Ever found yourself wondering where your relationship is going? If you’ve been with your partner for a while now, it might be time to start thinking about your relationship timeline — where you’re at, and where you want to go.
From the infatuation phases of love through to a healthy sex life and a more committed long-term relationship, no two journeys are the same. But if you’re wondering where you’re at, this guide to a healthy relationship will better explain those different stages.
As a disclaimer, this guide is for consensual, monogamous relationships, but we may be able to apply these feelings to romantic partners in other settings. Ready to take it to the next level?
While relationship experts debate over the stages of a relationship, it’s generally agreed that most two-person, monogamous pairings follow a similar course.
So, how many stages are there in a relationship? We’re going to look at five, from those early moments through to the trials and tribulations of love.
The honeymoon phase may be considered one of the most fun parts of any blossoming coupling — and for good reason. One of these reasons is chemical. Falling in love can make trigger the release of oxytocin, colloquially known as the “love hormone”, and dopamine, the “reward chemical.”
During the honeymoon phase, while you’re still getting to know one another, you’re also more likely to ignore potential red flags as we’re often too busy flirting or enjoying passionate sex. They say love is blind, after all. This is why it’s so important to get to know your partner before you start deeming them a soul mate.
You might be casually dating at this stage, so if you’re not exclusive, make sure you’re clear about this to avoid a nasty breakup. If it goes well, it might be time to advance beyond the romance stage.
The next stage of your relationship timeline is the attachment stage. In pop culture, this is when couples have “the talk” — identifying whether or not they want to become exclusive. This phase is about building trust, so you may start having deeper and more meaningful conversations.
Remember to take it slow. This is no time to get into a power struggle or make grand romantic gestures. Even if you’ve agreed to become exclusive, this doesn’t mean you have to go introduce them to the parents right away.
Don’t be frightened by the title of this stage, it’s simply a sign of the relationship maturing. You might even start to accept that, shockingly, each of you both has flaws! This is also the relationship stage where you’re most likely to have your first argument.
It’s probably too soon to bring in a couples therapist — instead, it’s about learning how to navigate conflict together and have a healthy argument.
This is by no means a death knell for your relationship. In fact, take this as a positive in your relationship. Now that you’ve let your guard down you can trust each other enough to be vulnerable. You might be fighting with this person, but you’re also sharing your deepest dreams and desires with them.
The deep attachment stage is for long-term couples who may have gotten past obstacles such as the “seven-year-itch.” You have now done a lot of life together, and as you have learned to lean into the changes of aging, your sex has grown with you.
You have traded in some of the spontaneous energy of those first years for deeper intimacy that only can come with the trust that is built from the continuous work of inching closer to each other.
Your priorities may have changed now: you’re growing together, and perhaps you’ve got married or had children. Each of these changes will present its own challenges, many of which may push your relationship to breaking point. You may even need mediators to come in for relationship advice — but in those hard moments, being brave to step out of old patterns to create new ways to connect can make it all worth it.
This is where that hard work comes in again. Deep love takes compromise, whether that’s in your daily routine or your working life. Those nights of passion may be a distant memory, but instead, you’re left with trust, compassion, and memories.
At this final stage, you may have fallen in love all over again. This is when you know each other inside out — your hopes, dreams, qualities, and flaws — and you accept each other for it.
You may have changed as a couple. You’ll be older, wiser, and maybe not in as good shape as you used to be, but your relationship is as good as ever.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can get complacent. Make an effort to keep the spark alive, whether that’s in the bedroom or trying new activities. This fifth stage can be the most fulfilling, and ideally, the most secure.
It’s important to understand that the relationship life cycle isn’t always linear. In fact, relationship stages can be cyclical. For example, you may revisit the doubts and crises stage if you’re making big life decisions, or you may be back to stage one after seeing a marriage counselor.
In the first cycle, you can expect the first stages to last up to around 18 months, before settling into the deeper stages years into your relationship. There may be breakups and make-ups, but every couple is different.
What is crucial is to keep talking to each other. A truly intimate relationship requires communication, and this may be together or through a relationship expert.
“Couples who are thriving during later in life stages have deeper confidence that when they do disconnect they know how to reconnect,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert for Paired.
“So maybe in a fight or someone is preoccupied with something else that just must take priority for a moment, they have trust that they will be able to connect and plug back into each other”
The hardest stage of a relationship may be the doubts and crises stage, particularly if you’re asking yourself whether these flaws are indeed red flags. However, some may argue that the first stage is the hardest as you decide whether or not to carry on, or perhaps the deep attachment stage as you navigate life’s challenges.
There is no such thing as the perfect relationship — it’s all about what works best for you and your partner. Tell each other how you feel and work hard to overcome life’s challenges together.
Not sure which relationship phase you’re in? Ask yourself the following questions:
Am I ready to be exclusive with this person?
How would I feel if this person were seeing other people?
Do I see a future with this person?
Am I committed to them in other ways, like moving in together?
What are our long-term goals, and are we compatible?
Remember, nobody can define your relationship but you. We all go through different stages and may cycle them depending on what life throws at us. The important part is sticking with each other.