The 5 Stages of a Relationship

The 5 Stages of a RelationshipIt happened every time.

Angelika would meet a man with potential. Someone she really, REALLY liked.

She’d feel so full of hope. She’d see signs they were meant to be.

Then she’d find out he wasn’t the man she thought he was.

He had issues he hadn’t told her about.

He was no longer as attentive as before.

Angelika realized he wasn’t so extraordinary after all. He was just a guy, like every other guy who’d let her down.

When Angelika came to me, she wanted to nip this pattern in the bud. She wanted to know how to spot an amazing man who would STAY amazing, rather than disappoint her.

I admired Angelika’s determination. I appreciated the fact that she’d taken time to reflect on her past. But the answer I gave her was one she wasn’t expecting to hear.

“What makes a man special is how you see him,” I told her. “So if you want to meet an amazing man, it’s up to you to see what’s amazing about him.”

“But I do!” she said. “I always look for the best in everybody. What I get mad at is when a guy presents himself one way and then turns out to be totally different.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I can see how you would feel misled. But let me ask you a question. When you go out on a date with someone new, do you immediately tell him everything that’s wrong with you?”

Angelika shook her head. “Of course not!”

“Do you think men feel the same way?”

She bit her lip. “Well, probably.”

I explained that everyone—men and women alike—put their best foot forward in the beginning of a relationship. They’re on their best behavior. They want to be liked.

It’s easy to fall in love with someone who’s trying their best to win you over. You feel liked, admired, appreciated. You feel as if this person gets you on a very deep level.

But you don’t actually know each other very well yet.

You’re in the beginning stages of intimacy, where the amount of time you’re spending together gives you the illusion of having known one another forever.

This is known as the honeymoon phase, and it’s one of the 5 stages of relationships.

Understand how relationships evolve, and you won’t be surprised when your relationship starts to shift in a new direction.

So what are the stages of a relationship?

They can go by different names, but taken together they describe the journey your relationship will take from the initial euphoria of infatuation to the grounded contentment of real love.

  1. Honeymoon phase
  2. Reality check
  3. Power struggle
  4. Reconciliation
  5. Real love 

For many people, the honeymoon phase is the best part of a relationship. All of the fun with none of the work!

Angelika was getting stuck in the second stage of relationships, the reality check.

This is when the rose-colored glasses come off. Your guy feels safe with you, so he starts to show you more of his real self.

Instead of feeling misled, I told Angelika, feel encouraged. He’s letting his guard down. He’s starting to trust you. You may not like what you see, but real imperfection is better than a perfect illusion.

Even if you persevere through the reality check, you’re not home free. You have another major obstacle ahead:

The power struggle.

The power struggle strikes every couple. It can hit right away, or it can lie in wait for several years.

This is when you realize that the two of you don’t always want the same things. He wants things his way, and you want them your way.

Instead of negotiating, you battle for control of the relationship. Who will make the decisions? Who will win? Who’s in charge?

If a couple doesn’t know this stage is coming, they can split up over it. The relationship becomes a source of stress. You’re always fighting. It’s too much work.

But committed couples turn the power struggle around. They realize the enemy is their lack of relationship skills, rather than each other. They commit to finding a mutually respectful way to navigate and even honor their differences.

Their reward is reconciliation, that feeling of peace that comes when you know you can get through anything together.

Couples can go back and forth between the power struggle and reconciliation many times in the course of a relationship.

Ultimately, if they persevere, they begin to see that love is nothing like what they thought it was. It’s not a feeling. It’s a partnership. It’s something they choose, rather than something they have.

You can tell couples who’ve achieved real love by the way they see each other through rose-colored glasses.

It’s not like before. Now they know each other’s flaws. But they choose to see the best in each other, despite knowing the worst.

And that, I told Angelika, is a relationship worth enduring a few disappointments for.

