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What Are the Stages of an Intimate Relationship?

Kaitlin Broderick LCPC 

Every relationship is unique in its own way, however, there are certain stages of intimate relationships that many couples navigate through. Relationship experts the Gottman’s found through their work with couples certain stages that most intimate relationships go through. Each stage can either bring the couple closer together or push the couple further apart. 

  1. The first phase of a relationship is known as the honeymoon stage. This is the phase of a relationship where there is excitement, infatuation, and thoughts of your new love interest seem to consume you. It sometimes is hard to concentrate on anything else and there may be feelings of euphoria similar to a drug high because oxytocin (the feel good hormone) is being released. This can be a very exciting period but can also be an unstable, anxiety-provoking time where fear of rejection may begin to plague one or both people in the couple. There can be thoughts of not wanting to mess things up and uncertainty around wondering if your partner likes you as much as you like them. This is also a period where your judgment about your partner may be compromised. For example, you may have put your new partner on a pedestal and ignore or don’t see warning signs that maybe things aren’t as perfect as you imagine.  
  2. The next phase of the relationship is all about building trust and loyalty. This is the stage where you both see that you have the other’s best interests at heart and if one person is hurting, the other partner will prioritize and be there for them. The opposite may also happen where one or both partners feels unheard or misunderstood and may begin to feel like they can’t go to their partner when they are hurting. This is the stage where you begin to appreciate unique qualities about your partner, or the opposite may happen where traits about your partner begin to annoy you. You start to wonder whether you can see yourself in a long-term relationship with this person and what the next steps might be (moving in together etc). The euphoria of the honeymoon phase has probably ceased and the couple has settled into more of a comfortable routine. 
  3. In the next stage, most couples will begin to go back to having some independent activities of their own that they may have neglected in the earlier stages. One or both partners may engage in hobbies they use to do or begin seeing friends independently again (things they may have neglected in earlier stages of the relationship). This may trigger feelings of insecurity and may even lead to a break up if one partner feels abandoned and can’t deal with the other having independent activities apart from them. On the other hand, the relationship may flourish and become stronger with each partner respecting and even liking that their partner has interests outside of them. 
  4. The last stage occurs when a couple has been together for a long time and may even be married with children. Work, money issues, or the kids may all be prioritized over the relationship. When these issues go unaddressed it can make smaller problems build and become huge. On the other hand, the couple may learn to prioritize the relationship even with all these other stressors going on. They learn to fight fair and resolve conflicts effectively. 

Again, every relationship is different and may not follow these stages exactly. The key components to having a healthy relationship include trust, respect, communication, and turning towards your partner when they are hurting rather than turning away.

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