We know that all relationships are different, and that every serious couple gets to know each other in unique ways, but while this is true, we also recognize that all relationships go through very specific stages as the relationship evolves and partners become closer to one another. Despite the unique quirks in each relationship, all long-term romantic relationships go through very specific stages that have set characteristics and traits. These five relationship stages are: romance, power struggle, stability, commitment and bliss.
Though these stages are sometimes referred to by different names, the concept of the five relationship stages is recognized by relationship experts far and wide. The five relationship stages generally progress in order, though sometimes couples backslide between stages if they are not able to move past the challenges of a specific phase.
The romance stage is what we think of as the courtship and the subsequent honeymoon stage. The romance stage is the first stage of any relationship and it is characterized by infatuation, a foolish type of love that allows us to overlook the flaws of our partner or in the relationship.
Following the romance stage is the power struggle. In this stage, the initial honeymoon period has worn off and you will start to notice the flaws your partner inevitably has that you were able to overlook during the romance stage. During the power struggle stage, the hormones start to wear off and as they do, the rose-colored glasses come off. This means that you will begin to see the relationship for what it really is - flaws and all.
Couples that survive the power struggle phase learn how to negotiate, be vulnerable and truly trust one another. Working through the power struggle phase is essential to a long-lasting relationship, even if it is brutal at the time.
If your relationship makes it out of the power struggle phase, you will land in the stability phase. The stability phase is characterized by mutual respect, and an acceptance of your partner and relationship as real and flawed. During the stability phase, couples have respite from the tumultuous power struggle phase and start to develop habits and routines. Couples may feel as if they are coasting in this phase, which is a nice break from fighting all the time, but it is still important to put time and energy into the relationship, even when things are going well. The stability phase is often the true test for couples (even though the power struggle may feel more challenging), because it shows whether or not you are willing to keep pushing the relationship forward and keep growing together even when things are comfortable. If you and your partner make it out of the stability phase, you will enter the fourth stage of the relationship.
The fourth relationship stage is the commitment stage. In the commitment stage, you and your partner will be committed to each other and recognize that you are choosing to be together despite all the human flaws. The commitment stage of a relationship is marked by serious discussions about the future, and the decision to have a life-long partnership.
After the commitment phase is the final stage of a relationship, the bliss stage, also known as the co-creation stage. In this stage, you and your partner are at ease in your relationship and feel totally comfortable and trusting of each other. This will allow you both to focus on things outside of your partnership.
This phase is often characterized by starting projects focused on giving back to the community or a specific cause. These projects are normally a team effort that naturally arises out of your relationship and your growth as a couple. This phase can further cement your connection to one another, but it is important to continue to prioritize your relationship, even as you turn some of your attention outward.
As your relationship naturally evolves, it can be helpful to ask specific questions at different stages of the relationship that help you and your partner navigate the challenges inherent to every stage of a relationship. Only couples that are truly meant to be will make it to the final stage of a relationship, known as bliss, wholehearted love and/or the co-creation stage. It is better to know about your compatibility and whether or not your relationship has what it takes sooner rather than later. This means that you may have to ask some hard questions early on (and throughout the course of your relationship) to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page about your commitment to each other, the relationship, and a shared plan for the future.
During the romance stage, it is important to ask questions about the views related to relationships in general to make sure that you and your partner are on the same page about the future and how your relationship can progress. Some questions include:
Asking these hard questions can either set you up for a successful future with a shared vision, or it can allow you to go your separate ways if you have major divergences in your future plans. Learning about these differences can be painful, but it can save you a lot of heartbreak down the line, before your relationship gets more serious.
It is easy to get stuck in the stability phase of a relationship, which can often lead to boredom. To avoid this, and to move to the other stages of your relationship, you need to know that your partner is committed to evolution. Ask your partner things like:
Some relationships can fall apart if you or your partner feel stuck or uninspired in your relationship. It is important to understand whether or not your partner is willing to continue to grow with you as your relationship progresses. Remember that the stability phase is not the final stage of a relationship! It is important to keep growing your connection and to do this, you and your partner need to be willing to push each other and embrace instability from time to time.
During the commitment stage, it is important to understand that your work as a couple is not done. Sure, you are committed to being together, but that does not mean that your personal growth or your relationship growth is over. To avoid falling into this trap, ask your partner:
Having open discussions about how you will keep the relationship alive and fresh is a super important part of a mature relationship. Feelings of staleness are bound to emerge, so having honest talks about ways that you are going to stay committed to love, happiness and growth will help you navigate these feelings.
During the bliss stage, it is important to understand that your relationship is never done changing and that you will always have to dedicate time and space to your relationship. Ensuring that you and your partner are on the same page about continued growth is an important part of this stage. Ask your partner things like:
These conversations can help you stay committed to each other and present in your relationship even as time moves on. This is the pinnacle of any relationship, but that does not mean that it is without difficulties. Staying honest and open about your feelings and needs in the relationship will help you stay committed and excited about being together.
From unique date night ideas and romance reminders for the good times, to conversation guides and one-on-one coaching for the bad times - Relish can help guide you through the highs and lows of any relationship. Start your free trial!
With a degree in Psychology and over a decade of experience, Caitlin has made improving people's relationships both her career and her passion. Her work has been featured in publications like Bustle, Well + Good, and Goalcast, and she currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and giant fluffy dog, Remy.
We often think all intimate relationships reliably progress from the initial meet-cute to giddy infatuation, to a series of small trials and tribulations, and finally to a blissful state of happily-ever-after.
We shouldn't expect that at some point in our relationship, we'll look back at the obstacles we overcame and say, "Well, that's it! We're here! We made it!" Because beyond wherever you are now, another hurdle awaits.
The first stage of a relationship is the Merge, aka the honeymoon phase. It's the initial, sweeping romance that often consumes a couple when they first get together, including an all-consuming joy in the presence of our partner and insatiable, passionate sex.
Often people in this stage of a relationship will feel as if they've found their "perfect match," someone who is so eerily similar and compatible with them. They feel they always want to be together, and boundaries often melt away. The two seem to merge together, or at least feel eager to do so.
The second stage of a relationship is Doubt and Denial, in which we finally start to actually notice the differences between us and our partners. We wake up from the trance of infatuation with a thump, finding that the same qualities that once seemed so perfect have begun to annoy us. (His reliability now feels rigid; her generosity seems irresponsible; their adventurous nature feels like unnecessary risk.)
Because this is the stage where you're starting to recognize your differences, this second stage of a relationship is also a good time to learn your love languages. There are five love languages, and it's important for each person to know how their partner wants to receive love.
The third stage of a relationship is the Disillusionment stage. This is the winter season of love, one that may feel like the end of the road for some couples. At this point, the power struggles in the relationship have come fully to the surface; the issues the couple have consistently shoved under the rug are now glaringly obvious.
Some people become perpetually vigilant, ready to fly into battle at the slightest provocation. Other couples might quietly move apart over time, putting less and less energy into maintaining the relationship and investing more outside of it.