giddy and getting “butterflies” are regular things at the earliest stages, but relationships don’t stay at this phase for too long. As partners share experiences and get to know each other, their relationship moves through various stages.
You probably know this already if you’ve fallen in love or been in a relationship at least once. You may also be aware that falling in love is easy, but relationships are hard. The bond takes work from both partners to grow, evolve, and last. Here’s what you should know about the stages of relationships and how to navigate each phase.
1. The Merge/Honeymoon Phase
Also referred to as the attraction stage, the merge is one of the most exciting phases of a relationship. It is where you’re swept up with intense euphoria, to the point that you can’t think of anything other than your partner. There is a strong sense of physical attraction and lust, stronger than at the other stages of love. This is why you spend lots of time together, want to see each other often, and engage in many activities, including passionate sex.
All the “highs” or intense feelings during this stage are associated with chemical reactions in your brain. Your brain is flooded with happy, feel-good hormones (dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin), so everything seems blissful and magical. Everything that your partner does is just adorable, so you don’t see any faults or red flags. You feel like you’ve found “the one,” your true soulmate.
Take note: Enjoy this fun and carefree ride. Just make sure to remind yourself that you’re in this euphoric stage of a relationship with heightened emotions. Assess your connection and the feelings that come along as you spend more time together. Avoid making big decisions and get advice from trusted friends to ensure that you’re not turning a blind eye to serious red flags.
2. The Uncertainty Stage / Power Struggle
As you get to know your partner, you start to see some flaws and differences that weren’t so visible before. Do you suddenly realize they talk a lot and are not good listeners? Are they just self-assured or full of themselves? At this relationship stage, you start to see things differently, and their once-endearing qualities may annoy you.
As uncertainties set in, you may doubt your feelings for this person. You may also start to question if your values, beliefs, and lifestyles align. Friction and disappointment arise once you discover how different the two of you are. You still like them, but your partner isn’t as charming as they were at the attraction stage. You wonder if they’re actually your soulmate or if you’re right for each other.
A crash follows the “highs” and intensity of the honeymoon phase because your dopamine levels decrease. If you, for instance, have opposing views on an important matter, you may feel the need to argue and defend what you think is right. Conflicts and disagreements are normal, and this doesn’t mean that you stop loving someone or that the relationship is doomed to fail.
Couples in the power struggle stage may either break up or stay together. If both of you are stuck in the past, can’t compromise, and are unwilling to change, the former is where you’ll end up. If you and your partner, on the other hand, embrace change and learn some new skills to resolve your differences, the relationship will survive and move through other phases.
Take note: Even those in healthy relationships argue and disagree from time to time. It is important to create constructive discussions, avoiding name-calling or criticizing your partner. You should also aim to find common ground instead of trying to “win” the argument.
If you’re stuck in this stage and want to effectively get on the same page as your partner, you can try online therapy. Learning what to expect from couples counseling will help you evaluate all the benefits of therapy for relationships.
3. The Stability Stage
If you and your partner make it through the uncertainty phase, you will enter the stability stage. This is where you’ll feel at ease and realize that you can’t change your partner but be okay with it. At this stage, healthy relationships revolve around mutual respect, clear boundaries, and acceptance of each other’s flaws and differences.
The stability stage offers a nice break from the fighting and arguing of the power struggle phase. Once you’ve worked through your issues and gotten on the same page, you can experience that love again, but more maturely than in the honeymoon phase. It is also where things get comfortable, as both of you rely on habits and routines.
Take note: It is easy to get stuck and stay in your comfort zone when things go well. When this happens, one or both of you can get bored and even lose sight of each other. This stage calls for trying new things and creating new shared experiences to help both of you grow as a couple and allow your relationship to move forward.
You can also choose to work with a relationship psychology expert or counselor during the stability stage. This will help you deepen your connection and find new ways to keep your relationship fresh and exciting.
4. The Commitment Stage
After getting through the stability stage, you now land in the commitment phase. Both of you intentionally choose each other despite all your flaws in this stage. That’s also where you realize that conflicts and disagreements are normal parts of a relationship. As you decide to be together, you’ll also start to have serious discussions about the future and where your relationship is heading.
The commitment stage is when couples often prepare or are ready to get married because partners have learned to resolve and navigate conflicts. This, however, is not necessarily a requirement. Many couples choose to tie the knot during the honeymoon phase. This is because of the feeling of being high on love.
Take note: As you commit to each other, you may think that your work as a couple is done. This is not entirely true, as you still need to grow as individuals and partners. You need to continue working to improve your emotional connection for your relationship to mature and last.
Keep in mind that there is also the need to maintain and respect each other’s personalities. You don’t have to sacrifice personal goals and dreams to be with each other or for your relationship’s sake.
5. The Bliss or Co-Creation Stage
The bliss stage is where you and your partner feel totally comfortable in your relationship. You trust each other and are ready to take your partnership beyond the limits of a family unit. This is where both of you go outside of your relationship to take on projects that give back to the community or make the world a better place.
These projects arise as your relationship evolves and moves through all five phases. It could be anything, like a family business, charity or foundation, or even growing your family and raising kids. The co-creation is where you solidify your bond and have a deeper and more meaningful connection.
Take note: Relationships take work. Even if you feel comfortable, you may find yourself going back to other phases of a relationship, including the power struggle stage. You will have to face conflicts, which can strengthen your intimacy and connection. You also have to continue prioritizing and nurturing relationships to avoid growing apart.
Knowing more about these stages can tell you where you are in your relationship and better understand your feelings about your partner. It is normal to have doubts and move through these phases more than once. It’s up to you and your partner to work through the challenges along the way. Let your partner know how much you appreciate them.
You can also try online therapy or affordable counseling online to maintain or enhance your relationship. Online therapy platforms like Calmerry allow you to get the necessary help from home, so you won’t even need to commute to a therapist’s office. Learn more about online therapy to get ready for your first session.
Featured Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash