stages of a relationship

Stages of a Relationship: How to Grow a Deeply Loving Partnership

Consciously understanding, and intentionally navigating, the stages of a relationship sets the foundation for a lasting love that withstands the inherent difficulties of committed romantic partnership and marriage. While marriage can be one of the stages of a relationship, let’s acknowledge from the start that it is not a required stage. Whether we include marriage or not, each stage builds on the previous and makes an important contribution to the long term sustainability of a relationship. Just as in dating, if we skip relationship stages, we unwittingly sabotage the highest and best potential for the connection.

Doing romantic relationship in a quality way, with consciousness and intentionality, ensures the greatest possibilities for love, joy, peace, and passion for both partners. It also minimizes, albeit certainly not eliminates, the difficulties, the hurts, the misunderstandings, and human foibles that will inevitably arise. 

Let’s explore the stages of a relationship, beginning with how they correlate with the stages of love in a relationship.


Stages of love in a relationship

Love itself and our misunderstandings of it can contribute greatly to the suffering and struggles in a romantic partnership. We’ll begin by making sure we understand what love is and how it unfolds and evolves between people. 

So first, love doesn’t always start in the relationship process. More commonly, love ignites during the dating process. Often the emergence of love while dating catalyzes a couple to move forward into a relationship. More specifically, the unfolding of love calls two individuals to move from dating into a committed relationship. We’ll call this first emergent stage of love “Admiration.” Love in the form of admiration can feel like wonder and appreciation. It can fill you with warmth and move you toward respect for the masculine and cherishment of the feminine. 

Building on the initial Admiration stage, the next stage of love evolves into the “Acceptance” stage where we begin to see things we might not appreciate, but still accept. We find a willingness to look over those habits or traits. We don’t fight them. However, even though we’re in the Acceptance stage, we may feel we have to “tolerate.” When we have this sense of tolerance, we have yet to come to true “embrace” of the others’ faults, differences, or habits. The good news is that as love grows, the third “Embracing” stage of love arises where we experience a true welcoming of what we’ll call the good, the bad, and the ugly of our partner or prospective partner. In this case we continue to maintain a warmth, even in the presence of innate, and normal, imperfection

Finally we move toward, but in human form rarely master, true unconditional love. This fourth “Unconditional” stage of love takes on a “no matter what” quality that includes past, present, and future expressions and actions of another. We love them without reservation, as parents often do with children. This unconditionality offers us the ultimate goal in human loving relationships. Sadly, unless someone has done a lot of inner work, most humans find it challenging to release attachments and expectations. Despite wanting to move into this unconditional stage of love, many still want their partner to behave in a way that keeps them feeling comfortable and doesn’t trigger their insecurities – even if that means their partner has to twist themselves into a pretzel and abandon themselves in the process. This is not, as you can see, unconditional love. 

Yet if our relationship has resilience to honestly and authentically navigate tough times in a relationship then we greatly deepen our capacity for unconditional love. When you reach the depths of this stage, the love is unending. It never dies – even if the relationship changes form. 


The four stages of love in a relationship, in order of evolution, are: Admiration, Acceptance, Embracing, and Unconditional.



What are the stages of a relationship?

The different stages of a relationship pick up where the dating stages leave off, at the “Commitment” stage, followed by the “Honeymoon” stage. As the honeymoon naturally wears off, you’ll enter the “Revealing and Integrating” stage where things start to get truly real. This authentic revealing leads to the “Uncertainty and Challenge” phase where both people have to explore and consider the true long term fit of this connection and their partnered capacity to navigate challenges. Some relationships will naturally end here – which in many cases is the most healthy outcome for both parties. Or, if the couple can navigate through the uncertainty, they’ll move to the “Engagement” phase if they desire to marry or the “Lifetime Commitment” phase should they not choose to pursue marriage. Finally for some, they will move into the Marriage phase.  

Let’s look at each stage in more detail…

This then leads to the revealing and integrating stage, followed by stages of Uncertainty and Challenge… more of less strong – need to give space for places you don’t perfectly align. Every person, every soul, is unique and therefore at least in human form won’t be a “perfect” match. What you do in the difficult times matters. Find out before commit – moving in or marriage.

