- The first stage of a relationship is dating, which is when you test the waters with a partner.
- After a bit, you may get to the blissful honeymoon stage, which could last up to a year.
- The final stage is life-building, which is when you may have kids or buy a home together.
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Wondering if your relationship is on track? While every couple is different, there’s usually a series of stages that a relationship goes through.
How many relationship stages exist and what those stages entail is up for debate. For example, older models like the Knapps 1984 model suggests there are 10 stages while Levinger’s 1976 model claims there are five.
But more important than the number of stages is how you can use relationship stages to help define, develop, and mature your own connections.
To that end, we spoke to two relationship experts to get their personal take on the path that modern relationships follow.
Before a relationship goes into full swing, you have to go on dates, or at least spend time together.
This is your chance to get to know someone, test the waters, and determine if a relationship is a good idea. You might determine what you like about them, what you have in common, and whether or not they’ll be a good partner.
“Each person finds themselves having a special interest in the other, and are communicating in a way that is unique to building an intimate relationship. Flirting, intimate touching, and time alone together is common,” says Zrenchik.
If the courting stage goes well, a couple will move on to the formation stage, which is when both partners make an agreement to be in a relationship, says Zrenchik. That relationship can be monogamous, but does not have to be.
For example, you might call this new connection your partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend, or you might simply say you’re dating. During this stage, you’ll also discuss whether or not you will be in an exclusive relationship.
3. The honeymoon stage
When the relationship is in this new and exciting phase, being with your partner feels amazing.
“This is the stage when couples are madly in love and feel they have found that perfect someone. It is during this stage that our bodies release feel-good hormones, such as oxytocin, that give us the incredible feeling of falling in love,” says Panganiban.
A 2014 study measured oxytocin levels in 163 people, both in people who were single and those who had been in a relationship for three months. Researchers found that oxytocin levels were significantly higher in the couples versus the singles, implying that the early stages of the couples’ relationships were what was responsible for this.
This stage will usually last around one year, give or take, says Panganiban. But it could be longer or shorter, depending on the relationship.
It should be noted that this stage makes you feel so good that it might also make you have some lapses in judgement. Since you’re blinded by love and looking at the relationship through rose-colored glasses, you are more likely to miss or ignore red flags, says Panganiban.
During this stage, couples discover whether they can truly trust and count on their partner to be there for them, which is crucial since trust is a key pillar of a healthy relationship.
Panganiban says that, during this stage, you begin to trust that:
- Your partner will be there for you in difficult times.
- Your partner will be honest with you.
- You and your partner will work together as a team.
- Your partner will keep their word when they say they’re going to do something.
A 2017 study of people in relationships found that trust was directly related to the health of the relationship, finding that people who trust their partners are less likely to monitor their behavior or snoop around, and less likely to engage in psychological abuse.
Additionally, Panganiban says at this point, the honeymoon stage bliss has worn off, and you may start to notice some differences between you and your partner, or their flaws.
Despite your differences, you’ll want to determine if you can both truly be there for one another. “A couple’s ability to successfully navigate through this stage is vital for the health and longevity of the relationship,” says Panganiban.
In this stage, you and your partner solidify the commitment you’ve made to each other and there may be a formal declaration like marriage, domestic partnership, or union ceremony.
“The couple is aware of the differences between them and the things that bother them about one another and they have accepted that these things will continue to remain. However, they have figured out how to manage these differences and focus instead on all of the good in the relationship and in one another,” says Panganiban.
Something that is very important to have in your relationship at this stage is a healthy form of communication.
A 2017 study suggested that healthy communication in the early stages of a relationship may play a role in relationship satisfaction in the future. Additionally, being satisfied with the communication at the beginning of a relationship may predict a civil partnership later on. This is especially helpful when dealing with conflict or the differences you each face, coming to amicable agreements.
6. Life building
Depending on the couple, this stage may involve having children, buying a home, opening a business, or saving for retirement, says Zrenchik.
At this point, for your relationship to be successful, Zrenchik says you should have a deep sense of commitment to each other and your relationship, healthy communication, and solid trust.
Additionally, a 2020 meta-analysis looked at 43 studies to determine what makes a relationship successful in the long run. They determined that the five factors that will most likely determine the success of a relationship are:
- Perceived partner commitment
- Sexual satisfaction
- Perceived partner satisfaction
Be sure that you’re happy with these aspects of your relationship for the best results.
While these are the main common stages of a relationship, every couple is different. Your journey may look different than others’ and that’s okay.
Instead of focusing on whether your relationship is following the right stages in the correct order, focus on enjoying the ride.
But if you find yourself feeling trapped or unhappy, look out for red flags and signs of emotional manipulation.