Which Stage of Your Relationship Are You In?
No matter what kind of relationship you’re in, whether you’ve been together for three months or three years, each relationship often goes through five predictable stages. According to Dr. Susuan Campell the five stages are as follows:
1) The Romance Stage
2) The Power Struggle Stage
3) The Stability Stage
4) The Commitment Stage
5) The Co-Creation or Bliss Stage
You’re probably familiar with the first two as many couples never make it past the second stage, the Power Struggle Stage, which is why it can be beneficial to understand the stages that follow in order to not get “stuck” in the roller-coaster and push-pull dynamic of the Power Struggle Stage.
The Romance Stage (The Honeymoon Phase)
This stage, often glamorized by Hollywood, is associated with feelings of infatuation, attraction, and lust. Love chemicals such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine take over, leading us to look at our partner with rose tinted glasses; therefore only focusing on their best qualities while filtering out all the bad qualities. Additionally, we often show up on our best behavior, therefore hiding certain parts of who we are and what we want in fear that we might scare our partner away. This stage can take up anywhere from two months to two years and can feel intoxicating and addicting. In fact, some people never get to experience the incomparable joy of lasting love because they become addicted to the Romance Stage and move from one relationship to the next as soon as things get hard. In other words, once the “drugs” start to wear off, one partner may start to sense some kind of permanence or pressure in the relationship and thus the power struggle stage begins to emerge.
The Power Struggle Stage (The Love Hangover)
Whenever two people come together in an intimate relationship, it’s inevitable they’ll enter some sort of power struggle. Around the three or four year mark, instead of only seeing their similarities and strengths (as you did in the Romance stage), now all you can see are their differences and flaws. As a result, you try to gain control and power by trying to change your partner back into the person you originally idealized in your head, or criticize them for not being who you hoped they were. Sadly, so many couples get to this stage and think “that’s it”, they’re with the wrong person, it shouldn't be this much work, and convince themselves it’s probably best to end the relationship. Another common experience in this stage is suddenly becoming frustrated with some of the very things that made you fall in love with them in the first place. For example, you may have fallen in love with someone for being organized, dependable, and successful and then discover, on the flipside of these strengths, they can also be too controlling. Or you could have fallen in love with someone’s easy-going and relaxed spirit and then become frustrated with their laziness and go-with-the-flow attitude. The Power Struggle often includes stuck, painful, repetitive cycles, but you don’t have to stay in them.
The purpose of this stage of the relationship is for you to establish your autonomy inside your relationship, without destroying the loving bond that the two of you have worked so carefully to build.
The Stability Stage (Growth)
Many people don’t realize that conflict is natural and is what actually allows for growth and healing within relationships. Conflict can be the gateway that opens up opportunities to create a deeper, more conscious, and fulfilling connection. Once you’ve learned (through the Power Struggle stage) how to manage conflict in a productive way, where both of you “win”, you move to the Stability relationship stage. Within this stage you finally begin to understand what hasn’t been working and why. Most couples at this point have given up the desire to change their partner, and have mastered the art of compromise.
- You become more intentional about how you communicate and interact.
- You gain new insights about yourself and each other.
- There is a deepening of your love and connection.
- You share and accept your authentic selves.
- You feel a sense of hope and renewal.
- There is a sense of gratitude and joy within the journey of growth.
To help get to this stage, many couples receive outside support; through books, videos, or relationship counselling.
The Commitment Stage
This stage has nothing to do with getting married, rather it's a commitment to putting effort into the relationship. In the Commitment Stage, you fully surrender to the reality that you and your partner are human and that your relationship has shortcomings as a result. It finally becomes clear that you’re never going to succeed in changing your partner and nor would you want to. In other words, you’ve learned to accept that your partner is different from you and although some things get under your skin, you’ve learned to love and support your partner, as they too shift and evolve. You can honestly say to your partner, “I don’t need you. I choose you, knowing all I know about you, good and bad.” Therefore, you consciously choose to be with your partner and begin to experience a beautiful balance of love, belonging, fun, power, and freedom.
However, it is important to note that within this stage it is easy to think that all the challenging work is done, so you become lazy in maintaining your emotional connection, or spend so much time together that you sacrifice your own personal goals. Remember to have a balance and maintain a curious outlook towards your partner.
The Co-Creation or Bliss Stage
In this stage, your relationship evolves beyond the two of you and moves out into the world where you are both naturally called to give back to society in some way. Often, couples in this stage work on a collaborative project together, whether it be a business, charity, artwork, or raising a child, the project’s intention is to make the world a better place. Neither of you would have been able to dream up this project on your own, as it naturally comes to fruition as the result of growing through the stages together. This stage has the best elements of the Romance Stage, but it’s rooted in authentic love and seeing the whole person, not just the shiny parts on the surface. There is both passion and romance and safety and trust.
- You are best friends, allies, teammates, and lovers.
- You make your dreams come true together.
- Your communication is healthy, positive, and productive.
- You feel deeply heard and appreciated.
- You respond to your challenges with wisdom and awareness.
- Your differences are a source of strength.
- You feel fulfilled and connected.
- You get to experience TRUE and thriving love.
Once you get to the fifth stage, it doesn’t mean your relationship has reached the final checkpoint and will stay there forever. Similar to our emotions, these stages fluctuate throughout the lifetime of a relationship. However, because you’ve already committed to the turbulent waters of relationships, it can get easier to navigate out of a power struggle, find your way to growth and connection, and spend most of your moments experiencing the best version of who you can be together. When two people are fully committed and willing, relationships can be the most profound pathway to our greatest healing, transformation, and experiencing our fullest potential as human beings!
Blog post written by Yasmine Ross, Certified Relationship Coach and Content Writer at An Elegant Mind Counselling in Vancouver