Relationships are complicated things. They can be hard to define, hard to categorise – sometimes just hard full stop. You might have been with your other half for years, having met on a dating site, and feel you’re in a completely different stage of your relationship to a couple who’ve been together five minutes.
But it’s not all about official milestones. Living together, getting engaged, marrying and having kids are concrete markers, but these stages mean different things to different people. Some couples define their relationships by them, while others don’t see their importance.
That’s why Match has put together a guide to the stages of a relationship, without focusing on these official milestones. Instead, we’ll set out the typical stages couples experience, from first date to happy ever after. Of course, there’s no “one size fits all” progression of a relationship, but we’ve found that many follow a similar pattern. Read on and see if you recognise the stage that you and your partner are currently in.
Stage 1 of a relationship: When you’re obsessed with each other
This is the stage when you first meet someone you fancy, you can barely stop thinking about each other and you definitely can’t keep your hands off each other. The initial infatuation is intense and can distract you from everything else in your life. You’ll constantly be learning exciting new things about each other and going on lots of fun dates.
During this stage of a relationship, it’s important to work out whether what you’re feeling is the beginnings of falling for someone or pure lust. It can be harder than you might think to tell these two feelings apart; read our guide to distinguishing between them if you’re not sure. If it’s just lust, this is unlikely to be the first stage of a relationship, but feel free to enjoy it while it lasts! If you are starting to fall for them, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride! There’s little else that feels like the first few months of being with someone, so make the most of it until things start to settle down and your emotions are more stable.
- Don’t say “I love you” too soon. Those 3 big words mean a lot, so don’t throw them around if you’re not 100% sure you mean them
- Avoid seeing them every day. Maintaining your independence is essential in a healthy relationship, so set the precedent early on and they should follow suit
Stage 2 of a relationship: When you start to notice each other’s flaws
The sheen of infatuation in the first stage of a relationship can distract you from your other half’s flaws. You might think that they’re perfect in every way, but trust us, everyone has imperfections, and you will start to notice them as time goes on. This is the beginning of the second major stage, and when many couples’ problems start.
It might be that they’re infuriating when they’ve had too much to drink, that they can’t stand to lose an argument, or that they refuse to accept help even when they clearly need it. These kind of characteristics lead to arguments and can bring you back to reality with a bump after the euphoric early stages of a relationship. During this time you might start to question whether you’re really right for each other and whether the relationship is worth fighting for.
- Don’t try to hide your perceived flaws. If you plan on being with this person for a long time, they’ll eventually notice them. Be honest about who you are and allow them to accept the good, the bad and the ugly
- Be patient. Remember that they’re probably starting to find some of your habits equally annoying and don’t snap at them for every little thing
Stage 3 of a relationship: When you learn to compromise and harmonise
Once you’ve started to notice things that irritate you about your partner, the next vital stage is learning to deal with these things and make compromises in the way you behave together. This can be one of the most turbulent times in any relationship as you test each other’s limits. The outcome of this stage, if you’re going to have a future together, has to be reaching a certain level of harmony between the two of you.
Some couples will always have passionate arguments, while others settle into a more calm phase in which they’ve learnt how best to deal with each other. The most important thing is that you’re both able to recognise when you’re wrong, when you’re being unreasonable, and when you need to say sorry. You might not have mastered these requirements, and no-one really likes admitting fault, but your relationship probably won’t last if you’re incapable of any of these things.
- Don’t make too many compromises. If you’re finding that you’re having to make lots of compromises and your other half is changing nothing, it might be worth considering how happy you actually are and whether the relationship is viable
- If your partner has done something to annoy you, don’t bottle it up. Be upfront with them and they can do something about it, rather than you bottling it up and using it against them in a future argument
Stage 4 of a relationship: Becoming completely comfortable
The time it takes to reach this stage varies hugely from couple to couple, often depending on whether you live together, but you’ll inevitably get there. This is the point at which you’re so confident in your partner’s love for you that you stop making as much effort as you used to. You’ll probably go out together less often, or maybe stop completely. You’ll laze around in your PJs and won’t care about your other half seeing you looking rough. You might fart in front of each other or use the toilet while your partner’s also in there. These are all signs that you’re completely comfortable around each other, and once you start doing these things, there’s no going back.
There’s always the possibility that your sex life might take a nosedive too. If you’ve been together for a while things can become a bit stale. It’s up to you to decide if this is an issue for you as a couple. Some couples are happy to have sex less frequently once their relationship reaches this stage, while others get frustrated and feel that things need to change.
- If you’ve lost that spice in your sex life, try as many new things as you can to bring it back. The secret to an exciting sex life is variety!
- Keep doing things to show your love. Don’t get so comfortable that you start to neglect your other half! You don’t have to plan grand gestures – things like cooking them a nice meal or taking half an hour every day to have an undistracted, one-on-one conversation do the trick
Stage 5 of a relationship: When you realise it’s forever (or for the foreseeable future)
Congratulations, you’ve reached the final frontier! Eventually you’ll get to a point where you can’t imagine any reason why you’d break up. You’re completely comfortable together, know each other inside out and trust each other 100%. You also have a load of mutual friends so breaking up would be a huge headache.
In today’s dating world, we have to acknowledge that not all relationships last forever, even if they meet all of these requirements. Sometimes couples grow apart and it’s no one’s fault. So our advice is to enjoy this final stage of a relationship, even if it doesn’t actually last forever. Don’t take it to mean that you’re obliged to stay together for the rest of your lives. If it doesn’t feel right for whatever reason, don’t ignore the warning signs. There’s nothing worse than being trapped in a dead relationship because you can’t imagine life without your partner.
- Don’t feel under pressure to get married or rush into other milestone events. Every couple takes things at a different pace and has different priorities. If you’ve been together for a long time but aren’t married, people will continue to ask when the wedding’s happening. Don’t let this put pressure on you! If marriage isn’t important to you, let those people asking you awkward questions know and keep doing you
If you’re looking for someone to start a brand new relationship with, register for free today and browse your matches. Or, check out our dating advice so you can put your best foot forward when you start your dating journey.