When you start dating someone new, the experience can feel wildly different from the last time you dated. This is especially true if you’ve been away from the field for a while.
But humans are predictable, and our relationships fall into patterns.
What stage of dating are you in?
There are five stages of love and dating, after which you both decide whether to take the relationship from loosely defined to either married or “later.” Have you just started a new thing? Read on to see what’s in store for both of you.
1. Honeymoon stage
In the movies, the first stage, which is the honeymoon phase, is where the two main characters meet by chance and cue the fireworks and violins. In the honeymoon stage, you think your partner is perfect and is blind to their flaws—remember the rose-colored glasses cliché?
Although we like to think we’re attracted to people for their character or personality, in the honeymoon stage, the main draw is physical. Chemistry is real—in a new relationship, the brain is flooded with oxytocin, a feel-good hormone.
This pushes the sexual attraction on, along with the obsession about the other person (and wilful ignorance of their flaws), and the feelings of falling in love. Even if you notice your new partner’s quirks and red flags, at this stage of the game, you think they’re cute. And it usually goes both ways.
2. Deepening stage
The pure neuro-chemical attraction can last for up to a year and a half, after which other emotions kick in, either strengthening or weakening the bond between people. But the next stage, which is the deepening stage of dating, can happen anywhere after the first month or two, depending on how much you see each other and your respective karmas. Here, although your feelings for each other are deepening and solidifying, some differences start to emerge, and you might feel trapped. This is very hard, especially in long-distance relationships.
As you both take off your rose-colored glasses, more conflict will arise, which leads to the disillusionment stage. This happens in every relationship—between friends, parents and children, co-workers, etc. But with a new couple, the conflicts feel more intense. If you’re still dating other people on the periphery, here’s where you cut them off.
In the deepening stage, the relationship starts to take up more time and space in both your individual lives. It’s a good time to vet your partner with family and friends.
3. Exclusivity stage
The third stage is an interesting time in dating. While it seems to cut down on external distractions (as in other interests), exclusivity means devoting more of your energy to this one fairly new person in your life. Here you commit to each other and set up monogamous or non-monogamous agreements.
The tricky part with this love stage is when one person wants to enter it before another. Deciding to prioritize each other and increase the safety and security inside the relationship is a big step, but without it, you’ll languish in some vague friends-with-benefits area (or worse, fall back into the actual friend zone).
Without the decision to go exclusive, there’s nothing propping up the relationship but a bunch of texts and bar tabs. Sometimes people get stuck in this stage forever. In order to move past this stage, the couple needs to focus on communicating their feelings and expectations to one another.
4. Intimacy stage
Depending on how fast you and your partner decide to go, intimacy will follow exclusivity. In this stage of love, you both let down your guard. It’s scary, but it’s also a relief—how many people can you show your true self to?
Intimacy can make some people feel vulnerable. Pretty much everyone alive has been hurt by someone else—to wilfully open yourself up might feel overwhelming. The solution is open communication. Emotional intimacy is actually much scarier than physical intimacy, and the payoff is slower.
When you both make the decision to open up and commit on a deeper level, you can start to plan for the future. Or alternatively, you’ll both come to realize the relationship is not meant to be, and hopefully part ways peacefully and focus on self-love or self-care.
5. Engagement stage
Engagement is the fifth and final stage of a romantic relationship before marriage. It is a formal agreement to enter into marriage and is usually marked by an exchange of rings and a public announcement.
The couple usually sets a date for the wedding and begins planning the ceremony and reception. It is also a time when the couple makes a commitment to each other and begins to plan their future together. The five stages of the dating model are a useful tool for understanding the progression of romantic relationships and developing conflict management.
Do you need relationship help?
If you need help to start or maintain a long-term relationship, contact Clinton Power for a FREE 15-minute phone inquiry call to discuss your situation and find out how we can help. Call us now at (02) 8968 9323 or book your free phone or Zoom inquiry online.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.