Blame it on the movies. Fed on a constant diet of romantic films, books and TV shows, most people have a rather skewed idea of love and relationships. From meet-cutes to marriage, the protagonists go through different stages in a relationship before they reach their happily-ever-after ending. In romantic films, the path from one stage to another runs smooth, without any hiccups. Even if there are problems, there is a guarantee that all will be well in the end. Unfortunately, reality does not follow that script.
There is a lot of work involved in making a relationship or marriage work so if you want a great ending to your love story, be prepared to understand what the varied stages in relationships are and what each one entails.
Of course, the experience of one person can be markedly different from the other and the way someone reacts to a particular situation also determines the success of their relationship to a large extent. Nevertheless, it can be said that every relationship charts its own route and there are an equal number of challenges as there are triumphs along the way.
Stages In A Relationship Every Couple Goes Through
The varied relationship stages – from attraction to dating to being in a relationship and beyond – are interesting. But there is one basic premise about every love story and it’s that love, per se, is not a destination but a journey. You can’t expect that once you cross a hurdle, you would be walking toward eternal happiness. On the contrary, at whichever point you are on the journey now, there would be another obstacle for you to overcome. The beauty of life and love is to welcome these challenges with open arms, believe in yourself, and keep seeking the affection and love you truly deserve.
Simply put, the stages in a relationship do not follow a linear path ever. Often after you go through all the stages, you might find yourself coming back to square one and feel the need to start all over again, from stage 1!
How long one stage of a relationship will last depends entirely on the couple. Some men and women do not cross even the first stage in a relationship while some reach the last phase yet falter. So, as mentioned above, these experiences are very individualistic and there is no one-size-fits-all approach or a timeline to it. But knowing how many relationship stages you have passed until now and what awaits you later, can help you develop skills that pertain to the particular phases in a relationship.
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STAGE 1: Attraction
This is the foundation of all relationships. You meet someone, your heart skips a beat and you want to meet him or her again. Attraction is one of the first stages of a relationship for a man who, by cultural conditioning, is often the one to make the first move. Though these days women are equally adept at approaching a man they fancy, there has to be mutual attraction for the matter to proceed further.
Attraction is common to all relationships and every romantic bond between a couple begins with this first step toward dating. In many ways, this can be called the ‘fantasy period’ in a relationship.
This is one of those phases in a relationship where everything seems perfect about your potential partner. There is a tendency to ignore or overlook the flaws and highlight the positive aspect as you tend to look at him/her only through rose-tinted glasses. This stage in a relationship is a lot of fun but not sustainable.
You may have come across people who seem to keep falling in and out of love. They are not in love but simply stuck in this initial stage of a relationship. They enjoy being in this phase and do not want to go into the more complicated stages in a relationship.
When you are attracted to someone, it triggers a host of biological changes in your system. There will be a heady rush of endorphins running through your body that keeps you perpetually high and excited. You want to spend as much time together, you want to know as much as possible about him/her and try to avoid conflict as much as possible.
STAGE 2: Dating and cementing the bond
So you have moved past the first of the different stages in a relationship – being attracted to a person. Conveying that and asking him or her out comes next. If the object of your affection agrees, then you begin dating.
Dating is one of the most exciting phases in a relationship where you try to impress each other, and at least initially, you are presenting the best side of yourself to your date. However, this is also the time when you gauge your partner and check for compatibility. Flirting, getting intimate and spending quality time together are the common features of this stage in a relationship.
However, in terms of stages of a relationship psychology, experts would say that this is the most crucial period that determines whether you go ahead in a relationship or take an about-turn. The dating period can range from a few months to years.
This is also the phase when a couple decides whether to be exclusive or have the freedom to explore other relationships while they are seeing each other. As the dating phase continues, many couples might move toward a more exclusive relationship.
Dating is a very personal experience and no two couples would have the same story. If this courting stage goes well, a couple might form a new connection and be ready for relationship labels – introducing each other as boyfriend or girlfriend. It is the big step toward cementing their connection.
