“Love is not a state but a process”, wrote the Italian psychoanalyst Francesco Alberoni in his book Friendship and Love. Following him, many experts started to view romantic relationships as an evolution of feelings. What stages do all people in love go through and what dangers lie in wait for them? Expert opinions differ significantly regarding how many stages a relationship goes through. According to some, there are three stages; other experts say there are four, six, seven, or even ten relationship phases. In any case, it is essential to understand that every relationship develops according to its own scenario because each person gets into them with our unique experience - or its lack. The development of relationships is influenced by an individual's upbringing, personality, habits, and outlook on life. We disagree with the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy who wrote: “All happy families resemble one another and are equally happy, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. No, not all happy couples are alike. It is just impossible.
And, of course, the transition from one relationship stage to another cannot be always considered final: sometimes, there can also be returns to the previous stage, periods of stagnation, and acceleration. In other words, relationship stages are often not linear but cyclical. Also, every person is special and is prone to their own love style. If you want to discover what love style characterizes you most, we recommend you take this reliable Love Attitudes Scale introduced by the Canadian psychologist John Alan Lee.
According to several studies, every couple moves through at least three stages of their relationship. Here is everything you need to know about these stages and what skills couples need to develop at each stage to maintain their love and keep the relationship strong and healthy.
“You are the one”, “I have been waiting for you all my life”, “We are so similar”, “We are one”. Almost all relationships start with passion. According to psychologists Ellyn Bader and Peter T. Pearson, this is the intense phase of attachment - “symbiosis”. Separation at this moment brings suffering to lovers. Partners are enthusiastic to see each other. Every day, they look forward to a meeting.
Marriage consultant Françoise Sand considers this phase “one of the rare periods when you can exist without pain”. This stage helps people become better versions of themselves, rise above the dull daily routine, and discover new aspects of life. Needless to say, passionate love with “butterflies in the stomach” is inspiring.
At this stage, we often idealize our partners, turn a blind eye to their shortcomings, and make predictions for a happy future together “without taking off rose-colored glasses”. And that is exactly where the main danger lies. Later, when the passion fades away, we may start feeling like our loved one has changed for the worse.
Enjoy this "honeymoon": it is as pleasant as it is ephemeral. On average, it lasts from a month to three years. And then what? Return to reality.
“You are not what I thought”, “You do not understand me at all”, “I don’t know anything about the real you”. Life together and domestic duties return relationships from heaven to earth. Partners gradually discover differences that reveal new facets of their personalities. Not all of them are pleasant. Disappointment is inevitable because it is about saying goodbye to an idealized partner’s image. In some cases, not only to the idealized identity of our partner but also to our own. Relationships help us reveal unexpected facets of our personality: irritability, selfishness, and unwillingness to accept a partner's small flaws.
This stage is fundamental for any long-term relationship: it allows us to find ourselves and reconnect with our hobbies, interests, and goals. During the merge phase, we sort of deny our identity. And during the stage of distancing, we return to ourselves.
It is not easy to come to terms with the collapse of ideals. Many relationships end at this stage because the thrill wears off and passion decreases. But if partners manage to overcome disagreements and learn to live with the newly discovered features of each other, this will take the relationship to a new level.
It is crucial to divide your life into two spheres - personal and professional, stop doing absolutely everything with your partner, begin taking breaks from each other, and start dedicating your time to your own interests and goals. Partners should explain their desires and needs to each other - it is not okay to tolerate something you do not like about your partner's behavior. And it is okay to speak up with respect. Remember that a lack of communication, holding grudges, and mutual insults are very damaging to relationships and often even destroy them.
“I want to build a future with you”, “Maybe it’s time to think about buying a house together?”, “I am ready to put an effort into saving our relationship”. The previous stage allowed both partners to define themselves and their roles in the union. The new phase implies a sober look at life and plans together - family, children, and home. That is a time to reflect on what each partner really expects from a relationship.
The relationship becomes future-directed. You and your partner start having common goals; when making decisions, you have to consider your partner and take life plans together into account.
Many start to perceive their partner as a close friend, but no longer as a lover. That significantly increases the likelihood of one or both partners having an affair.
To maintain love in your relationship, you need to step out of your comfort zone from time to time and surprise yourself and your partner - keep the fire burning, so to speak. Give your partner spontaneous “just because” presents and do things that give you and your spouse joy to recapture the spirit of youth. A “crazy” and exciting date on a rooftop? An unplanned weekend in another city? Why not! Now you need such surprises more than ever. As a reminder to yourself and your partner that you are not just another boring couple stuck together for a long time - you are two people in love.
You start arguing and fighting over dirty dishes, paying bills, or choosing wallpaper for your bedroom. Even your partner's habits such as leaving socks under the bed or singing in the shower might annoy you a lot. Living together gives rise to so many reasons for conflict. It is important to communicate more, discuss everything happening in your life, to not silently hold grudges. Of course, yelling at your partner is not a great option either. It is ideal to always try to explain your point of view in a respectful way and seek a compromise whenever possible.
The birth of a baby always changes every relationship. Now you and your partner do not have only each other, but also another person to take care of. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest factors leading to issues in relationships after childbirth is constant tiredness and lack of time for socializing and relaxing. We have a tip that can be useful to new parents, especially to moms: try not to spend all your time with the child. Prioritize self-care, allow others to help you, and pamper yourself. Make time for “me time” and of course “us time” too, meaning that you should spend time with your partner without the child once in a while.
One of the partners got a promotion or, on the contrary, lost their job. Or the financial circumstances of the family have changed in some other way. Not all couples can go through this crisis. Stay honest, loyal, kind, and loving in every situation. Two pro tips here are: