Select your language

Download HER

5 relationship stages every partnership goes through

Avatar photo

Dec 06, 2023

5 relationship stages every partnership goes through
  • If you have ever been in a long-term relationship, you might be familiar with a little concept called change over time—otherwise known as evolution. While we might sometimes want our romantic partnerships to stay the same forever, the truth is that there are very necessary stages that all relationships go through. 

    When we are first experiencing the peak of being in love, it is truly indescribable. True love makes you want to freeze time and bottle up that feeling to experience it forever. When our intimate relationships evolve and go through different stages, it can be difficult to access the mushy gushy feeling of falling in love you had in the honeymoon phase. 

    Some relationship stages might feel painful, confusing, or challenging, while others will remind you of the exact reasons why you chose your partner. The trick to making any long-term relationship last over time is finding those little ways to fall back in love and stay connected as you both change. 

    “The $99 million question in love is always, ‘Are you there for me?’”

    Sue Johnson, a clinical psychologist and one of the leading innovators of couple’s therapy

    “It’s not just, ‘Are you my friend, and will you help me with the chores?’”


    According to her research, the secret to keeping relationships strong and vibrant over the years is emotional synchronicity and being tuned in to each other.

    Once you’ve got a good idea of your dating timeline, the real test of the relationship stages comes. The five stages of a relationship that every couple goes through are Romance and Honeymoon, Differences and Negotiation, Conflict and Crisis, Stability and Commitment, and Deep Trust. Here is everything you need to know about these stages and exactly how you and your boo can survive them with your hearts intact.

    1. The Romance and Honeymoon stage

    This relationship stage comes at the beginning of any relationship when you and your significant other are quite simply drunk in love. You wake up in the kitchen saying how the hell did this shit happen, oh baby. The romance and honeymoon phase usually lasts between the first three to six months of a new relationship but sometimes can last up to two years. 

    During this time, romance is everywhere. You might feel as if you’ve met your perfect match, and nothing could go wrong. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, who studies love and romance, calls this stage the infatuation period.

    “You know the elation, the giddiness, the euphoria, the energy, the possessiveness, the craving, the obsession? That’s the infatuation stage.”

    Helen Fisher

    You tend to see everything through an idealized lens because of the increased norepinephrine and dopamine levels in the brain. 

    In other words, your rose-tinted glasses are on and popping. It’s common to sweep things under the rug and not really focus on certain behaviors that irk you during the honeymoon phase. This is also typically the stage in a relationship when sexual passions are running high, and you can’t keep your hands off each other.

    2. The Differences and Negotiation stage 

    So, what happens after the infatuation stage? This next stage in a relationship usually comes with differences and negotiation. Once you’ve reached the urge to merge stage, you differentiate yourself from your partner. During the differences stage, you start to notice how different you and your partner are. This relationship stage typically lasts anywhere between six months to the first year.

    You begin to question whether the little things that annoy you about them will become bigger problems in the long run. You may start to experience doubt and/or denial about the relationship.

    “Every couple has differences.”


    She explains that during this relationship stage, you start to work out whether those differences are incompatible or something you can overcome.

    This is where the second part of the relationship stage comes in: learning how to negotiate. During the negotiation phase, you and your partner learn how to communicate with each other and find common ground. You might discuss your past experiences and what your triggers are, what your plans for the future look like, and what both of your love languages are. 

    According to research from the Journal of Family Psychology, relationship agreements are frequently part of the negotiation stage for queer and transgender couples. This can include conversations about monogamy and non-monogamy, including safe-sex practices and emotional intimacy outside of the primary partnership.

    3. The Conflict and Crisis stage

    If you make it through your relationship’s doubt and denial phase, you will get to the conflict and crisis stage. The name might sound dramatic, but that is usually because it can feel like your relationship is on the rocks during this stage. This is the time—during the first three years of a relationship—when you start to have recurring fights and deeper conflicts that aren’t as easily resolved. You might start to feel confused about whether this is the right relationship for you in a long-term sense.

    Criticism and rejection often met with defensiveness and withdrawal, are common dynamics that can arise during this period. It’s important to recognize if these patterns are showing up in your relationship and find new ways to overcome conflict and disagreements. In healthy relationships, partners try to empathize and understand each other’s perspectives instead of constantly trying to be right.

