Relationships 101: The Best Questions for Couples At Every Stage
We know that all relationships are different, and that every serious couple gets to know each other in unique ways, but while this is true, we also recognize that all relationships go through very specific stages as the relationship evolves and partners become closer to one another. Despite the unique quirks in each relationship, all long-term romantic relationships go through very specific stages that have set characteristics and traits. These five relationship stages are: romance, power struggle, stability, commitment and bliss.
Though these stages are sometimes referred to by different names, the concept of the five relationship stages is recognized by relationship experts far and wide. The five relationship stages generally progress in order, though sometimes couples backslide between stages if they are not able to move past the challenges of a specific phase.
The 5 Stages of a Relationship
Here is a summary of the different stages of romantic relationships and what you can expect in each stage:
The romance stage is what we think of as the courtship and the subsequent honeymoon stage. The romance stage is the first stage of any relationship and it is characterized by infatuation, a foolish type of love that allows us to overlook the flaws of our partner or in the relationship.
During the romance stage, hormones are at an all-time high, and you may feel as if you just can't get enough of your new partner. This feeling is due to chemicals like oxytocin that are released in your brain and that actually make you feel drunk on love. Even though you might feel very drawn to your partner in the romance stage, it is more of a superficial kind of love, because let’s face it - you really don’t know each other that well. In the romance stage, it is common for people to hide parts of their true self out of fear of rejection by their relatively new partner.
In the early stage of a relationship it can be difficult to be your true, authentic self, because you have not established trust in your relationship yet. This trust will come with time if you and your partner move past the romance stage, but this lack of trust is part of the reason the love in this stage is rather superficial. In the romance stage, it is also common for people to avoid difficult questions about the future out of fear that they are not on the same page as their partner. No one wants to take the fun out of a new relationship by asking a serious question too early, which means that new couples often don’t address serious topics, which can lead to complications later on in the relationship.
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Power Struggle Stage
Following the romance stage is the power struggle. In this stage, the initial honeymoon period has worn off and you will start to notice the flaws your partner inevitably has that you were able to overlook during the romance stage. During the power struggle stage, the hormones start to wear off and as they do, the rose-colored glasses come off. This means that you will begin to see the relationship for what it really is - flaws and all.
During the power struggle phase, you and your partner are likely to fight more as you grapple with each other’s whole, imperfect identities. This can lead to people pulling away from the relationship or becoming very clingy for fear of losing their partner. This stage can often lead to breaks-ups or divorce if couples are unable to compromise or fight constructively. Though this may seem like a bad thing, it is an important progression in the relationship! If you want your relationship to go the distance (and you want to end up in the relationship bliss stage with your partner), you have to deal with the realities of partnership, which can often be very trying.
Couples that survive the power struggle phase learn how to negotiate, be vulnerable and truly trust one another. Working through the power struggle phase is essential to a long-lasting relationship, even if it is brutal at the time.
If your relationship makes it out of the power struggle phase, you will land in the stability phase. The stability phase is characterized by mutual respect, and an acceptance of your partner and relationship as real and flawed. During the stability phase, couples have respite from the tumultuous power struggle phase and start to develop habits and routines. Couples may feel as if they are coasting in this phase, which is a nice break from fighting all the time, but it is still important to put time and energy into the relationship, even when things are going well. The stability phase is often the true test for couples (even though the power struggle may feel more challenging), because it shows whether or not you are willing to keep pushing the relationship forward and keep growing together even when things are comfortable. If you and your partner make it out of the stability phase, you will enter the fourth stage of the relationship.
The fourth relationship stage is the commitment stage. In the commitment stage, you and your partner will be committed to each other and recognize that you are choosing to be together despite all the human flaws. The commitment stage of a relationship is marked by serious discussions about the future, and the decision to have a life-long partnership.
While you may feel committed to your partner before you reach the fourth stage of the relationship, in the commitment stage you will spell out your commitment to one another and discuss how you will be a part of each other’s plans in the future. This commitment stage is often when couples decide to get married, though this is not necessarily a requirement of this stage (plenty of couples get married at other stages in the relationship and have success!).
