Some things in life are predictable, but you wouldn't expect relationships to be one of them. According to psychotherapist Jennifer Nurick, there are five distinct stages that most relationships tend to go through: the blissful beginning, the messy middle, and the successful or unsuccessful ending. These stages offer a roadmap for couples looking to deepen their bond and navigate the challenges that arise along the way.
The more aware we are of our patterns, the easier it is for us to navigate them, so understanding these common relationship stages can help make sure that you and your partner survive – and thrive – through each stage.
The Honeymoon Stage
This is the one we all know and love – The Honeymoon Stage. This special phase usually lasts for about six months, and during this time, everything is inexplicably wonderful, funny and sexy all the time. And the euphoric feeling is not just a cliché; it's science.
When we're falling in love, the brain releases chemical compounds and hormones (dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, you name it) that make us feel giddy, happy and energetic, and we're busy transferring all these amazing feelings to our new partner. But this also makes it really easy to overlook red flags and other incompatibilities during this stage that, spoiler, end up being pretty important later.
Enjoy this stage while you can, but don't get too hooked on the high of it. When this phase ends and those intense feelings go away, people often mistake it for no longer liking their partner or not wanting the relationship anymore. It's important to take a closer look at whether something's actually gone amiss, or if it's just the natural progression of love and affection – remember, sometimes less is more.
We reach the Differences Phase sometime between the end of the first six months to the two to three-year mark, when the euphoria is well and truly starting to wear off. This is when more regular conflicts start to occur – remember those red flags and incompatibilities we mentioned earlier? This is also when we actually start to see our partner as a real, flawed person and not just a projection of our loved-up feelings.
It can be tempting at this point to withdraw or fight about things instead of communicating properly, and sometimes you just get the plain old 'ick'. If you can get past the initial discovery of those differences and handle the conflict without completely blowing the relationship up, you're doing great, but you've got some harder times ahead.
After the Differences Stage, at the two or three-year mark, is where most couples really struggle, hence the titular Struggle Stage. This is the time when some of those deeper-seated issues and incompatibilities really show up in a big way, whereas these things might have been a bit more superficial before.
During this time, you can start to feel resentful of each other. You might feel like some of your individuality has been taken away, and find yourself wanting to invest more time outside of the relationship than in it. You might distance yourself from the relationship in order to connect with yourself again, and for fairly obvious reasons, this is a very common breakup point for a lot of couples.
If you can accept that your differences and struggles aren't dealbreakers and you want to push past this stage, you'll have to commit to some honest and frequent communication, intentional conflict resolution, and put real effort into showing affection through your partner's love language.
Repair Or Walk Stage
Between years two and three to five years, you'll reach your next decision point after the initial struggle – if you commit to continuing, you're in the Repair Stage. Or, if things don't work out, the Walk Stage. You've got past that time of conflict and disagreement, but are you really ready to do the work to keep the relationship going?
You'll undoubtedly feel a bit drained after the Struggle Stage, and even though it's not impossible to repair, the effects of that time can make the work you need to do now feel even harder. But fear not, if you can commit, what's lying ahead of you is pretty special stuff.
Then comes what makes all that hard work worth it: Enduring Love. This commonly kicks in from five years onwards and marks the major breakthrough you've made in the Repair Stage.
If you've reached this point, you've really chosen each other, grown together and learnt to communicate. Hopefully, you'll now have a really strong sense of self as an individual and as a partner in a relationship.
You might even re-enter the honeymoon stage and it'll feel like falling in love all over again! There's also a chance that you'll end up doing the cycle all over again a few years later as you and your partner continue to grow and change throughout life — but if you've done it once before and have this strong foundation of love and commitment, you're in a great place to do it again.