Today, I’m going to show you the three stages of a relationship. If you don’t understand these stages, you might think there’s something wrong with your relationship when there really isn’t!
For over twelve years, I’ve been a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice and my practice is grounded in the science of what makes relationships work.
In this video, you’re going to learn what to expect as you and your partner go deeper with each other, and exactly what you need to do at each stage of your relationship to ensure that you can build something truly amazing together.
So let’s dive in.
How many of you have been madly in love only to wake up one day and find that the relationship is profoundly changing and you don’t have those same feelings of passionate, intense love that you once did?
You may be taking your first steps in an intimate relationship or have been together a long time. But either way, you and your partner’s experience will change the longer you are together.
These changes can be broken down into three stages.
Stages of Intimate Relationship
Why do you need to know about the three stages of relationship?
You need to know what’s normal and natural in a healthy relationship so you don’t get concerned when there’s really no reason to be. We’re going to talk about exactly what’s happening and exactly what you need to know in order to build a fantastic relationship at each stage.
So let’s break these stages down one by one.
Stage 1: Falling in Love
The first stage is the falling in love stage. Essentially, your brain is on drugs, meaning that it’s mixing up the perfect neurococktail of biochemicals that makes you feel amazing. And those chemicals involve everything from testosterone to vasopressin, to norepinephrine, to dopamine, to oxytocin.
There’s just a whole litany of neurotransmitters that get produced when you fall in love.
What those brain chemicals are designed to do is to make you feel like getting together with the other person–getting together in a big way.
Obviously, this intense attraction gives you an evolutionary advantage because you need to reproduce in order to carry on our species. And so, Mother Nature has her way of making sure that you get together.
Now, this initial brain high happens whether you’re straight or gay, whether you’re falling in love with a member of the same sex or the opposite sex. It applies across the board and it gives you a lot of different kinds of experiences all at once.
One of those experiences is the tendency to obsess about the other person.
You know, you can’t sleep, you can’t eat.
All you can think about is the other person. You long to be with that other person and you’re overcome with this incredible sort of euphoric feeling of love, connection, softness and sweetness.
Because you’re in this brain fog of drugs, you can’t actually see the other person for who they really are. And again, that’s part of making sure that you’re going to overcome any sort of faults they might have in order to make sure you procreate.
So, you tend to be very, very bad at really seeing a potential partner objectively in the very beginning of the relationship.
But take note: You’re not meant to be in that high state for the entire duration of your relationship. In fact, as a couple’s therapist, I’ve often had couples come in and one person is saying, ”I don’t know what happened. We were so in love and one day those feelings just weren’t there anymore. And I’m worried that that means that we shouldn’t be together.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Stage 2: Conflict
The next stage is what we call the conflict stage.
At some point in the relationship, you and your partner are going to have some sort of disagreement, your first big fight.
A lot of people remember that first big fight that they had. That’s because it’s actually a critical moment in your relationship journey together. The direction that your relationship is takes is going to depend on how you and your partner handle that first fight.
If you guys are able to get through this conflict in a way that both of you come out of it feeling right side up, feeling like you know how to fight without anybody really getting hurt, you’ve just laid the groundwork for a way of being together that is sustainable and non-threatening. You now know you can get into difficulty with each other, but you also know how to get out of difficulty.
But on the other hand, maybe you have that first big fight and it goes so badly that it ends the relationship.
I’m sure many of you can relate to times in your life when that happened. You were madly in love with somebody, and then one day you had this enormous fight, and boom, it’s over.
Now, what happens in this second stage around the time that you two are fighting is that you’re also deciding, are we in or are we out? Are we going to make a go of it or is it time to call it off?
If you decide that you’re going to be together, at a certain point, something starts to change inside your brain. Suddenly, you both have the possibility of becoming what we call attachment figures for each other.
If you’ve been watching the previous videos, you know that an attachment figure is a special adult whom you bond with in childhood. That person is usually your parent. It could be one or both parents with whom you have a special bond. When you become an adult, that person is usually your significant other. You now have the possibility of being that special person for each other, that person you turn to when you are in pain, lonely or demoralized.
At a certain point in the relationship, the two of you decide to commit to each other. This could be signaled by a lot of different moments, depending on the couple: moving in together, getting married or even just deciding to only date each other.
Regardless of what signals that commitment for you, at that point, something really starts to happen inside your brain, which is that you start to relate to your partner as an attachment figure.
Whether you like it or not, your brain starts to see your partner through the lens of all of your previous attachment figures. That means through the lens of your relationships with your parents when you were little, as well as your previous romantic relationships.
Now, you can imagine that if those relationships didn’t go so well, that’s going to create a lot of problems for you in your current intimate relationship. Suddenly you’re having all of those same fears, those same vulnerabilities come up that you had in those earlier relationships. Let’s say you’ve been hurt in the past and suddenly you’re afraid that those kinds of hurts are going to happen again.
This is why it’s so important that you understand your attachment history, so you can actually resolve those patterns and not have to live them out with each other.
Attachment styles in relationships can impact how smoothly we move through the stages of love relationship.
Stage 3: Commitment
So, we’ve covered the first two stages of the relationship: The first one being the falling-in-love stage; the second one being the big fight, which also signals a choice of, “Are we in or are we out?”.
The third stage is really when you move into that deeper level of commitment.
You’ve chosen to do this. You are now committed to a long-term relationship. That’s when you really start to function from these early attachment patterns that I was talking about.
It’s really at that third stage that the real work of relationship begins. You’re no longer seeing each other through that fog of those brain drugs.
Now, we have a much more realistic vision of who your partner is, hopefully because you’ve gotten to know them over time. How your early childhood history unfolded and how much self-awareness you have are important factors that are going to impact the kind of relationship you build together.
This is the stage that the two of you really have to decide that you’re in this together. You’re going to build a relationship that’s based on commitment and trust.
Here’s where the rubber really meets the road. It’s where the tools that you’re learning in these videos can help you. These videos are largely about how to find the right person and then build a committed, intimate relationship with them that is going to stand the test of time.
To recap: Power couples recognize that relationships naturally evolve through these three stages.
It’s important that you’re aware of these stages so that you don’t think something’s wrong when your feelings start to change as the relationship deepens. Understanding that you only tend to see the positive side of your partner in the very beginning of the relationship, that conflicts will naturally arise and that this is nothing to be alarmed about is a good perspective to keep in mind.
Handling conflict in a fair and empathic way will build the trust you need and lay the groundwork to enter into the stage of longterm commitment with confidence.
If you liked what you learned in this video, remember to subscribe to this channel, give this a thumbs up, and leave me any questions you have about the three stages of relationship in the comments below.