5 Stages Of a Relationship: What Are They & How You Can Pass Them

Eskimo kiss

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

couple in love

Enjoy each of the stages of a relationship, particularly the first one.

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!

Common Question: How Can I Make the Attraction & Romance Stage Last Longer?

Ask anyone who’s been in the early stages of a relationship whether they enjoyed that phase or not, and I’m willing to bet they did. After all, your brain is doped up on those infatuation chemicals.

There are definite perks to this relationship stage. You feel amazing. You want to spend a ton of time with this guy. But soon you’ll move into a less fun stage, so if you want to hold onto this rush of happy feeling longer, put in the effort.

Do sweet things for him to show that you appreciate him and are thinking of him. Send him a text while he’s at work that just has a kiss emoji. Bring him dinner when he’s working overtime. Pick up his dry cleaning. Show him that you’re the girlfriend he’s going to want to keep.

Sex is usually the hottest at the start of the relationship, but you can keep the flames burning higher with a little effort. Plan a surprise weekend getaway and then spend the entire time ordering room service and not leaving the bed. Give him a big, fat kiss in the middle of the grocery store. Send him a sexy text when he least expects it.

Be yourself. I’m not sure why it is that we often wear masks when we first start dating, and then only take them off when we’re truly comfortable. Sometimes a man can feel duped if you try to be who you think he wants you to be…and then finds out that’s not who you really are. Trust me: if this man is right for you, he will be 100% okay with all your quirks and personality traits. In fact, that’s how you know you’ve found the right guy! He adores the fact that you snort when you laugh!

Don’t take him for granted. Thank him when he does something thoughtful. Rather than complaining about things that bother you, focus on all the wonderful aspects of your relationship. The more you appreciate what you have, the longer you can extend that attraction and romance and build the foundation for a solid relationship.

Stage 2: The Struggle

arm wrestling couple

The Struggle Stage is a challenging one. Will your relationship survive?

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.

Common Question: Does the Struggle Stage Mean We’re Not Meant for One Another?

If you’re feeling fewer butterflies in your stomach and things aren’t as magical as they were a few weeks ago, you’ve entered into the next stage: Struggle.

If you have bad relationships in your past, this may be a difficult stage to work through; you may have your first argument with your boyfriend. You might be furious at him, or him at you. This might feel like it’s not meant to be, especially if you fought a lot in a past relationship.

But know that the struggle stage is part and parcel of every healthy relationship. It may be jarring to have your blood boil over something he said when he could do no wrong just a few short weeks ago…but know that you’re still getting to know one another, and that anger will be part of it.

Of course, part of getting to know one another is seeing those masks come off. It’s the most common for new relationships to end in this stage because you’re seeing the real person that you’re dating. If you’re arguing nonstop, ask yourself whether you have more happy moments than frustrating ones. If not, this might not be the relationship you’re looking for.

But there’s a reason it’s called the Struggle stage! You will have to commit to working on your relationship. Give it time. Learn one another’s habits and quirks. If you know he always comes home from work in a bad mood, give him his space rather than pouncing on him as soon as he walks through the door. If you’re crabby, lay low. You’ll get used to one another’s patterns if you have a little patience.

I encourage you to remember what attracted you to this man in the first place in this stage. And remember: this is just a phase on your way to a long, lasting love, so keep in mind: it’s temporary! If this relationship is meant to be, you’ll be rewarded soon enough at the next stage.

Stage 3: Working/Partnership

stages of a relationship

Find thoughtful ways to show him you love him, like cook him dinner.

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.

Common Question: Should the Working/Partnership Stage FEEL Like Work?!

Once you’ve moved past the hard stuff in the second stage in a relationship, things will be easier…but not simple. You’ll have to keep making an effort to keep your relationship fresh and wonderful…but there is a tipping point where effort becomes work and it doesn’t make sense to keep trying to hold things together.

