We already know that love is, as they say, many splendored thing, but anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship is also aware the course of true love seldom smooth, no matter how great it is.
As happens with anything that develops over time, there are several stages of a relationships couples go through as they transition from their single lives as two individuals to a team choosing to make their lives one.
At some times, you may be sick to your stomach, but in a good way. At others, your libido may seem practically out of control. Sometimes you literally can’t get enough of that person and never want to be apart, and at others, you wonder if they’ll ever (finally) go away and give you some peace and quiet.
According to a study conducted by psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos for online dating site eHarmony, there are five stages of relationships couples typically experience over time — butterflies, building, assimilation, honesty and stability.
It’s important to note that these stages don’t always happen in the exact same order, and some stages may occur or repeat in cycles, meaning some couples may return to certain stages many times throughout the course of their relationship.
The 5 Stages Of A Relationship
Stage 1: Infatuation (aka Butterflies)
Photo: 4 PM production / shutterstock
The best parts of beginning to fall in love are the butterflies and infatuation. In some cases, infatuation can be a bad thing, but when you’re both in it to win it, it’s wonderful.
You can’t sleep, you can’t concentrate, and the most important thing in the world is getting to see that person again.
The study found that 56 percent of people in the infatuation stage also noted an obvious increase in their sex drive, meaning all you want to do is be in bed with your new love until the break of dawn.
However, this could be too much of a good thing, especially when your infatuation blinds you to reality.
Relationship coach Larry Michel explains, “Multiple conditions drive infatuation: a strong desire for intimate connection or security, end to loneliness, or boredom. The most powerful and most common source of infatuation is chemistry, a concoction of brain chemicals and hormones that literally spike our senses and have us falling head-over-heels for someone. The 6 major players are dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, testosterone, and phenylethylamine (PEA).”
The result he says, “Chemistry is a very possible false indicator of a lasting relationship.”
Important Tips For The Infatuation Stage: Be sure to ground yourself in reality. Nobody is perfect — not you, nor your new partner. So, stop thinking of them as such.
Instead, see them for what they are: a flawed human being. This will help you distinguish between the person you think they are versus the person you should see as a whole.
“Recognize you are under the influence of fantasy love, and take the time to see them for who they are… Be honest about what you want and who you are,” suggests relationship coach Marilyn Sutherland.
Stage 2: Comfort (aka Building)
The comfort stage is when things calm down in your body a bit, and you aren’t in a haze of adoration and devotion.
According to the study, neurochemicals are released that turn up the volume in your heart rate and pleasure zones. In fact, the scientists say these feelings are on par with Class A drugs.
You experience something called a “happy anxiety,” and finding a way to sleep is still difficult. The honeymoon phase may be over, but things have yet to totally cool off.
Important Tips For The Comfort Stage: Because this is an “in between” stage, where the feelings of infatuation have worn off but you haven’t yet come to terms with whether or not your relationship has a future, remind yourself that a relationship like this isn’t sustainable.
“See the loss of that fantasy high as the opportunity to get to know them more deeply, and for them to know you. Share your values, goals, and dreams, and see what you can build together. Focus on the things that work and explore together how you can bridge any significant differences,” Sutherland adds.
Stage 3: Questioning (aka Assimilation)
Naturally, you will get to a point where you second-guess what’s going on. During the questioning stage, you start wondering if things are “right.” You begin to doubt if your relationship will last, or even if this person is a good match for you.
You start asking yourself if this is really what you want. Can you see yourself with this person for the long haul? Is it more serious than you expected? Do you even have the potential for a long-term relationship that will last? Are you compatible on more than a surface level?
Adds Michel, “Whether couples are driven by chemistry or a strong sense that the person they are dating really does appear to fulfill some or all of their greatest needs and desires, the task is to prove it, so they can decide if this is who they truly wish to be their partner.”
Important Tips For The Questioning Stage: The questioning stage isn’t about self-doubt as much as it’s about trying to figure out what’s right for you and your future. So, it’s essential to be on the same page as your partner.
Have a discussion about what you both want, if your values align in this way, and how you can tackle any issues that come up between you.
Says Sutherland, “Know that no two people are 100 percent in sync, and commit to working out the differences with loving kindness. Be kind to yourself and them as you navigate any uncertainty.”
Stage 4: Vulnerability (aka Honesty)
“This stage deals with the concept behind how we all put on our best faces; through social media we edit our lives as well as our pictures to make it appear as though everything is fine,” the study indicated.
In fact, the study found that 15 percent of people experience “feelings of doubt and increased vulnerability” when it came to being honest about who they really are and all those weird quirks everyone has.
Vulnerability is one of the most important parts of any intimate relationship. And because it may seem like you’re taking a risk in showing your true self, stress levels start to climb.
But the vulnerability stage indicates that you and your partner have moved into a serious relationship.
Important Tips For The Vulnerability Stage: It’s not easy to expose both the best and worst parts of yourself, but it’s a necessary step in making a relationship work.
Being vulnerable isn’t easy, but sharing the parts of yourself you don’t want others to see shows your partner that you can go deeper, you trust them, and your relationship isn’t superficial.
“Learn to communicate authentically with love, and accept differences,” Sutherland adds. “Continue to be open and honest, and set boundaries. Be willing to ask for what you want and need.”
Stage 5: Stability
After the ups and downs, questions about your future, and overcoming your fears of going deeper together, the stability stage is where everything falls into place and you feel safe.
Vasopressin, the same hormone released when you orgasm, is circulating around your body, and creates strong feelings of attachment and bonding. Couples are very happy at this stage, even if the initial intensity has worn off.
It’s these feelings that really make for a long-lasting relationship. Some may even say that it’s the best stage of a relationship; if you’re lucky, you still have the butterflies, too.
It’s only natural to want to take your relationship in a new direction, whether it’s becoming exclusive, renting an apartment together, or even making the commitment of engagement. You’re happy together, worries of breaking up have dissipated, and you look forward to the future together.
Important Tips For The Stability Stage: You could end up feeling bored at some point in this stage. That’s why it’s essential to have a life outside of your relationship, meaning your life shouldn’t revolve solely around your partner.
In addition, find ways to add excitement to your relationship. Try new activities and do things that help you stay connected.
As Sutherland recommends, “If you feel bored, share about wanting some excitement and variety, and find ways to play to your relationship that meets both of your needs. Value the friendship and partnership you have created, and don’t take it for granted. Express love every day.”
No matter what stage of a relationship you find yourself in, couples should be mindful to never judge or compare themselves or their relationship against unrealistic expectations. Neither you nor your partner should look at other couples and wonder what your relationship is missing; your relationship simply doesn’t compare.
Each relationship is unique, after all.