top of page

The 5 Stages of a Relationship And What To Do About Them

Updated: May 28



Understanding the 5 Stages of a Relationship

Have you ever wondered why the honeymoon phase in a relationship feels so magical but doesn’t last forever?


Or why sometimes you feel more like roommates than a romantic partner?


In this blog post, we’re diving into the five stages of romantic love and how to navigate them fully by understanding how passion, intimacy, and commitment play different roles at each stage in a long-term relationship so that it lasts months and years.


Stay tuned to learn why most relationships fail to get past third stage and what you want to make sure that your love is still alive, good, and healthy at any stage of romance.


If you don’t know me, my name is Oliver, and I’m a couples therapist and family therapist in Los Angeles. I love helping people grow the best relationships they and helping couples talk about love and developing long term relationships.



The 5 stages of a relationship


The Triangular Theory of Love & THE 5 phases of a relationship

Understanding how relationships develop is key to nurturing a strong, lasting connection. Building upon our exploration of the 5 stages of a relationship, it’s beneficial to delve into Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, which complements these stages beautifully and describes how love changes over the years.


Introduced in the 1980s, Sternberg’s model remains incredibly relevant, offering clear insight into the dynamics of love. Licensed marriage and family therapists often use this theory to help couples understand their relationship dynamics, especially during the commitment stage and ask they work through the five stages of a relationship.


His theory uses the shape of a triangle as a metaphor, with each point representing one of love’s critical components - intimacy, passion, and commitment. These elements interact in various ways, forming different types of love experiences and relationship dynamics. It’s a practical way to conceptualize how relationships evolve and why certain elements are more prominent at different stages.


The strength and balance of intimacy, passion, and commitment will not only vary between relationships but will also fluctuate within a single relationship over time getting deeper at some points, and less intense at others. Journeying through the stages of attraction to stability, understanding this triangular structure is going to give you a helpful framework for navigating their progression.



the triangular theory of love


Intimacy

Intimacy is the element of the triangle that relates to the closeness, connectedness, and bond in a relationship that starts after dating a while. It’s the warm, comforting blanket of love that envelops each partner, making them feel secure and valued. Intimacy involves sharing oneself deeply with another person— revealing inner thoughts, fears, and hopes.


As intimacy develops, it usually reaches its peak during the exclusivity and intimacy stages of a relationship, when partners are deeply invested in sharing their inner worlds and building a unique bond. As intimacy develops, it usually reaches its peak during the exclusivity and intimacy stages of a committed relationship. It’s not just about physical closeness but much more about emotional openness and understanding.


Maintaining intimacy requires ongoing effort and needs each partner to think about and pay attention to each other’s needs, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Relationships that master intimacy are often characterized by empathic communication, mutual respect, and a deep knowledge of each other’s life stories.


Passion

Passion is the engine of romance; it's the fiery, irresistible force that fuels attraction and excitement, particularly in the dating phase. This component includes sexual attraction but also encompasses the broader energy and enthusiasm for sharing experiences and pursuing shared interests.


Often peaking during the attraction, dating and romance stages, passion adds vigor and zest to a relationship. It is that euphoric feeling of being head-over-heels in love, the source of butterflies in the stomach, and spontaneous acts of romance that help us fly away from reality.


However, while passion may dwindle as the relationship matures past the first stages and enters the stability stage, its embers can be kept alive with intentional acts of love, adventure, and the continuous pursuit of shared activities that excite each partner.


Commitment

Commitment is the third cornerstone of the triangle, which stands for the decision to stick together for the long haul and work through challenges, rather than part ways. It comes at the commitment stage, where a decision has to be made to look towards the future. This cognitive process involves choosing someone, again overlooking certain issues and is a deliberate action that’s fueled by dedication and a mutual vision for the future.


Commitment and stability stages involve the explicit promise of loyalty. When challenges arise, this aspect reminds each partner of their shared goals, supporting them in collaborative problem-solving and fostering resilience. This also involves supporting each other’s own personal goals, such as career aspirations or personal growth.


For a balance that leads to consummate love—the ideal type, according to Sternberg—all three components must be present in strong measures, with each side of the triangle supporting the others.


Types of Love From The Trianglular Theory Of Love

Within the framework of Robert Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love, various types of love emerge based on the presence or absence of each of the three fundamental components.


Because this is a spectrum, there are various combinations of the three points of the triangle:


Non-Love

Non-love is the simplest form of relationship and represents interactions that lack intimacy, passion, and commitment—the three essential components of love according to Sternberg’s model. Essentially, this type of relationship resembles acquaintance or casual interaction where there is no deep connection or bond. Non-love might be the associations we have with co-workers we rarely interact with or the brief encounters with strangers. These contacts are important for casual social functioning but lack the depth and attachment of meaningful relationships.


Fatuous Love

Fatuous love is a rather whirlwind type of love, you'll feel the euphoria of dating someone you like and make decisions based on passion without the stabilizing influence of intimacy. It usually happens quickly, with partners making serious decisions like marriage or cohabitation early in the relationship, without truly getting to know each other at a deep level. Fatuous love is intense and fiery, but without the roots of intimacy, it might struggle to withstand challenges as the relationship evolves. It's the love present in a passionate summer fling that unexpectedly leads to a quick wedding—intense and committal yet not fully grounded in emotional connection.