    While blaming our partners during this relationship stage is easy, conflict is almost always co-created.

    “Conflict is a dynamic, interactive dance. There is an interconnection between the moves where my move evokes your move, and yours provokes mine, so we are contributing to what the other person is doing.”

    Ester Perel, psychotherapist

    Practicing healthy communication, respecting each other’s boundaries, and learning how to compromise are crucial during this relationship phase.

    Two young LGBTQIA+ people in a long-term relationship, wholeheartedly in love. They are both dressed in velvet suits with short hair, their faces lovingly pressed together, both holding a bouquet of roses.

    4. The Stability and Commitment Stage

    Once you and your partner have made it through the crisis stage (thank god), you will start to find a newfound sense of stability in the relationship. This stage of a relationship can happen anytime between the two and five-year mark when you decide to commit to making things work in the long term. Many couples start talking about moving in together, family-building, or merging finances during this phase. 

    Maybe you’ve started to see a couples’ therapist, or you’ve both done work on yourselves independently to get to the stability stage. Either way, you have accepted your partner for who they are and decided that the relationship is worth fighting for.

    “There’s a distinction between what we are fighting about versus what we are fighting for.”


    It’s also common to experience a fading or slowing down of sexual intimacy in the relationship. 

    Researcher Carlos Yela García calls this the “companionate love” phase. During this time, passion may subside, but commitment and emotional intimacy reach their peaks. Make sure to find ways to keep the physical intimacy and spark alive during this phase, even if that means scheduling (yes, scheduling) sex. Taking solo trips away from your partner, planning date nights, and investing in new sex toys can be great strategies to keep the excitement and romance present in your relationship.

    5. The Deep Trust stage

    The final stage of a relationship is when you start to experience safety, security, and deep trust. If you’ve made it to this stage of your relationship, congrats. Relationships are hard work, and there is nothing quite like the closeness when you trust someone completely. This stage doesn’t mean everything in your partnership is perfect, but you should be a team and feel confident that you can overcome obstacles together. 

    Research shows that fidelity, honesty, and open communication are all key components of the trust-building process. Without this, trust might backslide, and the progression of your relationship could slow down. If you want your relationship to succeed, it’s important to work together to make sure that both partners feel that they can be honest with each other.

    What does true love feel like? Dr. Leslie Beth Wish, licensed clinical psychotherapist and author of Training Your Love Intuition says true love should ultimately provide peace and stability.

    “Healthy, lasting love finds its own ‘cruising gear’ where you feel fulfilled, happy, positive, and sure of your choice of partner.”

    Dr. Leslie Beth Wish

    When you experience the ‘cruising gear’ of wholehearted love, you should feel like your partner encourages you to focus on your personal goals outside the relationship. Make sure not to take each other for granted during this stage. A great way to stay connected is to do small things for each other often. Find thoughtful and caring ways to show your appreciation and love for your partner like compliments, cooking dinner, or writing love notes. These little things will remind you of the reasons you fell in love in the first place.

    A pink neon sign reading “LOVE” glowing in all capital letters. Deep trust and unconditional love is one of the final stages of a relationship.

    How are relationship stages different for LGBTQIA+ people? 

    Queer couples are more likely to meet through mutual friends or on queer dating apps like HER than our straight counterparts. And while the 5 relationship stages can apply to any relationship—queer or straight—LGBTQIA+ relationships don’t always follow the same trajectory as heterosexual ones. 

    Whether or not you’ve ever U-hauled, the truth is that LGBTQIA+ couples might have different reasons to move in together. For example, queer people are more likely to experience financial hardship, parental rejection, or unsupportive living environments due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, which may speed up the decision to cohabitate. Queer couples might also not have the same access to supportive families, so big milestones like “meeting the parents” might not happen until later down the road if at all. 

    At the end of the day, relationships can take a lot of work. but they should be ultimately fulfilling, no matter your stage.

    “One of the beautiful things about queer relationships is that we don’t have to follow the traditional models of long-term straight relationships. Maybe some lesbians do wanna get married or buy a house together, but ultimately we get to define what our relationship stages are based on what is important to us.”

    Kyren, a 27-year-old queer woman living in LA
    Avatar photo

    Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

    Newsletter Sign Up