Let me ask you: do you dread seeing your man because you know the two of you will fight? Do you find yourself making excuses not to see him? Maybe you don’t feel like you have the energy to deal with him complaining about how you spend more time with your friends than him.

This, my dear, is work. Not a happy relationship. When you’re in love, you want to make the other person happy and be with them, and you know that he feels the same. But if participating in this relationship is about as much fun as going in for a root canal, now is the time to get out of it before it gets worse.

Look at how much effort you’re putting in, and then look at how much he’s putting in. Is it more or less even? Does one of you compromise…and then the other person does? Or is it one-sided? To make it the distance, the give-and-take needs to be pretty fair.

Arguing is common (I don’t trust couples who say they never fight), but if he (or you) resorts to name-calling or flat out emotional abuse, this is not normal.

Your relationship should be proactive at this stage, not reactive. What I mean by that is that you should continually be communicating your feelings and making sure you’re aligned in where you are in the relationship. You shouldn’t be planning your defense to his accusations or dodging his insults.

Stage 4: Commitment

commitment

Once you reach the Commitment stage, you know things are solid.

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.

Common Question: Is the Commitment Stage Necessary for Love?

In a nutshell? Yes. I don’t care if he’s anti-marriage; there are other ways to commit in a relationship. You could live together…or not. There’s actually an interesting movement called Living Apart Together, which involves couples who are committed to one another…you guessed it…not living together. This is especially popular in older couples who don’t want to give up their independence. Plus, you know you run your house the way you want it, so why compromise?

Anyway, regardless of how you define commitment, it is part of a serious relationship. So the first step is defining with your partner what commitment looks like. You may want to get married again, and he might not. So is there a compromise? Could you genuinely be happy cohabitating without a marriage certificate? Be honest with yourself.

Maybe commitment simply means that you are monogamous. That’s okay too. The key is that both of you agree on the definition and are both willing to give that to the relationship.

But what if he’s telling you that he can’t commit? I feel like if you’ve made it to the Commitment stage and this is a surprise to you, you may have been ignoring key red flags along the way. He didn’t just decide he couldn’t commit. Trust me when I say that the longer you deny the fact that this man isn’t relationship material, the more painful the breakup will be. 

And you will never change his mind about commitment.

This is a non-negotiable ingredient of a healthy relationship. Kinda like flour and eggs in a cake. You can’t really have a cake without them (don’t talk to me about flourless cakes right now!). So if you’re asking whether commitment is necessary for love, I think you need to sit down and face reality about the (so-called) relationship you’re in and whether it truly meets your needs.

Stage 5: Real Love

real love

Once you’ve surpassed the other stages, you can enjoy 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.

Common Question: Is There Anything Past the Real Love Stage?

If you’ve made it this far, it’s like reaching the top of Mount Everest. It feels amazing to have worked through so much and had your relationship grow over time.

But something to realize is: you may dip up and down the different stages of love throughout your lifetime. Let’s say when you both retire, you spend more time cuddling and being lovey-dovey. So you’re thrown back into those early days of Attraction and Romance because you’re rekindling your love again.

Or maybe his mother gets sick, requiring him to take care of her in your home. That’ll put a strain on the relationship! So you might reenter the Struggle stage.

Maybe you decide to start a business together, putting you back in that Partnership mode. You see my point: even if you’ve made it to the Real Love stage, you will have life and love experiences that fluctuate. The good thing is that going through these stages again later in your relationship will be less volatile because you’ve already done the hard work of laying the foundation for your lifelong love.

Relationships are ever-changing. So don’t expect that you will “arrive” at Real Love, because your definition of it will change almost daily. If you’re able to adapt to shifts in your (and his) feelings and moods and work through bumps in the road, I guarantee that the love life you have will be amazing.