Companionate Love:

Intimacy and commitment without passion, is common in long-term marriages and close friendships. Companionate love is characterized by a deep emotional connection and strong commitment between partners but without the intense passion typically associated with romantic relationships. This type of love often develops in long-term marriages and close friendships where the initial spark has subsided, but a deep sense of trust and companionship remains.


In companionate love, couples prioritize emotional intimacy and support each other in various aspects of their lives. They have a deep understanding of each other's needs and desires and are committed to working together to create a fulfilling and stable relationship. While the passionate excitement might have faded, the bond between partners is strong and enduring.


Companionate love is also characterized by a sense of shared goals and values. Couples in this stage often have a strong sense of teamwork and collaboration as they navigate life's ups and downs together.


Consummate Love:

The most complete form of love, encompassing intimacy, passion, and commitment, represents the ideal relationship. Consummate love is the pinnacle of a relationship, where all three components of love are fully present and balanced. It represents the ideal relationship, where couples experience deep emotional connection, intense sexual attraction, and unwavering dedication to each other.


In consummate love, partners have a strong emotional bond built on trust, understanding, and mutual respect. They share their deepest thoughts, fears, and dreams with each other, creating a sense of emotional intimacy that goes beyond surface-level interactions. This level of connection allows them to fully know and accept each other, creating a deep sense of security and companionship.


Passion also plays a vital role in consummate love. Couples experience a strong physical and sexual attraction, keeping the spark alive in their relationship. They actively pursue and maintain a satisfying and fulfilling sexual relationship, which contributes to the overall sense of passion and desire between them.


But consummate love goes beyond just intimacy and passion. It also encompasses a high level of commitment. Couples in this stage are dedicated to each other and prioritize the relationship above all else. They are willing to make sacrifices, compromise, and work through challenges together, knowing that their love is worth the effort.


The 5 Stages of a Relationship

Now, let’s break down the “HEART” framework and see how these components fit into the stages of a romantic relationship. Understanding each relationship phase, including the commitment stage, can help you navigate your own relationship more effectively.




5 stages of a relationship


H: The Honeymoon Stage or The Attraction Stage


The honeymoon stage starts with the first date and remains to some degree throughout the dating phase. It is filled with laughter, mushy emotions, butterflies in the stomach, and long romantic nights.


Passion and infatuation are at their peak in this phase, characterized by intense emotions and physical attraction. The other's flaws are totally hidden. Intimacy begins to develop at this relationship stage as each partner shares more about themselves, and there's some exploration of a shared sense of the future and where things might be headed.


E: Equilibrium -or Uncertainty & intimacy stage of a relationship

In the equilibrium stage, or stage two, the initial anxiety and novelty wear off, and things feel less intense than in the honeymoon stage. There's a general acceptance that passion stabilizes at this point, intimacy deepens as you become more comfortable with each other, and you inch toward the next stage if there's potential for it to move into a long-term relationship. You might begin to recognize the other's differences and happen to notice the red flags you were previously ignoring.


A: Adjustment -or Exclusivity Stage

The adjustment stage is critical and often where things falter for many couples because you're at the stage where you notice differences. You can expect to see the other person and find that things are different- and it's time to see things the way they are. At this point, the rose-tinted glasses come off, and quirks or red flags become apparent, it's an acceptance stage for you and your partner as you decide whether to work out your differences and move forward or not. Passion fluctuates, intimacy is tested, and commitment is put to the test. Word of warning, you cannot change your partner, you just have to accept them, or not.


R: Reality - or Intimacy Stage

In this stage, you've decided to live with your partner's quirks and differences and take a view of acceptance. In this fourth stage, passion may be less intense but more stable and enduring. Intimacy is strong because you've worked through disagreements, and the connection is solidified as you've chosen to stay together.


T: Teamwork- The Final Stage Stability Stage

The fifth stage, or the teamwork stage, involves building a shared vision for the future, whether it's starting a family, a home, or a community project. Passion is balanced and integrated into the relationship and might feel very different from the honeymoon stage. Intimacy is at its highest, and commitment is strong as you work towards common goals, but your sex life might


What To Do At Each Relationship of the Stages of love


Knowing what to do to work through the stages of relationships is an important way to ensure healthy relationships flourish. Your work in previous stages is cumulative.


Honeymoon Phase: At this first stage of a new relationship, it's crucial to build a strong emotional connection and be open about your feelings to lay a solid foundation for intimacy.


Equilibrium Stage: Maintaining open communication and exploring emotional experiences will help strengthen intimacy and belonging at this stage.


Adjustment Stage: Effective conflict resolution skills are needed at this stage as that perfect partner starts revealing their differences. Conflict management and a willingness to commit if you can tolerate relationship problems and your partner's flaws.


Reality Stage: It's important to continue nurturing intimacy and passion at this phase by engaging in shared activities, maintaining open communication, and keeping things exciting. At the same time it's vital to maintain a sense of individuality, and any relationship expert will tell you that it is the key to success for romantic partnerships.


Teamwork Stage: To keep the relationship fulfilling and to have a healthy sex life in this phase, it's important to introduce new experiences, show appreciation, and maintain novelty in your romantic life as you continue your journey together.


By understanding these five relationship stages and how intimacy, passion, and commitment play different roles, you can navigate all five stages of a relationship with greater awareness and intention.


Oliver Drakeford is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles.

40 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page