9 Surprising Relationship Stages All Long-Term Couples Go Through
Even though it seems like healthy long-term relationships should be nothing but smooth sailing, the reality is pretty much every couple will go through ups and downs, and experience various stages in their relationship. These phases can make your lives difficult, and they might even cause you to question your connection. But if you decide to work through them together, you can come out the other side.
The problem is, it's not always easy to spot a new stage when it comes along, especially since they can look so different for each couple. "While there are threads of commonality in every relationship, every relationship is as unique and will experience different stages at different times," Amica Graber, a relationship expert for the background checking site TruthFinder, tells Bustle. "Some couples may cycle through all the stages of their relationship in a few months, but for others, it could take years."
Of course, there will typically be a honeymoon stage in the beginning, where everything feels easy and fun as you get to know each other. But as it turns out, there can be quite a few surprising stages after that, even if your relationship is healthy. Read on for some changes that may occur, as well as how to navigate them, according to experts.
1. The "Identity Loss" Stage
As your relationship moves forward, one or both of you may start to feel as if you've lost your personal identity, either because you spend so much time together, or focus only on the things you do as a couple. And that can be a bit unsettling.
You can, however, address it as a couple, psychologist Alexandra B. Grundleger, PhD, tells Bustle, and find yourselves again. It can help to spend more time apart, focus on your personal goals, and maybe even pick up a few meaningful, solo hobbies.
"This exploration is great if done as a couple, but can also be done alone as long as the exploring partner isn’t leaving the other behind," Dr. Grundleger says.
2. The "Forgetting The Little Things" Stage
In the early days of dating, it's practically impossible to forget about the other person, because everything feels so new. But as the years go on, you may find that you start to take each other for granted.
"Often times couples fall into this cycle of forgetting to appreciate the other, in particular the little things in life (cleaning up the house, making a favorite meal, buying a ‘just because’ gift, etc.)," Dr. Grundleger says. "This lack of appreciation often leads couples to feel disconnected, unheard, and uncared for."
You can, however, make an effort to show the love once again, so that you both feel supported and happy. It takes effort to keep the spark alive, and the appreciation going strong. But it can be done.
3. The "No Sex" Stage
There are so many things that can factor into a waning sex drive, including anxiety, depression, work problems, health concerns, and so on. But many long-term couples will go through this stage regardless.
"At some point, even the healthiest long-term couples will have different sexual needs and desires," psychotherapist Kristina Ferrari, MS, Ed., tells Bustle. "The healthiest couples address it early on and forgo the blame and shame game. They both express their frustrations and listen to their partner's, and they develop actionable strategies to bridge the gap based on the specific needs of their partner."
For this stage, communication is everything.
4. The "Balancing" Stage
Your relationship will never be 50/50 or perfectly fair, and this can become more noticeable the longer you're together. "At any moment one person may require more attention and care than the other," Ferrari says. But the last thing either of you wants to do during this stage is keep score.
"Connected couples show up for one another," Ferarri says. "They take a broader perspective and recognize that tending to their relationship means both caring and being cared for — and that they will find themselves on both ends of that spectrum."
5. The "Pattern Breaking" Stage
When you're with someone long-term, there's a good chance you and your partner will fall into a rut, or pick up a few bad habits. But that doesn't mean your relationship has to fall apart.
"All relationships develop patterns of behavior, even negative ones in otherwise good partnerships," Ferrari says. "The healthiest couples take individual responsibility for ending negative patterns that creep up from time to time; remembering that it takes two people to create a pattern, but only one person to break it."
The best way to do so is by staying calm, approaching each other, and figuring out ways to move past bad habits. You may need to establish a few boundaries, or create a few rules. But communicating is the best way to see yourselves through.
6. The "Baggage" Stage
At some point in your relationship, you and your partner may catch yourselves butting heads as you open up more about your past, and reveal any hidden baggage.
"Whether it’s trust issues or a fear of commitment, these issues are likely to bubble to the surface of your relationship," Graber says. And arguments, misunderstandings, and frustrations can result.
But if you find a way to respect each other, and create some mutually agreed upon boundaries, this is yet another stage you can move through.
7. The "I Love You But I Don't Like You" Stage
It's totally possible to love someone, but not like them very much as certain stages in your relationship. "This happens as when couples who've been together for an extended period of time become complacent," certified sex therapist Chasity Chandler, LMHC, MCAP, ICADC, CST, CDWF, tells Bustle. "We tend to change things and not pay attention to the small things." And this is where date nights, and new experiences, can come in handy.
As Chandler says, "This helps to rebuild or reignite the intimacy that you once had and brings about a rejuvenation in your relationship."
8. The "Increased Intimacy" Stage
While things might be all hot and heavy in the early days, it's not uncommon to go through dry spells, or to have to make an effort to keep your connection going.
Don't be surprised, though, if you actually feel closer together. "As we progress in the realm of our sexual development our sexual functioning is impacted and this causes us to lean on this intimacy that has been built," Chandler says. "This connection and desire for one another also lends for exploring alternative and effective ways to create the sex life that fits where you are, as is with the love of your life."
9. The "Building Trust" Stage
If the relationship is healthy, you might think that trust comes with the territory. And yet this is something you have to work on as a couple, from the beginning of your relationship and beyond.
"The beginning of a relationship can be like a rollercoaster," Ferrari says. "There are the highs of attraction, followed by the lows of setting boundaries and discovering that our partners, like everyone, have flaws."
But after those realizations have been made, is when you can really put in the work to build trust. This might include asking questions, opening up even more, and creating the type of relationship you both want by setting up boundaries.
Even the healthiest couples go through ups and downs, and enter various stages throughout the relationship. If you can recognize it for what it is — a stage — and work together, you can get through it. And have an even healthier relationship going forward.