The 5 Stages of a Relationship That Most Couples Go Through

How do relationships progress through different stages?
on January 10, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare
stages in a relationship

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 are there specific stages of a relationship that every couple goes through? 

No matter what your love story entails, there are usually five stages of relationship growth that most couples can recognize. If you’re wondering where you’re at, considering these classic stages of a romantic relationship can serve as a barometer for where you stand with your partner! 

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?

Key Takeaways
  • The first stage is commonly referred to as the honeymoon phase. This initial stage is characterized by intense attraction, excitement, and the release of love hormones like oxytocin and dopamine.
  • Following this couples enter a phase where the initial thrill settles into a more profound attachment. This stage involves building trust and having deeper conversations, marking the beginning of a more committed relationship.
  • Next is the power struggle stage, or the point of doubt/crisis. This stage signifies a maturing relationship where couples face their first major conflicts and learn to navigate disagreements.
  • Long-term couples who have surpassed numerous challenges then reach the deep attachment stage, involving deeper intimacy, evolving priorities like marriage or children, and a continual effort to maintain the relationship.
  • The final stage known as the whole-hearted love stage, represents a mature, secure relationship where partners accept and understand each other completely. Maintaining the relationship spark is crucial even at this stage, where love is rekindled in new ways.

What are the normal stages of a relationship?

While relationship experts debate over the stages of a relationship, it’s generally agreed that most two-person, monogamous pairings follow a similar course. 

Every relationship starts with an initial attraction, before progressing through the various stages of love as time passes — with a whole pile of learnings along the way. 

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.

What are the 5 stages of a relationship?

Stage 1: The honeymoon period

The honeymoon phase may be considered one of the most fun parts of any blossoming coupling — and for good reason. This initial stage is full of butterflies and excitement, as you embrace the possibility of a new relationship with someone who you hope to foster an emotional connection with. 

This honeymoon stage is also infamous for sexual sparks flying left, right, and center! This chemical attraction is incredible, with the prospect of falling in love triggering the release of oxytocin, colloquially known as the “love hormone”, and dopamine, the “reward chemical.” 

With such a charge of emotions, and hormones buzzing about as you get to know each other, you’re more likely to ignore any ‘quirks’ that they display during this period — as your love goggles prevent you from seeing these red flags! 

The early stages are so full of flirting and passionate sex, that it’s easier to ignore these issues early on. 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!

While you may not be exclusive yet, the rush of emotions that accompany this stage of the relationship can make you feel like you’ve found the one. This is why it’s so important to get to know your partner and become aware of any incompatibilities before you start deeming them a soul mate!

This honeymoon phase doesn’t have a set timeframe, with this stage lasting anywhere between 6 months to 2 years. (While some couples say it has never ended for them!) 

Stage 2: Attachment stage

The next stage of your relationship timeline is the attachment stage, where the early thrill of new love begins to settle — and you’re left with something pretty special in its wake. 

For some couples, this is the point where they become exclusive, or enter into a committed relationship. As the butterflies fade, this phase is about building trust, so you may start having deeper and more meaningful conversations that define a healthy relationship. 

Unlike the previous stage, you aren’t plagued by nerves or uncertainity, so you can both settle into the relationship feeling more supported and comfortable. With all of these things in place, you start to develop a deeper attachment to your loved one, and your true self (beyond the flirty banter) starts to come to the surface. 

This is a key crossroads for many couples, as with authenticity can come certain realizations about whether or not they can make the relationship work. At this key commitment stage, it’s important to try and take things slow — as you’re still only early on in your relationship journey. 

While couples reach this stage at different points in their journey, it usually takes place around the 1-year to 5-year mark. 

Stage 3: The power struggle 

Don’t be frightened by the title of this stage, it’s simply a sign of the relationship maturing. As the sheen of the honeymoon phase is wiped away, things start to get real — with doubts starting to creep in. 

This isn’t always a bad thing, as you come to accept that both you and your partner aren’t perfect, and are riddled with human flaws! This may also be the moment for your first real argument — with both of you battling it out as you learn about each other’s relationship needs. 

There’s no need to hit the panic button, or ring up your local couples therapist  — instead, it’s all about learning how to navigate conflict together and have a healthy argument. 

While it may seem controversial, you should take these early conflicts as a positive in your relationship. As you learn to reach a healthy conflict resolution and learn about the importance of compromise, you’re able to let your guard down. This vulnerability is crucial to the development of any healthy relationship.

Even though you’ve had your arguments, it’s exposed a whole new side to your relationship — where you can stand by each other, good times and bad. 

While this looks at the positive side of these crisis stages, it can be crunch time for many couples. This stage often appears at a certain crossroads in your relationship, commonly known as the “seven-year-itch”, and if you can’t make it through these struggles — it could spell the end of your relationship journey. 

Stage 4: Deep attachment stage

The deep attachment stage is for long-term couples who have gotten past an array of relationship obstacles, and who have witnessed an obvious evolution in their journey. 

At this point, you have likely done a lot of life together, and feel like you’ve “seen it all”, and are happy leaning into these changes in life. 

  • 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 as you’ve grown together, and perhaps you’ve got married or had children. Each of these changes will present its 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. 

Just because you made it through the trenches, it doesn’t mean that the hard work is over. Deep love takes compromise, whether that’s in your daily routine or your working life. Those honeymoon days may feel like a distant memory, but in its place, you’re left with trust, compassion, and a myriad of memories. 

Stage 5: The wholehearted love stage

You’ve made it through the five stages of a relationship, and have reached the promised land! 

At this final stage, you may have fallen in love all over again. This is when you feel like 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, with the help of apps like Paired, to breathe new life into every part of your relationship. (Including the bedroom!) 

This fifth stage can be the most fulfilling, and ideally, the most secure.

How long do the stages of a relationship last?

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.” 

What is the hardest stage of a relationship?

The hardest stage of a relationship may be the power struggle stage, where all your doubts creep in, 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.

It all depends on your own individual journey, as there is no such thing as the perfect relationship — it’s all about what works best for you and your partner. Opting for transparency and open communication as you navigate these stages is key, as you can work as a team to overcome these challenges. 

What relationship phase am I in?

So, how do you know where you stand along this sliding scale of relationship stages? As we’ve reiterated many times, every couple is completely different — and that’s totally okay!

Never feel pressured to have reached a certain stage in your relationship just because everyone else has, or that’s what you’re supposed to do! Take everything at your own pace, and try to stage regular relationship check-ins both with yourself and with your partner to see where you stand. 

These are some helpful starting points to see where you stand when in the early stages of a relationship, and want to decide whether or not to progress past the glow of the honeymoon era. 

  • 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 at different paces, and we may even go back and forth depending on what life has in store for us. 

After all, a linear relationship journey wouldn’t make quite as impactful a love story, would it? So here’s to sticking with your loved one through thick and thin, and hopefully coming out the end stronger than ever. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you recognize the transition from infatuation to attachment in a relationship?

    This transition from infatuation to attachment in a relationship is a crucial phase, marking the shift from a more surface-level attraction to a deeper, more stable connection. As you transition to attachment, you may notice a more profound emotional bond developing. This includes feeling more comfortable and secure with your partner and a sense of deep care and concern for their well-being. You may also experience a cooling off of passion, as attachment places greater emphasis on emotional and intellectual intimacy over sex.
  • What is the hardest month in a relationship?

    Every couple goes through a rough patch, but there is no cohesive answer that applies as to what is the “hardest”. Some couples may experience difficulty as they move into the ‘power struggle’ stage, as they are no longer willing to let their love goggles cloud their long-term judgment.
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