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4 thoughts on “The 5 Stages of a Relationship

  1. Eliana Anderson said:

    I was with this man for 10 happy months. We’ve known each other for 2 years through work. We both went to the same site looking for a partner and not only that but spending hours at work together made us a more then friends. I thought everything was so perfect. He has 3 children, the two older living in Florida where we live too, not together full time, the young one lives in Hawaii, in another words he pays child support for 3 children.
    In our profession we don’t make much money, at least in our ages – I’m 62 and he is 52. Which never was a problem.

    So, money always was a problem. He doesn’t have a car and right now and lives with his parents.
    Because I have my own house and my car I always pick him up and give him rides when he needs. Always buying him things that he really needs.

    Last December he told me that he would really like to be alone for Christmas. I had decided to go to my birth country (for two months). I’m retired there and here. I returned on Friday morning, went back home, had a sex (everything was ok, or looked good). Saturday and Sunday fine nothing extraordinary, but then Monday morning was a disaster. He was ignoring me, like I was not in the room. I was so upset that I left for walking, when I came back he was all ready to leave. I asked if he was ok and he answered that he needed time to think, and I said me too. So I took him home.
    At the car we start a conversation, which was not in good terms, not too bad but not good. He said we both have Savior Complex, at first I didn’t understand. I left and come back home and started to look for the definition of that. Writing to him for more clues about our relationship and then he told me that we have nothing in common. I asked how about what you said on our 9 months anniversary, he said was too soon and I asked again he said because I emasculated him. He said sorry but after 2 months he realized he was projecting too much onto me, and he said, still care for you deeply.

    After all that I’ve realized that I blocked his hero instinct.

    I know for sure I love him so much and I want him back, I made so many mistakes and I see now all the signs he was giving me but I was so blind I did not see how he was screaming for help.
    Do you think I can have him back and forgive me for all the damage I did in his life?

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Eliana. It seems the two of you have shared a meaningful connection over these past few months. I understand why you want to take the hero instinct into consideration and use it to improve things. Yet I want to first caution you against thinking that you damaged his life. Maybe it’s a translation issue, but the words you chose seem to reflect unnecessary blame.

      Learning to trigger the emotional needs and desires of the opposite sex is a worthy endeavor for all of us. It’s an opportunity to create happiness for others and ourselves. But when we don’t do a great job of bridging that gap in needs and desires, it doesn’t make it all your fault.

      Many people who find themselves in relationship situations similar to yours have benefited from using the hero instinct in a very simple way. They simply ask him for help in diagnosing what went wrong in the relationship (with no pressure to figure it out…but more in a tone that suggests curiosity as two travelers who shared a portion of the same journey together). He seems to have already diagnosed the problem as a mutual “savior complex,” but there may be hidden nuances to what he means about that. Especially since he said he has projected a lot of feelings or expectations onto you.

      In short, insight is needed. And open conversation can be a helpful path toward gaining new insights about what he fears, what he wants, and potential ways to bridge the gap.

      Wishing you love and happiness,


  2. Carole Bishton said:

    I met a man I would like to have a relationship with, he was was showing me a lot attention so I decided to let him know I was interested in a text. He came back and said we should just be friends. I am 9 years older than he is. Ever since he is very cold to me, acting like he doesn’t want to be alone with me. Like I would attack him or something. I feel bad because I value his friendship and his humor. What do I do now?

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Carole. That’s a tough situation. It’s like he was sending you green light signals without realizing it. He must value your friendship if he is acting awkward. Because if he didn’t care, he wouldn’t be showing this sign of relationship stress.

      Here’s a question for you. Have you given him a very clear message that you fully accept his desire to maintain a purely platonic friendship? Because his behavior seems to suggest he is going overboard in his attempt to avoid leading you on further. Perhaps he realized his mistake and does not want to hurt you further by sending the wrong message.

      Some people also find it useful to invite him into the solution-generating conversation. Like this, “Hey, I don’t want things to be awkward between us. How can we move past the awkwardness to just enjoy a regular friendship?” Exploring a problem together often resolves the awkwardness all by itself.

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