We’ve all been there, smitten with a partner in the early stages of a relationship and believing it will last forever — that is known as the “honeymoon phase”. But, how long does the honeymoon phase last in a new relationship, and is our infatuation part of a healthy relationship stage or will it mean a breakup is on the horizon?
Relationship expert Kate Daly, co-founder of Amicable talks us through what happens with our hormones when we experience that big dopamine surge and what happens post-honeymoon phase.
You’ve just met someone and you feel like you’re in love, but according to a 2020 study, it’s a dopamine rush, where the oxytocin-rich regions of the brain signal to us that we are in love. However, oxytocin, aka the “love hormone” is also released when we have sex, so it’s probably not the best indicator of a long-lasting relationship.
Cortisol, a hormone that our body releases with the intention to help protect that body from a perceived threat are also activated in those first few months of the honeymoon stage, it is speculated that the intensity of love and doing it right, or not wanting to lose that closeness motivates the body to go into hyperdrive and we interpret that pressure of love as a stressor.
“The honeymoon period is the initial stage of a romantic relationship when the couple is in a state of intense love, passion, and excitement. This period usually lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a few months,” explains Daly.
“During the honeymoon period, couples often feel a strong connection and a sense of euphoria when they are together. They may spend a lot of time together, go on romantic dates, and engage in physical intimacy.” Often those who are getting into a romantic relationship have been longing for it, so being close to someone feels like a deep reward as we combine that with internal hormonal reactions.
There is no set time to be in the honeymoon phase of a relationship, although many experts believe it can be around 3-6 months.
A 2015 New York University study showed that, for some, the honeymoon stage could last for 24 months. However, Daly says that this isn’t a normal occurrence. “By definition, it’s short, highly intense, and therefore unsustainable in the long term.”
We may need not see it ourselves, as we’re in them, but all relationships have stages and after the end of the honeymoon phase we will fall into an uncertain stage, where we start to question if and why we like this person. This is normal, especially when the oxytocin levels start to dwindle — almost like taking off rose-tinted glasses and seeing someone in full color for the first time.
“It’s a well-established psychological phenomenon that when a couple gets together, they go through relationship stages and that they cycle through these stages rather than the stages being a linear progression,” Daly explains.
After the uncertain phase of your relationship, you’ll hit the adjustment stage, either settling into your new normal with this person or deciding to go your separate ways and break up. If you do stay together this is where the acceptance stage happens — accepting that person for their flaws, as well as the things you liked about them.
“We don’t have to love every aspect of a person, in fact, if you reflect on your relationship, people that we deeply care about and have healthy relationships with all have things about them we might not agree with. When a relationship progresses, it’s a matter of deciding if something crosses a values boundary for you or is just a preference,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired.
When the dopamine hit finally starts to subside and the newness of the relationship wears off you’ll start to either question the relationship or decide whether you are going to commit to spending time with your new partner.
This stage of your relationship can be the hardest part, explains Daly. “When this period eventually comes to an end, couples may begin to face more challenges in their relationship as they get to know each other on a deeper level.”
However, she goes on to say that this is normally where most people quit and run. “As people are living longer, and relationship durations are getting shorter, (marriage length is declining, as is marriage itself, and is being replaced by cohabiting relationships which are less stable and therefore shorter in duration) successfully navigating the stages of a relationship is becoming an increasingly important life skill.”
The early stages of a relationship feel great, but they do not always serve as a clear representation of what your relationship will feel like long-term. So why might you transition from the honeymoon phase to the next stage in your relationship?
Navigating conflict: all long-term relationships involve a certain degree of arguing, and although you may not have broached annoyances at the start of your relationship arguing could make you see your partner in a new light.
Red flags: when we start a relationship we may not see annoying habits or even spot enormous red flags, however as time goes on they may start to become more obvious.
Reality: whether it is work or family commitments we all have them, but in the early days of your relationship, you may not have given them as much priority. However, a big work meeting or family crisis could mean your sex life and time spent together are put on hold.
Change of feelings: once the fun and newness wear off the relationship may not seem as exciting and one or both of you may not see the same compatibility as you did previously.
Once real life hits it gives you a chance to see if the relationship is sustainable. In the early stages of your relationship, most of us are on our best behavior — but once the mist clears we can see the relationship for what it is — warts and all.
This is the real test of any relationship, and if you get through the challenges you are faced — including connecting on a deeper, more vulnerable level, then you could find yourself in a committed relationship with them. Falling in love when you know the person properly, rather than in a superficial light, will also feel more authentic and sustainable.
Of course, not all relationships survive the next stages of a relationship, but the takeaway could be that as a couple you weren’t compatible.
It’s not a bad thing for the honeymoon period to end, as you can start to build a real relationship built on shared values, good communication, and intimacy. Here Daly explains how you maintain your compatibility:
Communication: “This is the cornerstone of a successful relationship that goes beyond the honeymoon period. Make sure you take the time to talk to your partner regularly and openly. Share your thoughts, feelings, and desires with each other, and be willing to listen and compromise.”
Romance: “Spending quality time together is vital for keeping the spark alive in your relationship. Plan regular date nights or weekend getaways where you can focus on each other and enjoy each other's company. Surprise your partner with little gestures of love and appreciation, such as a thoughtful note, a surprise gift, or a romantic dinner. These small acts of kindness can go a long way in keeping the spark alive.”
Intimacy: “Show physical affection is an essential aspect of any intimate relationship. Make sure to show affection to your partner regularly, such as hugging, kissing, holding hands, and cuddling. Remember that keeping the spark alive in your relationship is an ongoing process that requires effort and commitment from both partners. By prioritizing communication, quality time, surprises, physical affection, and romance, you can keep your relationship fresh, strong, and fulfilling.”