I’ll start off by answering the second part of our subject material here. While there is no “right” time to state the words “I love you”, there is a wrong time. You will realize when the "wrong" time is after reading this blog.
Let me preface this by saying I have years of experience behind me in the study of relationships and the science behind love. I’ve read several journals that breakdown the theories of intimacy, triangular theory of love, relationships and attachment theories. In addition, I’ve read a plethora of blogs regarding various scholars’ views on relationship stages. The foundation of the information in this blog comes from my own experience and learned knowledge over the years. This blog consists of my own interpretation of the various stages in a relationship.
The Relationship Stages
1. The Infatuation Stage: Nearly every scholar and professional agrees that the infatuation stage is the first stage; nothing comes before this stage. This is the stage in which your euphoria is at its highest. Your body has started producing high levels of endorphins, which will make you feel unusually happy and in bright spirits all of a sudden. You will find yourself extremely attracted to the person and desiring intimacy quite frequently. You’ll want to spend a majority of your time with the person and you’ll find nearly every waking moment with that person enjoyable. While you experience moments of intense happiness, you may also experience moments of fear and you’ll find yourself asking questions like “is this real?”, “will this go away?”, “Are they really into me?”, “Am I really into them?”, “Do I love them?”, etc. However, one thing remains true in this stage and that is that your partner can do no wrong.
2. The Conception Stage: This is really the “birth” of the relationship in my opinion. In this stage you’ll amass a wealth of knowledge about your partner. You’ll begin to get more of an understanding of the person, their background, their family life, who their friends are, what they like to do, commonalities and you’ll figure out if this romantic connection has the potential for long-term or short-term relationship. However, it goes beyond your mental state of mind; your body is still producing a large amount of endorphins in this stage. It’s this stage where you will fall in love with the person. Limerence is at its highest in this stage. You can’t imagine life without the person in this stage. You are happier than you’ve ever been in this stage. The relationship seems completely conceivable and maybe it is. You’ll realize that you have several commonalities and ask yourself “Are we the same person?” You tend to look beyond all their flaws and only see the good in them. Any type of conflict in this stage is seen as detrimental (but it's not) to the relationship. However that’s only due to a sudden shift in feelings. It’s important to know that conflict will/can arise in any stage of the relationship and knowing how to communicate with the person is vital.
3. The Disclosure Stage: I call this the disclosure stage because this is the stage in which you really give your partner full disclosure and when your partner is a in more relaxed state allowing himself or herself to give full disclosure as well. You may begin to notice some annoying habits that your partner has. You may begin to disagree more and you may even experience something deceitful at this stage. There is no way for your body to continually produce the amount of endorphins it was in the beginning of your relationship so the euphoria begins to subside. Aspects of the relationship become a bit more “serious.” Maybe your partner wasn’t full forthcoming in the beginning of the relationship but now feels comfortable doing so. It’s of utmost importance in this stage that communication and conflict resolution is done so effectively between each other. One should be as open and honest as possible in this stage because if you can make it through this stage with full self-disclosure and minimal unresolved conflicts, you’re pretty good to go for the following stages.
(TIP: In this stage it’s important that you engage in meaningful activities. While you may share many commonalities, you may also have things that each of you like individually. There might even be something that your partner wants to do (i.e. go on a hike) that you feel would not interest you; try it. You have to both be willing to at least experience the other person’s interests. Who knows, you could end up really liking it yourself. However, the important thing here is to keep engaged and try new things with your partner. You’ll create memories that will last a lifetime.)
4. The Reality Stage: While many like to refer to this as the disillusionment stage, I refer to it as the “reality” stage. To say that one will experience disillusionment is rather pessimistic. This could actually be a very positive stage in the relationship but we must take into consideration the events that occurred in the previous stages. One thing is true in this stage; the endorphins your body was producing in previous stages are almost completely gone at this point. You have both settled into your roles as a couple in this stage. You most likely have made future plans and arguments are not out of the norm. Psychologists unanimously agree that arguments are healthy and actually help to mold a more positive relationship (if resolved). There may be some worry about whether or not you chose the right partner but this is due to our natural defense mechanisms. We’re worried we may have made the wrong choice and want to be assured by our partner that we haven’t.
5. The Reactionary Stage: It’s in this stage that more of the conflict might occur. This is possibly one of the most difficult stages to make it through as you start to feel as though you’ve lost your individuality and seek to gain it back. You might feel yourself competing with your partner, struggling to prove your worth to your partner, power struggle issues become more prevalent here and doubt is at its highest. Differences can help the relationship grow but it can also hinder it. Sex It’s at this point in the relationship that trust, self-disclosure, communication and support (from each other) are of extreme importance. If you still are unable to resolve conflicts, communicate effectively and see past your differences, the relationship is most likely doomed. If you can’t resolve issues on your own, couples therapy may be necessary.
6. The Cognizance Stage: I call it this because it’s at this stage that you’ve reached a milestone in the relationship; you finally have clarity of what this relationship is. You’ve overcome some serious hurdles and you’ve come to a peaceful place. This is the stage where partners usually decide to marry each other. Based upon the attachment theory, a happy couple should have positive views of each other and feel comfortable with intimacy and dependency. You become very happy in this stage because the war is finally over and you both accept each other for who each other is. You no longer distort the image of the person or project upon the person. You see them as they are and love them for being that person. You realize that you may have future conflicts but you know how to resolve them with better perfection. You see the relationship as something that has the potential to last a lifetime in this stage. You both realize that you have the power to make changes and can do so if you’re both willing to work at it together.
7. The Unconditional Stage: This, to me, is the final stage in the relationship. It’s at this point you both completely trust each other, love each other, know everything about each other and realize that your love is not only deep, but unconditional. Research suggests that in all theories of relationship stages a very low percentage of people actually make it to the final stage. However, that should not disillusion anyone reading this as there are hundreds of thousands of couples that have lived long, happy, successful, prosperous and adventurous lives together. It's all about making the key fit the socket, if you connect on a level that transcends typical connections then you've met the one.
Successful relationships all have a few things in common; there’s full disclosure, trust, a friendship on top of the intimate relationship, comfortability in independence, comfortability in intimacy, commonalities, excellent communication, understanding and support. If you have all of these in your relationship, you’re well on your way to a very happy and long-lasting relationship.
MA in Clinical Psych, New School
MSW Program at Fordham