Conclusion:

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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Adam LoDolce

Love Strategist

My true passion in life is transforming your love life by giving you specific tools and techniques that you can use to attract long lasting love. I got started when...Read Adam's Story

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2 years ago

My boyfriend and I have just broken up. We had been seeing each other long distance for over a year and had decided that I would move closer to him. Then we discussed moving in together. Before either happened he bolted and now I’m left heartbroken and reeling from the shock! He said it’s him (doesn’t know how he can sustain the relationship) not me (I’m perfect /awesome). I don’t know whether to let him go or try to win him back. Confused as to next move. Could you advise please?

5 months ago

Hi Maaija, I do realize that it’s a bit late but I just wanted to say one thing about the “It’s not you, you are awesome, it’s me” type of proclamation. It’s such a lie. My ex-boyfriend told me the same thing four years ago and I was like “well, if you think I’m so awesome, why are you leaving me”. The reason people use it is simple – it’s an easy way out. So what does it actually mean? It means I am not interested. That’s all it is. People who use it want to steer away from any… Read more »

2 years ago

Is it possible to be going through two stages at once? We knew each other before we started dating. I think I am in Stage 2 &3!! Lol. What’s your take on it?

Pamela
2 years ago

Very informative, thank you!

Karen
2 years ago

Hi Adam I have been dating a guy who is 10 years my senior- he is 51 and I am 41. I think we are at Attraction and Romance stage although it has not been smooth sailing (I know it’s due to my feelings of strong like towards him and I’m in that hopeful state wishing for him to love me one day!) Recently after he had been drinking (I hadn’t been drinking) he confessed he would love us to have children together. That he cares deeply for me and feels I am the one. He told me that he… Read more »

Deborah Carpenter
2 years ago

Great video and advice Adam. My question to you is, How likely is somebody in over 50 age group to find love? And if you think that’s a possibility ,where do you go to find men in your age group? It seems all the men in my age group want girls that are 36 years old. I get asked out on many dates but all the guys are like 38 years old. To me that’s a go nowhere situation. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Debbie

6 months ago

You know there are sites out there for 50 and older. Many people have found success for that and doing well in terms of love Debbie. It is possible you just have to put yourself out there.

Espie
2 years ago

Hi Adam,
Thanks for sharing the 5 steps of relationships,
Learned a lot and knowing what stage I’m in , in my relationship w my guy.
Question:
We have been a year off and on w this relationship . He still not ready to commit but he wants us to stay as friends .
He knows I have strong feelings for him since day one .
Should I move on and find my soul mate or just stick w him until he’s ready as he always say… will see how this relationship goes .
Best ,
Espie

Sally
2 years ago

As you can see from the above comments. Age is a big factor. I am 65 and I am dating a man 10 years younger. I wish all of you dating coaches would give the older people advice as well. There are more of us around. Think about it.

1 year ago

hi thanks for the information and posts

1 year ago

This is a great article.

So many people don’t understand the “struggle stage” and just give up.

I’ve learned that struggle is going to be a part of any relationship at some point!

Me
8 months ago
Reply to  Dating Throne

Wow! This article is wonderful. I have been dating a man 15 years older than me. I’m 43. I feel like we are in the struggle stage, but I feel like he is not dedicating enough time to our relationship. At first he would call everyday, now he doesn’t call me sometimes for a couple of days if I don’t call him. I think I’m in love with him, but he’s not with me.

8 months ago

You nailed it on the “Stages of relationship” thing. I wish I found this content earlier, when I was having issues with my relationship with my girlfriend. I’m single and feel lonely now 🙁

5 months ago

I always thought that the commitment stage was the most important part of finding out whether a relationship will last. Funnily enough, to me, living together was the big piece of the commitment stage that would be the determining factor as you’ll figure out pretty quickly whether you’re a good fit if you’re living together for a couple weeks. You made a really good point in the Commitment Stage section – and I never knew about the Living Together Apart movement! Very interesting! You learn something new every day.

3 months ago

i don’t think men fall in true love after couple of meet. As a women i relised most of the man just show love for hookup.

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