The 5 Stages of a Relationship Broken Down

Published on: 19 Nov 2019
Clinically Reviewed by Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
stages of love and relationships

Updated 10/6/23

Relationships, like most things in life, have stages. Regardless of the path you choose — down the aisle or navigating love whole states apart — those stages remain the same. How you navigate those stages will define the shape, or the end, of your relationship. 

Understanding the stages of relationships — aggregated from various studies and neurologists’ expert opinions — as they happen can help you and your partner steer your bond toward a long lasting, loving partnership. Below, this article is going to cover each relationship stage from initial attraction in the honeymoon stage of a new relationship to achieving unconditional love in the acceptance stage of a long-term relationship. You’ll be able to identify where your relationship stands as you work your way towards the fifth stage.

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#1 Honeymoon Stage

The early days of the relationship are the honeymoon phase. In the honeymoon stage, everything is exciting, new, and you want to be around each other as much as possible. In fact, it’s so euphoric, you may not be seeing things clearly. According to Helen Fisher, neuroscientist and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, “In the early part of a relationship — the falling in love stage — the other person is the center of your life. You forgive everything in these early stages.”

During this phase, emotions run high, and the allure of the unknown future is intoxicating. It’s a time when you can’t get enough of each other’s company, and the mere thought of the other person brings a smile to your face. Psychologist Mark Knapp’s model of relationship development identifies this stage as the initial step, where the spark of attraction ignites the foundation of what’s to come. The honeymoon stage is characterized by an intense sense of infatuation, where even the slightest quirks of the other person seem endearing.

#2 Uncertainty Stage

As the infatuation fades a bit, you start investigating your partner and who they really are as a person. This is when the mask comes off and you’re figuring out the other person’s true self and whether or not you can work as a couple.

This stage often involves conversations that transcend the surface, allowing partners to be vulnerable and establish a stronger sense of emotional intimacy. The uncertainty stage is an essential part of the journey, as it sets the tone for a relationship based on genuine connections rather than superficial attractions. The process of unveiling one’s true self and embracing the other person’s authentic identity contributes to a stronger bond, laying the groundwork for the stages that follow.

#3 Adjustment Stage

Every relationship has downs, and even in the early stages, there are times when a couple will drift apart as both halves notice weaknesses, differences, and flaws — in each other and the relationship. This is a time of disappointment, but also learning and growth.

This romantic stage is a time when couples learn to navigate conflict, compromise, and find common ground. Sometimes it may feel like a couple has to do deep work to save a relationship in crisis. Just as a tree’s roots grow deeper and stronger during storms, couples who successfully navigate this stage emerge with a deeper understanding of each other and a more resilient bond. The crisis stage is a testament to the willingness to weather challenges together and emerge on the other side stronger than before.

#4 Commitment Stage

This stage is the calm after the crisis storm. You know each other better now and are at a crossroads — will you continue this path together and strengthen your bond or have you learned things from the adjustment stage that are making you reevaluate your relationship? Those who decide to commit take the final step to stage five. The couples who are able to weather the storm are able to establish a sense of comfort and security. Partners have embraced each other’s vulnerabilities and gained insight into the complexities that define their relationship. 

The intimacy that has developed over time provides a solid foundation for couples to make informed decisions about their future. Those who choose to move forward in the relationship do so with a sense of companionship and a shared history that binds them together.

#5 Acceptance Stage

The culmination of the five stages of a relationship is the acceptance stage. At this point, partners have traversed the initial stages of attraction, curiosity, crisis, and commitment. They have navigated both the highs and lows, weathered challenges, and gained a profound understanding of each other. The acceptance stage is characterized by a deep sense of mutual respect, shared values, and a vision for the future.

Couples that make it to the final stage have decided they’re in it for the long haul and in a relationship with each other’s family and friends, too. Of course, you may return to previous stages, but if you’ve reached acceptance, you’ve made each other a priority. You’ll roll with the punches and make adjustments as you grow — if you’re committed and accepting of your partner, you have decided to overcome life’s transitions together no matter what.

Navigating a Relationship With Couples Therapy

It’s important to note that some stages take longer than others and individuals remain in each stage for different periods — something to keep in mind as you evaluate yourself and your partner.

But if you’re having a hard time navigating your relationship and feel you need extra support, couples therapy can help you, create a mutually supportive environment, and deal with issues that might be holding you back from progressing to the next stage in your relationship. By attending couples therapy, you can explore your problems from a fresh perspective and learn new ways to recognize and resolve conflicts as a result of the tools provided by your therapist.Of course, conflict is an inevitable part of a committed, romantic relationship. But if you feel something is standing in the way of your progress through the relationship stages, consider getting a third party — i.e., a licensed therapist — to help.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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