The Eight Stages of Relationships: Part One
Relationships are predictable. All of them go through stages as they grow and develop. And this includes romantic relationships.
What stage is your relationship in?
Or, if you are not in a relationship, at what stage do your relationships always end and why?
Identifying the stages of your relationship and the attributes, stumbling blocks and joys of each stage can help you negotiate through them with more success, peace and love.
Stage One: The Honeymoon
According to love songs and fairytales, this stage is what love is supposed to be like. You meet, you connect, you fall in love. Everything seems right. Nothing seems out of place. Even if some things don’t seem right, you are full of hope they will work themselves out.
When it starts and how long it lasts: This stage can start from day one, but it’s usually in effect within the first month and can last between three to six months.
The joy: You feel more alive, more expanded, more in touch with life, beauty, joy, maybe spirituality, and perhaps yourself. You have hope. You feel exhilarated, or at least exited. You have fun. These are all very wonderful feelings and should be celebrated and enjoyed.
The stumbling block: You may overlook whether your partner is truly compatible with you and rush into the depth of the relationship too soon or with the wrong person. And this, in turn, can mean you will breakup and get hurt down the road.
What to do: Enjoy, have fun, but slow down and don’t count on a future together — yet. Get to know each other first. If you’re right for each other, there’s no reason to hurry — you’ll have a lifetime to spend together. And, if you’re wrong for each other, you’ll save yourself some heartache.
Stage Two: The Discovery
During this stage, the initial excitement of being together is subdued so you can actually discover who the other person really is. You and your partner begin to figure out each other’s quirks and neuroses, and you uncover things that bug you about each other. You also begin to discover what you truly love and respect about one another. Your communication should deepen to a soulful level, where you begin to open up.
When it starts and how long it lasts: This stage starts between three and six months and can last for a number of years, depending on how comfortable the couple is with self-disclosure and how fast or slow the couple wants to progress in emotional intimacy.
The joy: The joy is the discovery; you are close enough to be able to glimpse the other person, his or her vulnerabilities, beauty, even quirks — which you may think are cute. The joy is also in seeing evidence that you have chosen the right person (if in fact you have such evidence), as well as in deep communication and budding emotional intimacy.
The stumbling block: You may begin to discover things that drive you nuts — in an annoying way — about each other. You may also discover that the two of you do things in very different fashions, or have vastly different interests. This is a time of choice and you may not want to choose.
What to do: Look with open eyes at both the beauty — internal and external — of your partner and the ugliness and quirks you’re discovering. This is a time of choice. Often, we choose what feels good at the moment rather than what will feel good in the long run. And then we wind up suffering for it. Decide if this person is a good fit for you for the long run and wants the same future as you.
Stage Three: The Commitment
This is the stage most singles fantasize about — the place where the relationship is settled, you know you’re together, and you can finally relax. This is the stage most couples try to rush into and arrive at too soon. And it is a wonderful stage, but rather than an end of a process, it’s only the beginning. In many ways, a relationship doesn’t truly begin until a couple commits to each other.
When it starts and how long it lasts: It starts once each person decides to commit to either live together or get married, or to another form of deep commitment.
The joy: The joy is the sense of having arrived and no longer having to strive to win your partner. The joy is the discovery of whom your partner is when committed to you, because commitment brings out a change in the behavior of each person. The joy is having someone to watch movies with and cook dinner with and hang out with and do ordinary things. The joy is having a person you love to share a life with.
The stumbling block: Many people begin to take each other for granted during this stage. Because they have arrived, they begin to pay less attention to the relationship and to their partner. And because one of the benefits we seek from a relationship is the attention from our partner, when it lags, problems begin. The other stumbling block is that we may not pay enough attention to communication. Issues that need to be communicated may fall by the wayside for fear of rocking the boat, but will come back to haunt the relationship later.
What to do: Enjoy the togetherness and your new commitment, but remember to do two things: Make your relationship a priority no matter what else is happening in your life. And make sure your lines of communication are open; you are speaking to and listening to each other.
Stage Four: The Power Struggle
This is the stage at which most couples split up. The power struggle can be a gut wrenching, painful place for a couple to be. This can be a time of arguments or silence, a time that truly will test the couple’s determination. Most couples at this stage wonder how they got there since it comes on unexpectedly and out of nowhere. Because almost all of the relationship up to this point has been joy, it’s a very shocking place for a couple to end up.
When it starts and how long it lasts: This stage can start as soon as the commitment is solidified — the couple makes a deep commitment, gets married, moves in together, etc. — or soon thereafter. It can last until the couple breaks up, or the couple can find a way to work through this stage and move into the next stages of the relationship.
The joy: There is not much joy in this stage. The joy may be in the periods when you’re not power struggling and are enjoying each other’s company. The other joy is in not arguing, or resolving an argument quickly, even some of the time.
The stumbling block: There are two prime stumbling blocks. One is that when couples get to this stage, they don’t realize it’s a normal stage for all relationships and that they can get through it. Instead, the couple thinks something is wrong — perhaps they’re no longer compatible or they no longer belong together. The second stumbling block is that the couple can get stuck in this stage, with one or both partners being unwilling to move forward. This will eventually wear the relationship down until there’s nothing left.
What to do: There are no simple solutions to a power struggle in a relationship. But here are a few suggestions:
- Give in on anything that isn’t important to you
- Give up behaviors, views, and attitudes that are hurting the relationship
- Don’t retaliate, no matter how hurt you may feel
- Remember that you love each other
And remember, there is life after the power struggle!
Master Certified Relationship Coach Rinatta Paries coaches singles to attract and build loving, fulfilling, long-term relationships.