Every intimate relationship goes through the stages of a relationship. Once you understand the different stages you will become aware of the changes you are going through. You can finally stop wondering whether this is the right person and start living in an evolving partnership.
First Stage: Courtship – Getting to know someone
This stage is where you get to know someone. You start to fall in love and test whether it is safe to be vulnerable with this new partner. Some people at this stage already start to imagine their idealized future with their potential new partner.
Second Stage: Honeymoon stage – Falling in Love
From courtship you move into the honeymoon stage, where you romantically connect and idealise your partner. In this stage you usually believe that you have finally found ‘your soul mate’ and you are blind to any potential flaws. Read more on this stage in my article ‘Falling in Love – The Honeymoon Stage’.
Third Stage: Differentiation stage
After the honeymoon period, which can last anywhere from six to 18 months, or if you are very lucky up to around 3 years, you start to realise that there are differences, where in the honeymoon period you focused on the similarities. More and more you also do things individually and less together. You might start to see things in your partner that you haven’t seen before, some of which even annoy you. Your partner is no longer ‘the perfect match’; however you also see things in a more realistic view.
Fourth Stage: Conflict stage
It is quite normal that you feel dissatisfied with your partner at this stage and you even may blame them for any difficulties. You may think that: ‘If only they would change, everything would be alright.’ This is where you will be faced with the fact that the relationship is not all under your control. In order to face the arising conflict you have to develop some of the following skills: expressing negative emotions like fear, anger, sadness, hurt, communicating openly and honestly, raising issues as necessary, resolving conflicts constructively and taking responsibility for your part in the interaction of the relationship.
The risk at this stage is that the partners cannot cope constructively with their conflict and give up.
Fifth Stage: Mutual Interdependence
Once you have made it through the conflict stage you arrive at the stage of mutual interdependence. Here both partner act independently and are able to provide support for their partner when needed. They feel that their needs are being met and they are staying in the relationship based on their own choice. It is also important that you both take individual responsibility.
Remember that you will move back and forth between stage four and five, which will increase your respect, trust in the strength of the relationship and hope for the future. The challenge is to remain flexible to adjust to life’s changes and to be able to tolerate both closeness and distance at times.