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What Are They & How You Can Pass Them

I bet you’ve noticed that there are five distinct stages of a relationship. Each has its own challenges and rewards.

Think back to your last relationship…or even one you’re in now. Didn’t it change from the start, when you didn’t know each other well, but couldn’t keep your hands off of one another, to the end, when you fully trusted and loved this man? Just like we all evolve from babies to children to adults, so do we evolve in our relationships.

What are the Stages of a Relationship?

We’ll explore each of these stages of a relationship in a minute, but to give you a high-level view, these stages include:

1. Attraction & Romance Stage 2. Struggle Stage 3. Working/Partnership Stage 4. Commitment Stage 5. Real Love Stage

Below, I’ll not only tell you what each of these stages of a relationship looks like but also tell you what’s great about it and what you should look out for as potential problems.

Stage 1: Attraction & Romance

You’re floating on Cloud 9 after your first date with Sam. The entire evening was perfect. The kiss…amazing. You can’t wait to see him again.

As you’re taking off your makeup, you get a text from Sam. He wants to see you tomorrow!

In this first stage of a relationship, everything is beautiful. You can totally see this working out, and you don’t see any of this man’s flaws, or else you sweep them under the rug. The Attraction & Romance stage of a relationship can last anywhere from a few weeks to even a year or more.

This phase is a bit like being high on love. Just like with drugs, you feel like you can’t get enough…except the drug is this man. There’s actually a scientific cause for it: when you fall in love, your brain releases mad amounts of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals. Why? It goes back to evolution. If two people could connect long enough, they would create offspring and the human race would be perpetuated.

So your brain wants you to fall for this guy. You may not be about makin’ babies, but your brain doesn’t know any better, so it glosses over the negative and emphasizes the positive, whether this guy is actually the one for you long-term or not. But don’t worry; you’ll figure out if he’s the right guy soon enough.

What’s Great About This Relationship Stage

The wonderful thing about the start of a relationship is that you start afresh. You get to know someone new, and by proxy, learn who you are with that person. And those feel-good hormones raging around your brain? They’re pretty amazing (and legal! Legal love drugs!).

Sex tends to be frequent and hot in this stage, so enjoy it! That may change down the road…

Things to Be Aware of in This Relationship Stage

Be aware that in the early days of dating, you may want to go slow. Go slow in terms of revealing your full personality, for starters. I’m not saying you should hide things, but maybe wait a few months to let him know how anal you can be about keeping your house clean rather than screaming at him when he forgets to take his shoes off…or proudly showing him photos of all 18 of your cats.

That being said: while we all naturally put our best foot forward when first meeting and dating someone, remember that being your authentic self is important for the relationship moving forward. So: don’t lie. Be confident in who you are, and know that if this guy is right for you, he’ll like/love you for all your qualities, both good and bad.

Also go slow in terms of announcing your feelings. You might right away feel like you’ve fallen in love with him, but there’s no harm in taking your time to really be sure of your feelings.

Remember that druglike state you’re in; it’s not always reliable in telling you how you feel about someone. Wait until you know him better before professing your love. A study showed that men wait on average 88 days before saying I love you, while women took 134 days. Nothing wrong with that!

Stage 2: The Struggle

This is where it gets real. You’re comfortable with your partner and are starting to let your hair down around him…but that doesn’t always mean things are harmonious.

Most couples get to this stage…and then break up.  This tends to happen after four to six months of being together.

This is where you may have your first (and subsequent) arguments. It’s when the shiny magical fairytale glow of your relationship fades and you start dealing with real things like him leaving the toilet seat up or drinking straight from the carton.

Where are all those magical hormones that made you gloss over these annoyances before??

One or both of you may be struggling with uncertainty in the relationship. Where is it going? Is he The One? Do we want the same things? This is totally normal, by the way, and it’s good to ask yourself these questions because if the answers all indicate that you’re on the right path, you can be reassured of moving forward.

If you were a more subdued version of yourself in stage 1, he may be surprised that you’re not acting the same as you were at the beginning. Now you fart, burp, and bicker. Where’s that sexy lady who wore makeup all the time? You may feel like you’re being genuine but he may feel duped, which is why it’s important to be honest about who you are from the start.

You may both start to test your power in the relationship. Who has the power? If he’s a pushover, you may feel like the challenge is gone. On the other hand, if he strong-arms every decision in the relationship, you may feel overpowered and want out.

What’s Great About This Relationship Stage

Yes, this may be the most challenging aspect of your relationship, but if you can make it through, then you’ll have smooth sailing the rest of your relationship. The Struggle stage is when you can relax and really be comfortable with your partner.

You may not be banging away like bunnies like you were in the early days, but sex takes a much more emotional aspect at this stage. Because you’ve been through a lot and are committed to loving one another, sex becomes an important way of connecting emotionally.

Things to Be Aware of in This Relationship Stage

You’ll need to be flexible to see it through to the next stage. If you’re upset because you feel like your partner is asserting his independence (and you’re threatened by that), realize that in a healthy relationship, couples are two individuals with separate interests. It’s okay to do your own thing, then come back together to spend time with your partner.

Keep the lines of communication open, because that’s the best way to understand your differences and what both of you want moving forward.

At the same time, if the relationship isn’t right, this is probably where you’ll figure it out. If you’ve got insurmountable issues, be okay with walking away rather than staying in a Good Enough relationship.

