What stage are you in?
We know that true love can change over time, even in healthy relationships. Communication styles and circumstances are unique to every relationship, and yet the stages of love are still predictable.
Unfortunately, too many couples are frightened by the changes in their love life and give up early in the love stages.
It’s such a shame because they usually give up before understanding the stages of love and developing effective communication skills to get through them.
If you have visions of falling in love and living happily ever after, it’s important that you learn about the stages of love so you will be prepared for a stage when it shows up.
It’s easy to focus on romance and the fantasy of a fairytale wedding. On the other hand, having a relationship that stands the test of time takes a lot of work.
Knowing what to expect from the love stages and developing effective communication skills will give you the best chance for success when your relationship feels stressed.
Here are the 4 stages of love and how you can not only tell which stage you’re in, but how to effectively communicate in order to keep your relationship alive and well:
1. Romance and falling in love.
In this first stage of love, everything is perfect, especially your new love interest.
Perhaps you have spent months on online dating sites, exchanging messages and going on dates. And now you’ve found someone with whom you just “click.” Perhaps you have met someone special through friends or with the help of a dating coach.
This is the person who makes you think the wait was worth it. You see only the similarities between the two of you, and you want to be together, like, all the time.
Surprisingly, this stage can be stressful. But that’s just because you have so many hormones working overtime and you think about this new person constantly. You are literally obsessed with your new “relationship.”
Dopamine, the hormone attached to your brain’s reward system, actually gives you the same rush of pleasure that cocaine does. This hormone, along with others like serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen, is in charge of much of your behavior during this stage.
When it comes to communication during this romantic stage, it’s important to hold onto your own sense of self. It’s also important to remember that you are likely to project your hopes and dreams for future happiness onto this new person.
After all, s/he is perfect, right?
2. Attachment and becoming a couple.
Most people find this stage to be more enjoyable than the first stage. It’s less stressful, and there is a real sense of being “a couple.”
You have gotten past the awkwardness of those three magic words, and your love is deepening. You may get married or start a family during this stage. You know one another better, and you both feel cared for and loved.
The crazy hormones from stage one have settled down, and different “love hormones” have kicked in. Even a different part of your brain takes over.
It’s a very content stage, and it’s only natural to think, hope, and expect it will last forever. This is why people fall in love — to get to this stage and stay there. Or so you may think…
But the reality is that your relationship has another critical love stage to get through before “forever” is a possibility. If you understand that and prepare yourselves in advance by working on your communication, you can enjoy this stage and get through the next one.
3. Disillusionment and power struggle.
If you could flip-flop stage one, you would have an idea of what stage three is like. Instead of everything being perfect, everything starts to feel annoying and disappointing.
You may even start to wonder if you were out of your mind when you committed to your partner.
Did I make the wrong choice? Where is the person I married? Why didn’t I see this coming? Would I be happier with someone else?
Behaviors and habits that were once cute and endearing become boring and irritating. You feel unappreciated, unloved, uncared for … and trapped.
This is the drifting-apart stage, often called the seven-year itch. You’re both more concerned with your own needs and wants than you are with the others. Your autonomy starts to take precedence over the relationship, putting it at risk.
Of all the stages of love, this one is the most critical in terms of determining the future success of your relationship. Effective communication skills are critical for getting through this stage.
Most people don’t talk about their feelings during this stage, so they feel alone going through it. Surprisingly, many couples who seem to have been “always happy together” have gotten professional help to get them through this stage.
This is the stage where you truly realize that love is a choice and takes effort!
4. Real love.
In this stage, you and your partner see one another more clearly. You see both the positive and the negative, and the flaws don’t scare you away.
You accept and forgive them because you accept your partner, and you have both made the choice to love one another no matter what. I call this the “stickiness factor.”
It is during this stage of love that you and your partner have a real sense of being a team. You’re less concerned with your personal wants and needs and more with those of your partner. (And if both of you are thinking this way, both of you will be taken care of.)
The other gift of this stage is the potential to help one another heal from emotional wounds brought to the relationship from childhood. If you’ve been working on your communication together, your relationship can experience meaningful growth during this time.
This is a stage of calmness that comes from knowing that you’re fully committed to your relationship. And you’ve worked hard to get here.
No matter what love stage you and your partner are in, doing some homework early on can help you navigate all the stages more smoothly. And, even if the work involved isn’t necessarily “easy,” you’ll have the tools to keep you both on the same path and committed to one another.
Amy Schoen is a national expert in dating and relationship coaching who is passionate about helping marriage-minded singles find their true love and create fulfilling, life-long relationships. For more information on how she can help you find and create a blissful relationship with your soulmate, visit her website.