The 5 Relationship Stages
Whether you recognize it or not, couples go through several stages of a relationship. During each of these stages, there’s a decision to ditch the relationship or move forward.
The problem many couples face is trying to make the go or no-go decision too soon or without enough information.
Today, you’ll examine these stages and learn how to know when it’s time to dump him or keep moving forward.
Stages of a Relationship | Attraction – Stage One
Before you can have a relationship, you need to meet each other. This first stage is tricky because some attraction can build before you actually see one another. This happens many times when you meet online and can provide a false sense of security.
Next, you meet and the whole thing falls flat. There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first is because you shared too much before you met and now you don’t have anything to discuss.
The second is because there isn’t any attraction for one or both of you. Don’t let this kill the relationship.
Think back to how nervous you were before you arrived. You had sweaty palms, a racing heart, the whole bit.
He was equally nervous. I’m not sure why women think men aren’t as nervous before a first date but the point is that neither of you is truly yourself at first.
He’s a nervous, scared, and apprehensive version of himself, wondering if you’ll like him. It’s worth giving him another chance if he asks.
For the sake of moving forward, let’s say you are attracted to one another. GREAT! There may even be some immediate sexual chemistry between you. While this is good, don’t act on it, if you want to reach Stage Two.
Attraction at this point is mostly superficial. You’re attracted to his looks, his body type, his interests and his personality.
Infatuation – Stage Two
Things clicked and you’re attracted to each other. Chemistry is building and it’s such a great feeling, but what’s happening behind the scenes during this stage?
Your brain releases pretty powerful chemicals that you’ve probably heard of: dopamine, norepinephrine, phenylethylamine and oxytocin. Not only does your brain release these chemicals, it builds an addiction to them.
They’re responsible for the desire to be together all the time, the desire to have sex and a need to stay together to mate. Okay, so that’s primal but it’s still part of what’s happening.
Be careful not to have sex too soon.
You’re trying to get the other to like you and you want to impress him with your cooking or skiing skills. Whatever you feel your strengths are, you want him to see them too.
Something else that occurs during this stage is called suspension of negative judgement. Brain studies have shown that when we’re in love, a part of our brain responsible for negative judgment of people shows slowed activity. In other words, it backs off.
The suspension of negative judgment helps us see the faults of partners, and significantly reduces our ability to get angry about them.
There is enough good in the relationship, through shared positive experiences and laughter to outweigh the negative feelings.
For you, this is where you begin wondering, “Is he right for me?” and “Where is this headed?” Be careful asking these questions here. When this stage ends, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over. It means you’re moving on to the next stage. That’s a good thing!
While there are some couples (15-30%) who experience this same level of infatuation decades into their relationship, for most couples this stage lasts anywhere from six months to two years.
Stages of a Relationship | Bonding as a Couple – Stage Three
You think you’re already a couple, but this is where men and women differ. You’re having sex; he says and does all the right things and you’ve met important people in his life and him in yours. In your mind, you’re a couple.
In his mind, he’s having fun getting to know you but you’re not a couple yet.
You know you’re ready for this stage when you’ve talked, about your future together, even if it wasn’t a serious conversation. Together, you’ve discussed values and you know you align on important things like religion, interests and hobbies.
Your love begins to deepen and it feels different from the infatuation stage. But you’re still totally into each other and talk all the time, even if it’s via text.
You feel safe in your relationship now. You’re past the wild and crazy sex and sex is more satisfying.
You feel safe enough to slowly remove your early dating face and put on your real face. He may have never put his feet up on the coffee table before but now, he does. You haven’t shown him how cranky you get when you find crumbs in the sofa cushions but now you’re letting him know it annoys you.
These behaviors are signals that you feel safe enough with one another to let your hair down a bit. You’re becoming the true versions of yourselves.
Don’t rush this stage of your relationship. Women especially want to have the “where are we headed” talk, but if you push it, you’ll lose.
I encourage you to share your thoughts and feelings with your guy, but it’s important not to push him into that conversation.
Stage three can easily become the beginning of the end as it leads to Stage Four.
Eyes Wide Open – Stage Four
You see one another’s true colors now and are disillusioned. You feel he lied because he wasn’t his true self, but you weren’t either.
Where’s the man you fell in love with? He’s still there, but now he’s himself.
One of you might withdraw during this stage, but truthfully, you’ve always seen these flaws. You just chose not to acknowledge them until now.
You may have a dud. Losers and users can play along for some time, but eventually, their true colors show. If that’s the case, cut your losses and regroup.
If your guy isn’t a dud, power through. If the relationship truly means something to you, accept one another, despite those flaws.
It feels like you’re going through hell, but as the song says, if you’re going through hell, keep on going…
You may be married so do you want to give up so easily or can this relationship be saved?
If you believe it’s too difficult to save it, try once more. Powering through is very rewarding.
Most of your friends’ relationships ended in this stage but you’ve got the strength and confidence to work through it.
A relationship that survives a crisis like this is stronger. Recall his good traits and find things to appreciate. What does he do for or with you that is amazing?
It can’t be all bad, even though that’s the focus right now. Re-center yourselves on your good qualities.
Wounds of your past can flare up. Don’t hide them; share them. If he has wounds, patiently listen without judgment.
We all have baggage. Your larger bags are getting unpacked now. Just unpack them slowly and allow him to do the same. Provide a safe, loving space for one another.
Getting through this stage gets you to the next!
Stages of a Relationship | Real, Lasting Love – Stage Five
This is the calm after the storm. You survived some challenging times but, unlike many couples, you powered through. Now, you see each other for who you really are, and you can truly love the person you’re with.
If you haven’t done so already, talk about how you’ll handle difficulties in the future. During the previous stage, you created some steps to take when there is conflict.
This stage of a relationship can take years to evolve. You can spend a long time in the prior two stages, depending on how much baggage you’re toting and how long it takes to unpack it.
You might even survive a couple of temporary breakups or crises when you’re not sure if the relationship will make it, but in the end, you did the hard work and this is the reward. It’s worth fighting for!
As you each unpack your past, you learn to become partners in battling the demons, instead of judge and jury. Your love enables you to see the hurt and pain in your partner and gives you the patience to be just what he needs, when he needs it and no more.
Now, you love him for who he is, warts and all and he loves you.
You’ve built intimacy through the battle scars you’ve and experiences you’ve shared. You’ve built a list of places that mean something to the two of you, movies, songs and maybe even books that hold a special place in your relationship.
Together, you have a history full of ups and downs for sure, but mostly full of patience, tolerance, and love.
So Now What?
You’re in the lasting love phase of your relationship. How do you stay here? That’s easy! Keep exploring life and trying new things, both separately and together.
Share experiences together, challenge one another and support each other’s goals and dreams. Keep things fresh and stick to a weekly date night schedule, no matter how many years you’ve been together. Continue to both hold one another close and give the required space when needed.
This keeps the sexual tension alive!
You’ve learned what makes him tick. You know, by his body language, when he’s upset and when he’s excited to share something with you. Read the cues, keep challenging him, and yourself, and watch love continue to blossom!
Is it really that easy?
Yes, it is.
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