Commitment 

Again, this is the stage where dating ends and relationship begins. A third entity, the relationship, now exists and you’ll begin paying attention to you, your partner, and the relationship. A “we” now exists where previously only two “me’s” existed. For conscious couples, and those who want their relationship to last (with the fewest upsets), they will choose to do a Conscious Beginnings ritual in this phase. While not the same as marriage vows, this ritual offers couples the opportunity to make their first intentional agreements with each other. Choosing to co-create these personalized agreements cultivates fertile ground for the emergence of exquisite love while also building a natural protection for all three entities – a protection that does not include “walls of protection.”

Honeymoon 

The honeymoon phase finds new couples playing, laughing, falling in love, and making love in ways they likely never experienced before. This honeymoon phase is supported by the hormones of bonding and the initial chemistry of attraction. At this stage we can often wear rose-colored glasses where we miss, not necessarily the red or yellow flags, but the little things that we will have to practice loving as the relationship evolves. We might find ourselves tempted to look over things that, if left unaddressed, could cause challenges over the long term. 

The truth is while a honeymoon phase might sound like fun, if there was one stage that would be okay to shorten, it would be this one. We can shorten the honeymoon phase because, often it’s a phase where the partners have yet to fully reveal themselves in their true authenticity. They’re still putting their best foot forward so to speak. Yet while we wouldn’t call this inauthentic, we also wouldn’t call it completely authentic. If you started dating each other with a commitment to consciousness, hopefully you’ve already been very authentic with each other, and hence are already navigating the Revealing and Integrating phase.

Revealing and Integrating

This most important of the early stages of a relationship, the “Revealing and Integrating” phase needs your time and attention. This and the next stage can feel like the most uncomfortable stages as well as the ones we most want to skip. Yet they couldn’t be more critical for lasting connection. 

This stage correlates with the Acceptance stage of love. The things that we’re “different” or cute or endearing in the beginning might not feel that way now. We are human beings and we all have bad habits. We all have emotional triggers, and honestly baggage, that we bring into the relationship. At this point, to strengthen the foundation of what you’re building together, it’s important that you consciously go through a process of offering your whole self – your brilliance and your messiness, your consciousness and your unconsciousness. This creates the possibility for deepening love. 

Also in this stage, you see more of, and become part of, the reality of each other’s lives. With this, over time, you’ll begin revealing habits, reaction patterns, insecurities, fears, finances, daily routines, and the like. You’ll be deepening your physical intimacy and experiencing the polarity of your masculine – feminine energy dynamics, or the lack thereof. 

As this all happens and unfolds, it’s important that you pay attention to your natural responses to this revealing and integrating. Sometimes your negative or contractive responses will be true flags to pay attention to. Other times, if you’re willing to stay present with yourself, you may realize that the ways your partner triggers you, offer you opportunities for your own personal growth. Most people don’t have the courage to admit or face this, yet if you have a true Soul Connection then the two of you will be masters at pushing each other’s buttons. If you came together as Soulmates, to evolve each other’s souls, what you do in this stage with the comfortable and uncomfortable matters.

Uncertainty and Challenge

Here’s where the relationship gets real. It’s also where, if the relationship is meant to last, it gets its strength and solidity. At this point, before the relationship can progress further, you each have to be willing to admit the imperfection within yourselves and within your partner. You have to come face to face with the reality that no matter how aligned your souls might be, you still have differences.

How you navigate those differences, whether you learn to embrace them, or whether you continue to fight against and resist them, says a lot about the future sustainability of your connection. If either partner attempts to change the other, no matter how justified the change you seek might seem, you will weaken the relationship. Of course, when two souls align, growth, change, and evolution will happen in each of you – but not because the other expects it, but because you were inspired by it. 

With that, every relationship will have upsets. You will have misunderstandings, you will have arguments. This is absolutely normal and something you must learn to embrace. (Conflict avoiders never have strong relationships.) We know that In the second phase, Ecstatic Intimacy, of the Soul love journey, a couple needs skills that help them maintain their partnership through the good times and the bad. Those who have developed these skills realize that effectively and consciously navigating through the challenges and conflicts, becomes the glue that bonds them together over the long term.


