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7 Stages of a Relationship

One of the things I thought would be great to write about today, as it's been coming up a few times in my recent sessions, are the stages of a relationship. It is instrumental when trying to figure out what is happening within a relationship. Couples and individuals will often ask me, is this normal? Shouldn't I feel in love with my partner? I love my partner, but I'm not in love with my partner. We need to recognize that life changes and has a life cycle like everything else. This knowledge will help you determine if your relationship is in dire trouble or just a stage.

Stage 1: Passion

We often think about relationships as what we see on TV and what we see in movies. And really, what we're seeing is that first stage, the first stage of being passionate, being in love, thinking, "I can't be away from this person". They're amazing. I love everything about them. Right. That is that first stage. If we were in that stage for an extended period of time, no one would get anything done. We would be in bed all day long with that person. And we also need to work and be with our friends and families. We do have to move out of that stage eventually. This is a rough estimate, but that stage usually lasts about a year. Sometimes it can last a little longer, and you can sort of go in and out into that next stage. But everybody gets out of that stage. And that's so important for people to know and understand. That stage can't sustain itself. It's a good thing for bonding, committing, and attaching to somebody, but we can't stay in that spot forever.

couple holding hand in ivy

Stage 2: Discovery/Realization Stage

The next stage would be the discovery stage. It's the disillusionment stage where we start to see some things that we're not so fond of in the other person. It could be just about anything. Perhaps we think our partner talks too much or not enough, or maybe they're not giving us as many gifts as we would like, or they're not spending as much time with us as we would like. And that stage tends to be where some conflicts come up. Usually, there's a choice to be made at that point in the relationship. Can you make it through it? Do you want to make it through it? That can be a considerable challenge. This stage is about determining what you want to do. Do you want to commit, or do you not want to commit? Now, suppose you choose not to commit. In that case, it makes a ton of sense to do that at that point. You are picking somebody you want to spend the rest of your life with (or a long-term commitment). Do you want to figure out is there enough good stuff here to outweigh all the bad stuff that's going on? That part is very, very important.

Stage 3: Commitment in a Relationship

The third stage is commitment. This stage is where a couple decides, let's be together for the long term. Let's plan a family or let's get married. There are many different options for commitments, but one of the main things is that you're going to decide to be with that person. They are your partner. Now, again, there are a lot of different types of relationships. But when you're committing to someone, that means that you want to be with that person and spend time with that person. All the other stuff will be negotiated. But the main idea is that you're finding a partner, somebody you want to connect with for the long term.

Stage 4: Power Struggles in a Relationship

The next stage tends to be power struggles. Again, it's a little bit going into the disagreements, figuring some of those things out. Now, this comes up again after commitment, because to be quite honest, committing is scary. You don't know what you are getting yourself into. And we, as humans, like to have power, and we like to have autonomy. We want to have control over ourselves and sometimes over other people. But, what happens in the stage is figuring out the power dynamics and what you can and can't do. What are some of those boundaries?

gay couple walking playfully

Stage 5: Growth and Stability

And then, we move into the fifth stage, growth and stability. This stage might be a point where you talk about your life goals. This stage is the idea of having a common goal: looking at what you two want as a couple. What do you want to see happen for yourself?

Stage 6: Romantic Love/Enrichment

The sixth stage would be the romantic love part. You would think the first stage was that, but stage six is where it expands much more. What would be the right word? Enriching would be the best word I could describe it. Where it's not all roses, it's not this fantasy land. This stage is the part of the relationship where you see that other person for who they are and enjoy their strengths. You also struggle a little bit with their weaknesses, of course. Now you can put all your effort into it or disengage and separate and still live in the same house. Ideally, you can accept your partner. This person is who I chose, a wonderful person. I might not like X, Y and Z. Yet, there are many good things here. I want to cherish them, and I want to respect them, and I want to be with them. And at that point, too, you might notice that you want to put a little bit more effort into the relationship.

Stage 7: Crisis and Recovery in a Relationship

Stage seven is a stage that actually can come at any point in the relationship. And that's the crisis and recovery stage. That can be any time when there's a big transition, any time there's trauma within the relationship. It can be a trauma outside of the relationship. You need to navigate it or repair it. The good news is that a lot of times, couples can fix it. If you're in a space in your relationship where you do not feel like you're able to repair it on your own, I'm fortunate to say that we have many therapists at Shoreside Therapies that can provide couples counseling. Many of our therapists work specifically with couples, which is different from individual therapy. You want to have a therapist with experience with couples because it's a different ballgame. If you are struggling with any of these stages or struggling with a crisis of trauma or resentment within your relationship, reach out to us at Shoreside Therapies at our Whitefish Bay, WI location.

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Laurie Groh

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Laurie Groh, MS, LPC, SAS

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