Stage 3: Working/Partnership

You’ve made it over the Struggle hump! Woo! But you can’t totally relax just yet in this one of the five stages of a relationship.

It’s all too easy to become overly comfortable with your partner…to the point where you no longer put in the effort to make him happy. You already got him, so why do those little things like rub his back or pick up his dry cleaning?

Because you love him, that’s why!

A relationship without these thoughtful efforts is just a friendship, really. It takes work to stay attuned to your partner’s needs and do things that will show him that you care.  Relationships take effort, but yours shouldn’t feel like work. If you genuinely love him, it should come naturally for you to do sweet things for him.

Even though we’re going to move onto Stage 4, realize that this Working/Partnership stage never really ends. You need to continually work to be a good partner.

What’s Great About This Relationship Stage

After all the struggle, it’s nice to coast along just a bit in this stage. And if you’re both putting in the effort to keep wooing one another, it can feel pretty fantastic to be on the receiving end of thoughtful gestures!

Things to Be Aware of in This Relationship Stage

One issue I see with couples is that they aren’t attuned to the other’s Love Languages.

You may think putting cute love notes in his lunch pack is a great way to show affection (because your Love Language is words of affirmation), he may actually prefer spending a quiet evening drinking wine and chatting because his Language is quality time. We often project what we want from others onto them, and that’s where issues arise.

Make sure you know what he sees as an appreciated way of expressing your love to him. Does he love being touched, like hugs and massages? Does he enjoy receiving gifts? Does he glow when you do something nice like make him dinner?  Whatever he responds positively to indicates what his Love Language is.

Stage 4: Commitment

This is usually when couples get married, move in together, or otherwise commit to one another formally. The difficult part is behind you, and you’re reassured that you’re right for one another.

You’ve learned how to balance your needs versus his needs versus the needs of the two of you as a couple, and you respect one another’s need for time away. You’ve mastered your communications and know how to bring up an issue before it becomes huge.

You’re not with this man because you need him…but because you want him. And that’s excellent!

What’s Great About This Relationship Stage

Obviously however you decide to commit to one another is a pretty big perk at this stage of the relationship. But you can also look at it as the beginning of something great. That might be starting a family or really considering yourself a bona fide couple. People in this stage are usually more confident in love than at any other stage.

Things to Be Aware of in This Relationship Stage

While you might think great! All the hard work is done! but you’re wrong. With whatever transition your commitment requires comes a lot of change. If you’re moving in together, you’ve got to acclimate to living with someone else with totally different living habits than your own. Trust me: fights about the dumbest stuff will ensue.

How could he use the last of the toilet paper and not replace the roll?

Why do you have to do all the grocery shopping?

Do his friends have to come over and play poker every Friday?

You may even worry that this was a big mistake, but give it time. Usually, these issues seem huge at first and then they die down and you get used to living together.

And if you’re getting married, there’s plenty of stress that comes with that ritual. Interestingly, the less you spend on the wedding, the less stressed you’ll be in the planning process!

Know that this upheaval isn’t indicative of what your relationship will be like moving forward. Give it time to settle.

Stage 5: Real Love

Reeaaal love! I’m searchin’ for a real love!

Just like good ole Mary J. Blige, we’re all looking for real love, and it comes as the last of the stages of a relationship.

After all of your ups and downs, you’re still head over heels for your guy. His touch still feels like electricity, and you love hopping in bed with him. Years may have passed, but you still remember those butterflies you felt when you first kissed.

You may have arguments or issues, but ultimately they work out because you are now so confident in your relationship.

Congratulations. Far fewer people than you’d think actually make it to this stage…even if they’ve been together for decades.

What’s Great About This Relationship Stage

What’s great about this stage? LOVE! Knowing that you will wake up every morning to your true partner, the man who gets you and supports you no matter what is pretty fabulous.

As you grow older together, you continue to get to know each other in new ways. You may think you know every story in his mental library…then he’ll pull out a new one.

Things to Be Aware of in This Relationship Stage

While the previous stages of a relationship have focused heavily on you as a couple, now you may branch out to work on goals outside of your relationship. Maybe you want to retire early so you work on how to make that financially possible. Maybe you want to move to Bali. Or adopt a horse. These are goals that you can share and work on together.

Just as important are the goals that you have individually. The great thing about having a real life and love partner is that he will always support your goals. Want to quit your job and start a business? He’s your biggest cheerleader.

Find things to focus on both together and individually to enhance your relationship.


I find it helpful to know the stages of a relationship so I know what’s coming up next. If you’re in the Attraction & Romance stage, you can identify that everything feels floaty and wonderful for a reason (those darn hormones again). That can help you make smart decisions about being with this guy.

If you’re in the Struggle stage, you might feel reassured knowing that it’s perfectly normal to be confused about what comes next.  If you’re in the Working stage and realize that you haven’t been putting as much energy into showing your appreciation and love, that’s your opportunity to do so.

No matter where you are, put your focus on being the best partner you can be. That will take work, but it’s an investment that has a huge dividend that pays out over your entire life.

Talk to me. Which of these stages of a relationship are you in, or how far have you gotten in past relationships? Leave a comment below.

If you’re stuck in the first three stages of a relationship and are ready to move into the Commitment stage, join me on this free training to learn how to avoid the “casual relationship trap and get him to commit. 

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