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STAGE 3: Intensifying the relationship
Once you decide to date and be exclusive to each other, comes one of the most important stages in a relationship – taking it further and intensifying the bond with an informal commitment. Committing to a relationship is among the most important stages in a relationship for a woman or man because they are actually envisioning a future with each other.
However, this is also the phase when the passion wears off and reality sets in. The initial dating phase is all about exploring each other physically based on the attraction you felt in the first stage. You get more comfortable with each other and a sense of ownership and possessiveness for each other sets in.
This is also the stage in a relationship where a couple attempts to foster values that really matter in a long-term marriage (if that is the plan) or committed relationship – trust and honesty. There is a certain surety that you belong to each other and even the world accepts you as a couple.
Once again, there can’t be a timeline to these stages in a relationship. It might last a year to a few years. This is also the stage when most couples decide to move in together and experiment with what life would bring them if they were to take it to another level.
Also, in most cases, signs of a committed relationship include couples expanding on their bond and being introduced to each other’s families and friends. They begin to become an integral part of each other’s lives and circles. Simultaneously, it’s a message sent to the world that they are together and are officially a couple.
STAGE 4: Doubt and disillusionment
As we said before, love is a journey and not a destination. And there would be quite a few bumps along the way. This stage in a relationship is when reality sets in. When you have been together for a long while, it is but natural that the initial ardor wears off and some problems would emerge.
Perhaps you might see traits in a partner that you didn’t observe earlier and now realize that it’s not quite what you had imagined it to be. This might lead to disappointment and disillusionment too. When you are past the dating stage, there is a chance that you begin to take each other for granted and it is one of those stages in a relationship where complacency sets in. After all, you are committed to one another!
However, at times this is not enough. Especially if you are living together, there might be a phase in a relationship, when the mundane, everyday activities and challenges take a toll. It is almost a precursor to marriage so be prepared for anything thrown at you.
How a couple negotiates this phase and the steps they take to thwart complacency in the relationship will determine pretty much the rest of their romantic journey. Some couples might take the fights and disagreements and the problems as a red flag and choose to back out instead of going further. It would cause heartache for sure but might save a lot of trouble later. But others see these challenges as an opportunity to iron out differences.
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STAGE 5: True love and long-term commitment
By this stage in a relationship, there would be a deep sense of commitment to each other and the relationship. Typically, by the time they reach this stage, most couples have now set healthy boundaries, fostered communication and build solid trust. If, as a couple, you have tided over your problems and managed to resolve your differences then congratulations – you are on your track to reaching true love.
This is the final stage in a relationship where it culminates in a deep long-term commitment, often reflected in an engagement and marriage. By now, the couple would have a pretty good idea of what life with each other would be like – warts and all!
Are they ready to go ahead and take the plunge? Do they have it in them to surmount the many new challenges they would undoubtedly face? Have they had open, honest discussions about children, finances, saving and family? The answers to these questions will determine the success of this phase.
While they may have reached the last stage in a relationship, there is still a lot of hard work involved to sustain it for a long time. The difference in this phase is that couples know how to listen to each other well, they are comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations and are approaching problems with a positive mindset.
This means both of them are willing to commit wholeheartedly to each other without feeling threatened or attacked. This is a beautiful stage in a relationship where you have long gone past the attraction or lust you initially felt. Instead, they have been replaced by mutual respect and affection. This can be called true, deep love.
Reaching the final stage of a relationship is a great achievement, it requires a certain amount of hard work and a lot of determination and will if you want to make it work. As we said, it is not possible to have a perfect relationship or a perfect partner. What is needed is to make it perfect with whatever you have. And most importantly, enjoy the ride as long as it lasts!
Though it can’t be generalized, there are five phases of dating – attraction, dating, intensifying the relationship, doubt and disillusionment, and love and long-term commitment.
There is no timeline to a dating stage. It can be as short as three months or even years. It depends on the commitment level of the couple involved and how the dating phase proceeds after the initial attraction wears off.
The final stage of falling in love is when a couple has surmounted all challenges and gone past the initial stages. They are ready to commit to a long-term relationship and are ready to face whatever it takes to be together.