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After the commitment phase is the final stage of a relationship, the bliss stage, also known as the co-creation stage. In this stage, you and your partner are at ease in your relationship and feel totally comfortable and trusting of each other. This will allow you both to focus on things outside of your partnership.
This phase is often characterized by starting projects focused on giving back to the community or a specific cause. These projects are normally a team effort that naturally arises out of your relationship and your growth as a couple. This phase can further cement your connection to one another, but it is important to continue to prioritize your relationship, even as you turn some of your attention outward.
As your relationship naturally evolves, it can be helpful to ask specific questions at different stages of the relationship that help you and your partner navigate the challenges inherent to every stage of a relationship. Only couples that are truly meant to be will make it to the final stage of a relationship, known as bliss, wholehearted love and/or the co-creation stage. It is better to know about your compatibility and whether or not your relationship has what it takes sooner rather than later. This means that you may have to ask some hard questions early on (and throughout the course of your relationship) to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page about your commitment to each other, the relationship, and a shared plan for the future.
Questions to Ask Your Partner
Here are some questions that you should be asking at each relationship stage:
During the romance stage, it is important to ask questions about the views related to relationships in general to make sure that you and your partner are on the same page about the future and how your relationship can progress. Some questions include:
- Do you see yourself in a long-term monogamous relationship?
- Do you see yourself getting married one day?
- Are you interested in having children?
It can be awkward to ask these types of questions early on in the relationship, especially if you really like someone and don’t want to risk finding out that you have different beliefs... But it’s important to make sure that you are on the same page so that if you are looking for a serious relationship, you aren’t wasting time with someone who does not share the same values.
Asking these hard questions can either set you up for a successful future with a shared vision, or it can allow you to go your separate ways if you have major divergences in your future plans. Learning about these differences can be painful, but it can save you a lot of heartbreak down the line, before your relationship gets more serious.
During the power struggle stage, it is important to understand if your partner is willing to hunker down and fight for your relationship. Some important questions are:
- Are you willing to sacrifice certain things to maintain/save the relationship?
- Are you willing to compromise in order to move past your problems as a couple?
- Are you willing to be in a relationship after the fun, easy romance stage?
If you and your partner are not able to fight in a healthy way, or are not able to let go of things from the past, your relationship will not survive this phase. The power struggle phase is characterized by a lot of conflict, which can make it difficult to bring up these types of tough questions. But it is super important to flush out whether or not your relationship can withstand tough times. The reality of relationships can be difficult, so it’s important to be able to trust that your partner will be by your side through thick and thin. Understanding your partner’s commitment to the relationship will help it move from power struggle to stability.
It is easy to get stuck in the stability phase of a relationship, which can often lead to boredom. To avoid this, and to move to the other stages of your relationship, you need to know that your partner is committed to evolution. Ask your partner things like:
- Are you willing to keep getting outside of your comfort zone?
- Do you want to continue to have new experiences together?
Some relationships can fall apart if you or your partner feel stuck or uninspired in your relationship. It is important to understand whether or not your partner is willing to continue to grow with you as your relationship progresses. Remember that the stability phase is not the final stage of a relationship! It is important to keep growing your connection and to do this, you and your partner need to be willing to push each other and embrace instability from time to time.
During the commitment stage, it is important to understand that your work as a couple is not done. Sure, you are committed to being together, but that does not mean that your personal growth or your relationship growth is over. To avoid falling into this trap, ask your partner:
- How do they plan to maintain your emotional connection?
- How do they plan to continue to grow as an individual?
Having open discussions about how you will keep the relationship alive and fresh is a super important part of a mature relationship. Feelings of staleness are bound to emerge, so having honest talks about ways that you are going to stay committed to love, happiness and growth will help you navigate these feelings.
During the bliss stage, it is important to understand that your relationship is never done changing and that you will always have to dedicate time and space to your relationship. Ensuring that you and your partner are on the same page about continued growth is an important part of this stage. Ask your partner things like:
- How will we continue to grow together?
- What are things we can do together for the rest of our lives?
- How do we avoid growing apart?
These conversations can help you stay committed to each other and present in your relationship even as time moves on. This is the pinnacle of any relationship, but that does not mean that it is without difficulties. Staying honest and open about your feelings and needs in the relationship will help you stay committed and excited about being together.
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