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5 Stages Of Relationship Every Couple Goes Through


Every relationship goes through five crucial stages – Merge, Doubt & Denial, Disillusionment, Decision and Wholehearted Love. As a couple you will go through these stages more than once during the course of the relationship. The five stages are more like the seasons in a year that will keep coming in an eternal bond. It implies that the stages of a relationship are cyclical and not linear. Real life relationship is not like a TV series that ends with – “And they lived happily ever after”. Even after reaching the stage of Wholehearted Love, couples often find themselves in Stage 1 again. But couples can work through the stages again to reach Stage 5.

The 5 stages of a relationship

The five stages of a relationship has been given by couple’s therapist, Linda Carroll, which delineates the various stages of a relationship.

Here is a lowdown on each stage and how couples can work through it.

Stage 1: The Merge

The Merge is the first stage of any relationship when couples meet. It’s the honeymoon stage that sweeps couples off their feet, consuming them in joy and passionate sex. In this stage couples feel that they have met their “ideal match”, who seem to be uncannily similar to themselves. The perfect compatibility give couples a feeling of a merger, or a desire to merge and be together always. The heightened emotions ignore all rational thinking. At this stage biochemical changes take place in brain – triggered by several hormones like endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine – keeping couples in a state of infatuation. In such a state the brain is incapable of registering incompatibilities and other relationship issues.

How to work through this stage.

First thing is to live it to the full – this stage is the most exciting and makes dating so much fun. But do not give up on rationality. Step back to introspect on the relationship and the person – whether he/she is really the perfect match. There is no harm in seeking an honest opinion of a trusted friend about red flags – just in case you feel drowned in the haze of biochemical emotion. Decisions taken in the Merger stage may not be the right one as it’s more likely to be an infatuation and not true love. So, go slow on decisions related to commitments.

Stage 2: Doubt & Denial

The Doubt & Denial stage kicks in once the infatuation wears off. At this stage you may actually start noticing the differences between the two of you. The qualities that bewitched you in the Merge stage may annoy you now. The partner’s generosity, reliability or adventure spirit may seem less attractive and lead to arguments. More the differences, more the friction and you start wondering about the change in the partner. Doubts begin to creep up about the relationship as feelings of love begins to mix with irritation and disaffection. As differences escalate the arguments increase, and the relationship sees partners fighting or there is withdrawal.

How to work through this stage.

Conflict management skill is vital to work through this stage. Partners have to treat each other with utmost care and respect. A relationship cannot be free of arguments and power struggles – it doesn’t mean that the relationship is unworkable. But it’s important to be able to distinguish between disagreements and control issues that can be healthy or unhealthy. Healthy differences can be worked through; unhealthy issues cannot be ignored and is definitely a red flag to end the relationship.

Stage 3: Disillusionment

The Disillusionment stage is the deciding stage for many a relationship. For some couples, the third stage may mark the end with differences coming into the surface. Some couples may be fighting perpetually, trying to resolve the issues and differences. While other couples may not be ready to expend energy into the relationship and move apart. At this stage the partners come out of the “we” feeling of the first stage and the “I” re-emerges. However, many couples are willing to make personal changes and try to make the relationship work.

How to work through this stage.

This stage requires conscious effort to practise gratitude to sustain a workable relationship. A lot of arguments are bound to take place as the differences need to be brought out and resolved. It doesn’t mean there is no space for affection. Make it a habit to show affection even when you are upset. In Disillusionment stage, the brain focuses only on deficiencies in the relationship. It’s important to pay heed to the things that are right about the relationship. Focus on the positivity and clear differences at this stage.

Stage 4: Decision

The Decision stage is defining for the relationship as it’s at the make or break phase. Highlights of the relationship include emotional breakdown, staying away from house for hours after a fight, and indifference or aloofness towards partner. If you are contemplating about ending the relationship, it’s a sign that you are at the third stage of the relationship. You may even be looking at prospects of a new relationship with another person. In this stage you will exit the relationship; stay and do nothing about the issues; or stay and fix the problems to make the relationship work.

How to work through this stage.

Communication is the key to work through the relationship. At this stage, many couples want to exit the relationship as they feel it’s futile to invest more energy into it. But effective communication may be the solution – telling your partner exactly what you think on a disagreement may work. Sometimes, we fail to realize our own role in the deteriorating relationship. Communication skill will help us to work on the relationship and also make us better versions of ourselves. Even if you decide to breakup, it’s good to know why it didn’t work and understand your part in it.

Stage 5: Wholehearted Love

The stage of Wholehearted Love is the most satisfying and healthiest phase of the relationship. It’s a rewarding phase, as it signifies acceptance of imperfection, self-discovery and togetherness in the relationship. The fifth stage is not free from differences, but there is a healthy disagreement that can be sorted out. Couples are able to get into uncomfortable discussions and also listen to the opinion of the partner without getting unruffled. They fall in love again, like in the Merge stage. The couples enjoy and relax in each other’s company and experience joy and passionate sex.

How to work through this stage. The fifth stage is the best in a relationship that can be sustained by preserving the self. Only a person who is satisfied with his/her self can be a good partner in an emotional relationship. A relationship requires two wholehearted persons – bringing flexibility, humor and healthy boundaries – who can co-exist in love and differences. So, nourish yourself with self-care and self-growth. Challenges are bound to creep, but you can be assured that the relationship is equipped to deal with them

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