• Sarah Tottle

Relationship Stages

Healthy relationships offer a buffer against life stressors, so it’s no surprise that we are searching for our significant other; the one to ride the waves with. Relationships are associated with a reduction in depression, illness, and accidents.

However, while there are stages to developing a relationship, relationships don’t always develop in a linear manner. Some people meet and marry after three weeks, while others maintain long-lasting relationships on and off before settling into coupledom decades down the line. If you’re aiming for a stable relationship with commitment and respect at the centre, then the following model helps us understand how relationships should progress:

We have a beginning phase

The beginning phase centres around the first contact; it’s the exciting and nerve-provoking time when couples first meet. After a few meetings, individuals will either decide that dating is for them, or they’ll go their separate ways.

The early days are filled with momentary anxieties; questions such as “does he or does he not like me”, and exciting first dates.

If both individuals are enjoying these first few dates, they will usually progress to the getting to know each other stage. This builds on the exciting times of the first few dates where couples begin to drop their guard.

Over this period, couples open up and begin the process of evaluating whether they are a suitable match. Sometimes, due to chemistry, individuals may overlook issues around compatibility and any red flags that may arise. For this reason, taking a step back and keeping your feelings in check is advised. Only give of yourself when you are sure that you will receive the love and respect that you deserve.

As you move through the beginning phase, you will begin to enter the strengthening stage. Your relationship begins to solidify and a bond starts to develop. You can see a future with the person beyond the first flush of love and see that there could be more to the relationship.

Having navigated the early stages of the relationship, couples then enter the middle phase. They get deeper in involvement with each other, carefully intertwining their worlds. It’s not unusual for each individual in the couple to play an active role within the other person’s family. Worlds co-exist as each individual adapts their life to meet the other’s needs. During this phase, the couple solidify their relationship.

As time moves on, couples will make big plans for the future. Times apart will be more difficult because both parties are used to the companionship of the other. Couples will either progress towards engagement and marriage, buying or renting property together, and discuss holiday plans for the future, or move on. Talk of plans for children and joint finances are common at this stage of the relationship.

Sometimes, however, relationships do not make it further past this stage. Couples begin the realise, after the first flushes of love, that they have very little in common. Perhaps, too, their arguments are intensifying and they cannot resolve the issues effectively. During the end phase, the relationship begins to deteriorate and break down. The couple may decide to go their separate ways or they may see their relationship as worth fighting for and salvaging. Some couples enter relationship counselling or seek mediation to resolve their issues and repair the relationship, while others terminate their partnership. This is a tough time for couples and emotions run high.

Communication is paramount to relationship success. This book focuses on relationship longevity and, while couples do split, we want to encourage flourishing relationships. Some people are simply not suited and the best course of action is separation. If this is the case, taking time to re-evaluate what went wrong and reflect on your part in the breakdown of the relationship is pivotal to ensuring you enter another relationship free from any baggage.

Respect and validation are paramount throughout a relationship. We need to be givers in order to receive and we need to value and respect our partner. For those that build on the middle phase, we need to be champions of the team. Be your partner’s advocate and cheerleader; encourage and support them throughout their journey. If you’re onto a good thing, hold on tight and communicate effectively to build a long-lasting relationship.

He shoulda put a ring on it

You’re in the middle phase and your lives are interwoven, but you still haven’t got a ring? You may be asking “how long is too long?” Many of us have experienced those pangs and doubts. We wonder whether an ultimatum would seal the deal. But, relationships are individualistic. No relationship is the same and each couple’s needs differ.

We cannot force someone to act quicker than they’re ready, and if they do cave in, we may be left wondering whether they genuinely want what we’re after. That said, some relationships need a push in the right direction. Some couples are happy in complacency and if you’re not discussing your needs, then you can’t expect someone to know what you’re looking for.

You need to talk. If marriage is what you’re after and you’re worried your partner isn’t taking commitment seriously, you need to discuss this. Marriage is an important value for many women (and men) so talking this through is imperative. If you find that your words are falling on deaf ears, it may be time to move on to someone that can give you what you want and rightly deserve.

But hold up! Don’t act hastily. See where your partner is at. Discuss their concerns with them and work on a mutual goal together. You want to give people time to work on what’s troubling them too. If after a period of time has gone by and still no progress has been made, up and leave. You need someone to value you too.

In all of this, we need to remember that relationship stages are just guides. You’ll know where you’re at. Some people navigate these stages quicker than others. What works for one couple isn’t necessarily the same for another. Comparison only breeds resentment and can potentially harm the relationship. You need to work on what is best for you and your partner. So, what works? Communication, communication, communication. That’s what.

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©2019 by Sarah Tottle Coaching and Counselling.