The seven stages of relationship development are a challenging yet necessary part of life. There’s passionate love, discovery, commitment, power struggles, stability and growth, romantic love, and finally — crisis and recovery. In order to foster a better relationship, it helps to be able to identify your current stage, understand why its importance, and know what you must do to break through to the next level. Let’s look at the seven stages in detail.
Stage 1: Passionate Love
This is what most people think when they imagine young or destined love. Birds are chirping, the glass is half full, and the “love” chemicals (dopamine and phenylethalymine) have engorged the neural pathways of the brain, making you feel happy, invincible, and on top of the world. This stage often begins on the first date, and ends the day you see the person for who they really are (good or bad). To move past this honeymoon stage, don’t allow the “high” to cloud your judgment about the person you’re dating (i.e. an incompatible partner). Most broken hearts stemming from this stage belong to lovers who failed to see the writing on the wall.
Stage 2: Discovery
Under certain circumstances, such as when you’ve found your compatible soulmate, discovery can be a wonderful experience, but more than likely it will be a time of discouragement. As relationships wear on, the love chemicals in the brain begin to dry up along with our perfect perceptions of the person we’re with. The person we once thought was flawless is actually human, complete with strange quirks, bad habits, and differing view points. The key to getting past this stage is discovering what it is you truly need from your partner, while learning to let go of all the little nit picky things that don’t matter.
Stage 3: Commitment
We emerge from discovery with a new understanding of our partner. This stage offers security and confidence that we’re with the right person, and we settle down into a committed relationship. Commitment is a wonderful change from the jealousy and/or uncertainty of stages 1 and 2, but we now have a new enemy — monotony and boredom. Many couples become so relaxed, they forget to maintain their relationship with a dose of romance and surprise. The most effective way to push through this stage is to learn how to communicate effectively.
Stage 4: Power Struggles
Occasionally, a power struggle can occur before making a commitment. To secure a meaningful outcome, each partner must exhibit a certain level of ownership to their relationship. In stage three we were working on our partnership, and in stage four, we’re rediscovering our individuality and ability to control the relationship. Perhaps you’ve been fishing because your partner enjoys it, but now you’d like them to do some of the things you enjoy. Perhaps they want the kitchen to be blue, but you’d much prefer red. The key to working through these types of arguments is to recognize and respect individuality, and the best way to do this is by compromise.
Stage 5: Growth & Stability
The fifth stage consists of an intimacy growth spurt, coupled with a sense of renewed stability. They say that shared trauma can bring star-crossed lovers together, and in stage five, the relationship that was once in turmoil, has now become reconnected by the common goal of helping each other grow both as individuals and partners. It’s here we learn some of the ways we have sabotaged relationships in the past, and now we learn to change those behaviors. This is a stage you can enjoy working through at your leisure, but be careful not to fall victim to resentment which can occur when we overly compromise to meet the needs/dreams of a partner, without communicating our own expectations.
Stage 6: Romantic Love
If you thought that young love was wonderful, wait until you’ve experienced mature love. Couples who have been together long enough to work though the first five stages of a relationship know the difference between passionate and romantic love. Passionate love is built from obsession, sexual longing, and jealousy — while romantic love comes from comfort, communication, sexual chemistry, and security. The most difficult portion of this stage is keeping up the maintenance necessary to propel this level of advanced communication and intimacy. It’s easy to slip into a lower stage once a crisis evolves.
Stage 7: Crisis and Recovery
This stage can occur anytime, but due to its advanced nature, it will be considered the final stage of a relationship. A crisis could be considered an illness, job loss, death of a child, or an affair. Recovery lies in resisting the urge to take these frustrations out on each other, by taking on both roles of caretaker and patient. A crisis is equaling draining on both partners, therefore it’s important to be available to give and receive. The good news is, if you recover you will have gained valuable team building experience that will enable you to take on any further challenges life has to offer.
Processing through the seven stages of a relationship may seem like quite the struggle, however they’re a necessary part of what every couple must go through. You’ll look back someday and remember that passionate love, the discoveries that you made, commitments that brought contentment, and the struggles for power, yet obtaining growth and stability. You’ll discover a romantic love developed through advanced communication and intimacy that can evolve and change throughout different periods of crisis and recovery. In the end, being able to make it through these stages will make for a seriously strong couple.