After conducting a study that included over 100 couples, psychologist and therapist Susan Campbell identified and defined 5 relationship stages that partners go through during their connection. These stages are interrelated and are rather circular than linear, meaning you can find yourself in a certain stage more than once during your relationship.
The 5 stages apply to both long and close distance relationships, which is why understanding them helps couples improve their love life. The first ones are seldom easy, but more and more people can make them work nowadays. What might help you is to figure out which relationship stage you’re in and act accordingly. By knowing what to expect, you and your partner could team up to make your relationship successful.
The Romance Stage is the first to set in, right after people meet someone they find attractive. It can go on for almost 2 years and it usually ends as quickly as it has started. In this stage, falling in love is described as a foolish experience, since partners can only see the good side of each other and are oblivious to their shortcomings.
The honeymoon phase is easily explained from the evolutionary point of view. Nature makes a person fall in love with someone who has complementary features that make up for their own weaknesses. The result of a bond between opposite humans is a stronger unit, fitter to survive and who can thus ensure the future of our species.
When one or both of the partners begin to see signs of permanence making its way into their relationship, the delightful first stage transitions to the next one, perhaps the most difficult of all. Permanence could be represented by meeting each other’s family or planning to move to the same location or even move in together.
For long distance relationships, the romantic phase lasts a bit longer, according to research from Ohio State University. At first, remote couples relate and connect virtually, through messages and video calls. Then, they get to experience those first emotions and thrills all over again, when they actually meet up.
As mentioned before, the “honeymoon” can be magical but also blinding, so there are a few things worth paying attention to:
Movies have glamorized the Romantic Stage, making it difficult for couples to accept the second phase, the one of the Power Struggle. Many of them simply assume that there is something wrong with their relationship if it doesn’t play out as on the big screen.
When you enter this stage, the fairy tale illusion of love fades away. You suddenly realize your partner is not perfect and you are more different than you have initially thought. Therefore, you start feeling angry and disappointed and you try to change the person next to you.
Most of the time, the Power Struggle is the period when break ups or divorces take place, between the third and fourth year into the relationship. Unfortunately, people get out of a relationship to look for a better one, only to come across the same patterns in their next interactions.
The purpose of the second stage is for couples to establish their own dynamic within the relationship, to discover how to meet each other’s needs and be happy together. It can last from a couple of months to a few years, depending on the partners’ background, their willingness to change or the help they can get.
For the already challenging long distance relationships, this particular phase puts extra pressure on the love birds, which is why it is frequently called the “make it or break it” stage. If you can’t trust the other person or you don’t seem to have the same life goals, it is advisable to break it. On the other hand, if you are on the same page and your relationship is important to both of you, then you can start working as a team in order to make it.
Communicating in an open and honest manner is essential during the power struggle phase, especially in LDRs, where the lack of physical contact can become a real issue. Texting is not a solution for problem management and while phone calls are acceptable, they are still not enough for what couples might deal with in the Power Struggle stage.
There is no room for games or miscommunication. Both of you should know where you stand and what exactly you are looking for from your relationship. You could use this phase to set your expectations regarding the frequency of your calls and meetings.
Once a couple has learned how to resolve their disputes and compromise, they can go to the Stability relationship stage, a time of relative peace. It is clear by now that you cannot change your partner, so you learn to accept and respect them for who they are.
The pitfall of this phase is that people could easily get too content with the stability and it could lead to a rut. A way to avoid boredom is to get out of your comfort zone and share new activities together.
For remote partners, this could be a great time to spend more quality time together, to plan more in person meetings or vacations and to discuss the future of their relationship. The main goal in the Stability stage is to maintain your connection. Schedule date night once a week where you try new, fun activities. Even playing video games together could make you feel connected and encourage stimulating conversations. If you share a hobby or two, you might consider subscribing to the same website and discover the latest trends in the field at the same time.
Furthermore, sending symbolic gifts or care packages or love letters might take the relationship to the next level. It is a romantic gesture that will put a smile on your beloved’s face, while the letters are a great record of your exciting journey together.
In the commitment stage, people fully come to terms with what they are as humans and with their relationships being flawed as a consequence. It is now that partners realize they have chosen each other, for better or worse. And thus begins an experience of love, balance and freedom. However, you work as a couple is not done, particularly in the outside world.
The common challenges of this phase are keeping a satisfying level of emotional connection and not losing focus of personal objectives. Surveys have shown that LDRs entail the same level of commitment as geographically close relationships.
This can be achieved by:
In this final stage, your relationship has grown beyond the boundaries of your couple and it is time for it to get out into the world. You have learnt so many valuable lessons, including how to handle whatever may come in your way as a team. Now you are ready to show others how you function as a unit.
Generally, partners finding themselves in the co-creation phase start a project together, to give something back to the world. Their options are endless, from artwork or charity to adopting a pet or building their own family. But it is a team effort, a direct result of their relationship’s evolution.
There are so many common projects you can get involved in when you are a part of a LDR. You could even start a small business with arts and crafts, or you could plant a garden outside your house and give each other regular updates.
Nonetheless, these planned tasks should not take up all your energy so that you neglect your own relationship, the one you worked so hard and so long for.