Relationships are not linear, and they change over time. The course of a relationship winds and turns like a river. You can’t predict how your love for someone will evolve. Regardless if you have started dating or have been married for ten years, you can experience the following phases in no specific order.
Rom-coms have given us a traditional structure for how a relationship should evolve. Usually, relationships on film start with the meet-cute then develop into the infatuation phase. There are sometimes a few steps in between, but they all end with a happily ever after.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but these steps were organized in this specific order to help writers, directors, and movie-going audiences have some kind of organized three-act structure. It would be hard to portray a romantic relationship on-screen for two reasons: not enough time and not everyone falls in love that way. We all fall in love differently. Some relationships start with an obstacle; others start with distance.
Please keep that in mind as you read this article.
- The meeting
Like in every romantic film, this is the part where you meet. Whether it’s through mutual friends, at a party, or in the shopping department at Bloomingdale’s. In this phase, there is interest and attraction. You’re not really sure what draws you to that person, but you are interested. So, both fall into conversation and start getting to know the basics of each other– job, hobbies, etc. There is little to no emotional intimacy at this point.
But, the meeting stage stretches beyond that first meeting. It encompasses the entire time you two get to know each other– the casual dates and so on. During this time, you both scope out whether it is worth developing this.
This is when the what are we question pops up. The answer determines whether both of you move on to develop a relationship or part ways.
- Honeymoon phase
A relationship begins after the getting to know each other phase. You both have decided to enter into a relationship. At this point, you both are starting to open up to each other–to be vulnerable. Fun dates will evolve into intimate dinners and long conversations. Oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphin levels in your body will rise, and you will want to spend every second with the person you love.
The honeymoon phase is characterized by deep feelings of infatuation and the desire to be together. Both of your boundaries will fall away and lead to deeper emotional and physical intimacy. However, basking in each other’s eternal love can make you both ignore the realities of who you both really are. During this phase, we all tend to idealize our partners and sometimes ignore red flags.
After the honeymoon, you are met with realities. During this stage, some of the traits you found endearing or attractive cease to captivate your heart. You also start to notice the difference between the two of you. Hence, you begin to feel distant. This is the phase that sometimes ends most relationships because you feel distant from your partner. Your expectation of them does not match who they are. You both may start feeling stressed and, as a result, clash. Your response to stress may dictate how things will play out in this phase. Some pick fights to establish their dominance while others withdraw (also as a way to establish dominance).
The best course of action is to work on conflict management. Learn how to deescalate problems and how to tackle challenges head-on as a team. Conflicts do not have to spell the end of a relationship. It just means that you both have different perspectives and ideas. Both of you need to respect that and learn how to show each other that you love each other.
At this point, the conflicts and issues that have arisen throughout the relationship are on the table. The passion you both felt during the early stage of your relationship has disappeared and neither of you knows if the relationship should continue. But, what you choose to do in this stage determines the longevity of the relationship.
Some couples choose to ignore them and grow distant as a result. Others continue to fight and eventually exhaust themselves. However, this phase is not the end. This phase can serve as an opportunity for you and your partner to renew the commitment you have for each other and to change how things currently are.
All the fighting from the previous stage can make you both reluctant to show each other affection. But, do it anyway. Show your partner that you appreciate them and that you are glad they are in your life. Our minds tend to focus on negative things. Hence, you will miss out on all the reasons that your relationship is worth saving.
This is the climax of the movie and of the relationship because this is the part where you decide whether to leave or stay. During this phase, you may feel like no matter how hard you both try, the relationship doesn’t feel like it used to. Things feel stale and you no longer see them as the person you fell in love with.
You contemplate leaving and starting again with someone else. But, no matter how many times you’ve played in your mind how you are going to dump them something keeps you from doing it.
If you choose to stay, you need to be willing to work on your relationship. This means learning how to communicate effectively and understanding your role in the relationship, regardless if it breaks or continues.
In this phase, I believe is where you both learn how to love.
We all say I love you and feel love, but we hardly learn how to love. Love, for me, is a choice. It is a choice that does not change, regardless of the phase your relationship is in.
If you and your partner need help, please reach out to a licensed relationship counselor or therapist.
Alexander, R. (2017, November 17). The 7 stages of marriage: Everyday health. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-living/healthy-home/7-stages-marriage/.
Carroll, L. (2021, October 5). Every relationship goes through these 5 stages: Where are you? mindbodygreen. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/stages-of-a-relationship.
Davis, B. (2021, May 10). What are the 7 stages of relationship? Mvorganizing.org. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://www.mvorganizing.org/what-are-the-7-stages-of-relationship/.