Relationships change over time. Many of these are typical or predictable. At times it helps for couples to know what to expect as their relationships move through time. These stages are not all experienced in a straight-line fashion, rather they tend to flow and cycle back. Below are some brief descriptions of these different stages.
Stage 1: The ”Honeymoon” Phase
This is the earliest and most exhilarating and exciting stage of a relationship. Individuals see each other in very positive ways and are not yet aware of any problems. At this time, couples look for sameness in each other with interests and values. Any challenges to the relationship are viewed as positives as couples look for ways to surmount them together.
Stage 2: Disenchantment and Disappointment Set In
The first cycle of this stage generally begins about 3 months into a relationship. Couples begin to experience the changes in each other or the clearer view of the other with disappointment and sadness. Couples that successfully move through this stage, find ways to talk about the differences with open, respectful communication. Together they determine if healthy change can happen or if the relationship would be in a better space if it ended.
Stage 3: Struggles for Control
This stage emerges as half of each couple considers their own individual needs and, at times, those needs compete. Needs can center around desire for connection and nurturance or a say in how decisions are made on both small and large issues ranging from finances to the color of the living room walls. Couples must learn how to disagree respectfully and to compromise effectively in order to move past this stage. Some couples stay here for a very long time.
Stage 4: Is the Grass Greener?
One or the other may be interested in leaving the relationship to discover other relationships or to fulfill personal dreams.
Stage 5: Returning to Cooperation and Connection
At this stage, couples turn back to each other and to the marriage. They are able to negotiate differences more easily and see nurturing the relationship and their partner as a priority.
Stage 6: Acceptance and Peace
True intimacy and mutuality emerge at this phase as both members in the couple recognize that they can be separate or be together without losing their identity and see the relationship as mutually fulfilling.