Relationships aren't ever going to be the same as it was in the beginning. People and relationships change over time. Because of this, it's normal for couples to experience some ups and downs. But according to experts, you should never fear change in your relationship. It's all part of your journey together as a couple. In fact, there are five
stages of love that many lasting couples go through.
"Fluctuations within a relationship are normal and expected,"
Dr. Carmen Harra, Ph.D., psychologist and certified relationship coach, tells Bustle. "Every relationship passes through stages of the good and bad kind. With time, certain situations can test the limits of one partner’s love for the other. But they can fortify a relationship and help the couple make progress."
While it would be nice to have that fun and exciting
new relationship energy forever, at some point you'd want more. You can date and have fun with new people as much as you want. But having intimacy, connection, and a deep bond with your partner is what makes being with them special.
Transitions are never easy, and moving from one stage of love to the other can come with challenges. But couples that last work through it together. So here are the stages of love that every lasting couple goes through, according to experts.
1 The Newlywed Stage
The early days of a relationship are always the best. It's when everything is new and you just want to be around each other as much as possible. "Dopamine levels surge and excitement abounds," Harra says. "This is a blissful phase in which both partners have fallen in love with each other and their bond appears to be perfect." When you're at this stage, it's common to want to prolong the high you get from being with someone you're falling for. Because of that, this is the phase where "there's a willful ignorance of red flags and character defects," Harra says.
2 The Settling In Stage
This stage occurs as you become more aware of your partner and who they really are as a person. It's the stage when infatuation fades, the mask starts to come off, and you become comfortable enough to show your partner your true self. It's a phase that's all about figuring out if you two can actually work as a couple and how to do it. At the same time, it's also the stage of love where you start forming an emotional connection to each other and a desire to commit. According to Harra, the settling in stage can also return down the road, when you've been through some personal changes and you need to learn about each other again.
3 The Disappointment, Learning, And Growth Phase
This is a tough stage to go through because it forces you to grow, both as a partner and as an individual. According to
Dr. Margaret Paul, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in relationships, "This is the stage when couples need to do their inner work to learn to take responsibility for their own feelings." In a healthy relationship, your partner isn't your everything. They can be a source of happiness, but they shouldn't be the only source of happiness. So this stage is a time where the focus needs to be on self-love more than anything else. When you have enough love for yourself, your focus can be more about sharing love with your partner instead of trying to gain it from them.
"This is the stage when each person can use the challenges of the relationship to heal any abandonment issues that can lead to controlling behavior," Paul says. "Without this learning, the relationship won’t survive."
4 The Comfortable Stage
This is the stage of love where you're comfortable and you've fallen into a routine. "This is the stage of daily life and each partner has their roles," Harra says. "This stage lends much comfort and emotional stability, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to progress. It takes up much of the course of the relationship."
It's basically the comfort zone. When you're in this phase, it's important to find ways to keep
moving the relationship forward. Just because you're comfortable with each other, it doesn't mean that your relationship has to be boring and routine. Having thoughtfully planned date nights, trying new things together, and making time to connect through conversation can prevent you from getting into a rut. 5 Unconditional Love
"This is a much more spiritual stage of love where people can look beyond flaws and are able to share love," Paul says. "It’s this stage that brings the joy to a relationship." When you have unconditional love for your partner, you know how to be forgiving and understanding. Your feelings for your partner won't change regardless of the ups and downs. You can appreciate your partner for who they are and the value they bring to your life.
According to Harra, these five stages rotate throughout the course of a relationship. "I’ve seen couples temporarily return to their newlywed stage 10 years after marriage," she says. "The dynamic between two people who love each other depends on inner mindfulness, outer circumstances, and ultimately, fate."
Your love story doesn't stop the moment you say, "I do." Life goes on. You'll have to roll with it and make adjustments as you go. If you and your partner are committed to making it work, you can overcome all the different transitions together.