“Conscious conflict becomes communion.” 


Unfortunately, if you don’t meet this phase consciously and directly, it too often leads to the insidious ways  self abandonment harms relationships. It can lead to unnecessary upsets that can sabotage and eventually end the relationship.

However, speaking of ending the relationship, consciously navigating this Uncertainty and Challenge phase, can absolutely mean that you choose not to continue the relationship. This is one of the key stages of a relationship where you may decide to end a partnership that doesn’t have what it takes to last. This doesn’t mean anyone did anything wrong or isn’t enough. It simply means that the two of you do not fit, which means ending the relationship will be an act of love for each of you.

It takes courage to say we don’t fit, but that honesty, truly is the way of love. And, if you’ve had the courage to consider if you “don’t fit,” you can feel confident to trust that you do “fit” as you move into the next phase. 

Engagement or Lifetime Partnership

The Engagement phase of a relationship becomes a microcosm of all of the earlier phases of a relationship. Once again, as you’ve made the decision to become spouses, or lifetime partners, you will enter another integration and deepening process with each other. You’ll share even more than you’ve shared before. You’ll see more differences and you’ll be invited to love deeper. If you continue to follow everything that we’ve spoken about in the previous stages your relationship will only get stronger and deeper.

Remember, that, especially if you are engaged to your partner, this microcosm of the previous stages includes another dip into uncertainty and challenge. Again, this is normal, and recognizing that empowers the vows you might choose to make in the next stage. 

Marriage

As we said above, this stage won’t apply to everyone. And those who choose it will again continue to navigate all of these stages of a relationship over their years of marriage. Each time they choose to go deeper they will fall more in love. Each time they choose to continue “choosing” the relationship they move themselves towards the experiences of Divine Union.


How to conscious navigate the stages of a relationship

The conscious path of love cannot and doesn’t attempt to eliminate heart ache. It does however teach you to practice intentionally minimizing it in order to prevent unnecessary pain. Still, as we said, challenges are normal and it’s the old fairy tale of rainbows and unicorns forever that actually damages relationships more. 

If you hold this fairy tale perspective, you’re shocked when challenges arise. You’re tempted to think issues mean there is a problem with you, your partner, or your relationship. There is nothing wrong. Challenges, as we said, are normal, and necessary, to deepen and bond love. 

Here you’ll find some support practices, and naturally healthy ways, to navigate the stages of a relationship…  

  • Allow you and your partner to be messy and imperfect. Let yourselves be human. 
  • Be intentional. Develop conscious conflict skills and practice them (imperfectly).
  • Learn to and consistently return to forgiveness for yourself and your partner. You will both make mistakes.
  • Be honest and tell the truth because authentic relationships are the safest relationships
  • Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. And, if you’re having trouble communicating, get support.
  • Understand the interplay of masculine and feminine energy dynamics between you because too often, when these energies get out of sync, challenges arise.
  • Master the art of navigation conflict. 

As we complete our exploration of the stages of a relationship, remind yourself regularly, especially at the most uncomfortable times, that staying present and courageous matters. Your heart will thank you a million times over for your courage, no matter what happens in the relationship. 

If you stay together, you’ll be blessed. If you consciously walked through the stages and the relationship ended, while it might feel sad, you’ll be blessed that you didn’t stay in something that would ultimately be much more painful and difficult.  

Finally, if you catch yourself wanting to skip relationship stages or breeze through them, ask yourself, Do you want a so-so relationship because it’s better than no relationship – or do you want ecstatic love? 

Ask yourself, do you want a relationship that works “well enough” for a few years yet eventually ends five to seven years down the road because you didn’t take the time to find out you didn’t really fit well together, nor did you build the muscles to carry you through the tough times? Or do you want something that takes a bit of time and has inherent challenges, but it all leads you to a love that takes your breath away time and time again?

You’re invited to conscious loving, where courage and love unite. 


*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.

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