Stages of Relationships

Stages of Relationships: The 5 Stages of Relationships, Dating a Narcissist, and More

A good relationship requires more than true love. It also requires effort, patience, respect, and communication. Although each relationship is different in their own way, they tend to follow the same path. Here are the stages of a healthy relationship that will lead to a happily ever after:

1. The Honeymoon Stage

The first stage of a relationship, also known as the intimacy stage or the romance stage, is when a couple is in puppy love. During the honeymoon period, a person will only see the good in their partner. Their infatuation will blind them to any and all of their partner’s flaws. They will spend a lot of quality time together as their relationship grows more and more intimate. There won’t be any conflict yet because they believe they are in the perfect relationship. People who tend to jump from relationship to relationship without ever getting serious are infatuated by the honeymoon phase. They are trying to make the butterflies last.

2. The Power Struggle Stage

During the second stage of the relationship, known as the power struggle stage, the relationship will stop feeling like a fantasy. The couple will start to doubt one another as the reality of their situation sets in. They will get frustrated with each other. They will bicker with each other. They will start to wonder whether they are in the wrong relationship because they will notice more of their partner’s flaws as the relationship progresses. Their gut reaction will be to withdraw or break up — but in order to progress to the next stage of the relationship, they must decide to accept each other’s flaws and move forward as a team.

3. The Crisis Stage

The third stage of the relationship, known as the crisis stage, is when most couples break up because they cannot sweep their problems under the rug anymore. The issues between them are obvious. They can no longer keep quiet about their complaints, so their arguments are on the rise. They are fighting more than they ever have in the past. Although the sudden change in dynamic might make them feel like the relationship is over, they should keep in mind arguments are a normal part of a healthy relationship. It’s impossible to date without conflict. How they deal with the conflict and resolve their issues is what matters.

4. The Decision Stage

At the fourth stage in the relationship, also known as the working stage, the couple will feel pretty stable. There won’t be any big problems or arguments. However, they will also start to grow restless and bored. They will wonder whether they have chosen the right partner or whether someone better is out there waiting for them. This is the moment when they must decide whether they want to remain in a relationship and spend the rest of their lives together — or whether they want to break up and find someone who excites them more.

5. The Commitment Stage

Only couples in a serious, long term relationship will make it to the final stage, which is the healthiest stage of all. At this point, the couple will feel completely comfortable with each other. They will have fun with each other. They will consider each other best friends. This final stage is the point where couples consider marriage and children. They start to plan out their futures together. They are excited to see what tomorrow holds. They no longer yearn for the honeymoon period from their past because they’ve found something even better. Couples who reach this stage have discovered timeless, lasting love.


Each relationship stage lasts for a different amount of time. Although the timeframe will differ from couple to couple, most relationships will follow the same pattern. Here is an overview of how romantic love tends to develop over time:

The honeymoon period is the very beginning of a romantic relationship. Depending on how fast the couple moves, it can last anywhere from a few months to a few years.

The second stage of a relationship typically lasts six months, or however long it takes for a couple to decide they want to stay together, despite their differences.

The third stage of a relationship will last about a year. This is how long it will take to work through their issues and reach a place of stability.

The fourth stage of a relationship will last around two years before reaching the final stage — or the couple will break up before that point.

The fifth stage of the relationship has the potential to last forever. Once the couple is in a committed relationship, they are not going to want to separate.

The 10 Stages of Relationships

In addition to the five stages of relationships listed above, there is a different stage model involving ten stages. This one tracks relationship development as well as relationship decline. After all, love is tricky. An interpersonal relationship is hard to make but easy to break.

1. Initiation stage. This stage can last as little as ten or fifteen seconds. It occurs when two people meet each other and are intrigued by their appearance or personality.

2. Experimenting stage. This stage is when two strangers get to know each other. They ask basic conversational questions in order to figure out whether they want to take a chance on dating. Most people don’t progress past this stage.

3. Intensifying stage. During this stage, the relationship becomes less formal. The two people develop a closeness that makes them feel comfortable and seen.

4. Integrating stage. This is the stage when two people officially become a couple. They will consider the other person a romantic partner, not a friend.

5. Bonding stage. This stage involves marriage — or a more informal commitment like becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.

6. Differentiating. During this stage, the couple starts feeling doubtful and grows apart. They act as individuals instead of a team.

7. Circumscribing. Communication stops at this stage. The couple keeps secrets and avoids certain conversations to keep the peace.

8. Stagnating. The couple actively avoids confrontation and conflict in this stage, even though they have severe problems with the relationship.

9. Avoiding. The couple spends less and less time together. They grow apart emotionally and physically.

10. Terminating. This occurs when the couple decides to part ways. This could happen amicably or it could involve a major argument.

Stages with a Narcissist

Dating a narcissist is entirely different than being in a healthy relationship. Although the beginning of the relationship might be nice, dating them (and leaving them) will quickly become a struggle. Be careful, because here are the four stages with a narcissist:

1. Idealization

In the beginning of the relationship, a narcissist will make their partner feel special. They will shower their person with love, attention, and romance. They will trick their partner into believing they are the perfect person. They will advance the arrangement from a casual relationship to an intimate relationship in a short period of time. Narcissists move quickly in order to create unrealistic expectations. Once they feel like they have someone under their spell, they will change their behavior completely.

2. Devaluation

This stage is when the narcissist will reveal their true self and the manipulation will begin. A narcissist will try to separate their partner from their friends, family, and any other personal relationships they have formed. They will also start to lie, keep secrets, and gaslight. Worst of all, they will become verbally abusive in order to make their partner feel bad about themselves. They will want their partner to feel lucky that they are in a relationship at all. Unfortunately, at this stage, a partner will make excuses for a narcissist because they are still distracted by the love-bombing they experienced early on. Love-bombing is when someone uses sweet words, actions, and behaviors as a manipulation technique.

3. Discard

Narcissists are never as romantic as they seem at the beginning of the relationship. All they want is power, money, sex, and attention. They typically don’t care about their partner in the same way their partner cares, which is why they might be the one to end the relationship. After all, a narcissist will lose interest in their partner once they are no longer getting anything from the situation. They will move onto someone new who they can easily manipulate and the cycle will start all over again. At this point, their original partner will be given the chance to escape. However, the narcissist might not be out of their lives forever. It might not be long until they make a return.

4. Hoover

Narcissists aren’t happy unless they are in control. Even after the relationship is over, they might continue to pop back up in a person’s life in order to cause trouble and regain control. They could use the same love-bombing tactics they used at the beginning of the relationship to get their way. They could also get emotional, cry, and beg for their partner back. However, this is not out of love. This is out of the desire to control their partner once again. At this point, hopefully, the other person will realize that real love is not painful and will move on with their life. After all, a narcissist is not going to change. They are only going to make someone think they’ve changed so they can begin the cycle again. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

January Nelson

January Nelson

January Nelson is a writer, editor, and dreamer. She writes about astrology, games, love, relationships, and entertainment. January graduated with an English and Literature degree from Columbia University.