When I was a freshman in high school, my friends and I came up with a relationship scale we called (and continue to call) crush-like-love. Essentially, it’s a 1-30 measure; you crush someone 1-10, it can escalate to liking them 1-10, then loving them 1-10. So, we’d ask each other, “What do you crush-like-love Matt?” A heavy romantic, my answer was always a strong “love 6+.”
Nearly a couple decades wiser, with a few relationships under my belt (and married to a man I “love 10”), I’ve come to realize that relationships aren’t as simple as the spectrum we created (and wanted patented and copyrighted). I’ve learned about attraction, dating, disappointment, stability, and commitment. About compatibility, emotional maturity, that relationships are not easy and need to be cultivated.
I’ve also learned that 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.
Five Stages of Relationships
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:
- Attraction. The early days of the relationship are the honeymoon phase. 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.”
- Curiosity. 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.
- Crisis. 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.
- Deep attachment. 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 crisis that are making you reevaluate your relationship? Those in deep attachment take the final step to stage 5.
- Commitment. At this stage, couples have a strong understanding of each other’s values and goals for the future. They’ve 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 commitment, you’ve made each other a priority. You’ll roll with the punches and make adjustments as you grow — if you’re committed, you have decided to overcome life’s transitions together.
Relationship Problems? Therapy Can Help
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 develop honest communication with your partner, 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.