5 Stages of Relationship: The Second Stage Is Hard to Overcome

In my previous article I explained there are 3 stages of relationship, they are stranger>friend/couple> and couple (long term). In fact, these stages are just from the big picture, there are more details and particular relationship sub-stages.

According to a study of hundreds of couples carried out by Dr. Susan Campbell, there are 5 stages of relationship. By learning these 5 relationship stages, you can know which stage now you are at and prepare to move to next stage instead of get stuck in one of them.

Here are the 5 relationship stages:

  • The Romance Stage
  • The Power Struggle Stage
  • The Stability Stage
  • The Commitment Stage
  • The Co-Creation or Bliss Stage

The first 2 stages are the sub-stages of friend/couple stage, and the rest of three stages are the sub-stages of couple (long term) stage. In the first 2 stages there are 4 types of relationship, these 2 stages are the relationship stages that most couples never get past.

5 Stages of Relationship

The Romance Stage (drug addiction phase)

In this stage, we tend to ignore or not realize our partner's flaws, we just don't see them. This is because when we fall in love our brain releases hormones that create love feelings (including Oxytocin and Dopamine), and we focus on those feelings - what makes us feel good but ignore what makes us feel bad.

You will only see the similarity between you and your lover, the subconscious mind will hide your partner's flaws and make you say and do things to keep the love going. You don't see much difference and separateness between you two, chances are you think she is the best woman you've met, you think she is "the one" or have "can't live without you" feeling.

Those sweet and love feelings can stand from 2 months to 2 years.

This stage comes to an end when things get hard, when couples see their visions and dreams are not going as how they have expected or hoped, when they see the illusion of romance. Some couples would break up when this happens. Whereas others will move on to the next stage - Power Struggle stage.

The Power Struggle Stage (the love hangover)

As mentioned that some couples break up when they hit the power struggle stage, only to discover that the same things repeat over and over again in their next relationship. This is because they have false beliefs about love that there are ideal love and ideal partner, they incorrectly assume that when relationship comes to Power Struggle stage is because they are not compatible.

They have feelings like “you’re not who I thought you were” or “we’re not who we thought we were”. They start to focus on partner's differences and flaws, unlike the Romance stage. 

Chances are, they aren't sure what are their partner's emotional needs. See also how emotional needs play in relationships. They don't understand why he/she is different after the Romance stage. Normally one partner will pull away and withdraw, and the other will chase her/him back and feel emotional.

When you are in Power Struggle stage, you will experience differentness and difficulty. Some people try to change their partner to the way they think should be, or they try to make their partner keeps what has been promised. Most people don't communicate instead try to manipulate their partner, this invades his/her personal boundary. See: how personal boundaries work

What you should work toward is to establish your autonomy inside your relationship without destroying the love connection. 

This stage can last from a few months to a few years. If you don't learn the needed skills like communication skill to communicate your needs and resolve differences, chances are you will keep returning to this stage over and over again. 

There are 2 ways how couples stuck in Power Struggle stage:

They break up:

They don't deal with the difficulties, instead they take the nearest exit - breakup. These people normally are serial daters, never fully committing, and always looking for love.

They survive:

They continue the relationship, along with pain and frustration that stuck in the past. These people typically think that love must be involved sacrifice and compromise, and eventually the relationship becomes emotionally bored, along with their sex life. See also: love is not enough

It's just too easy for people to quit the relationship that stuck at Power Struggle stage because it's just too much of hard work. They usually are not willing to face their problems, weaknesses, and themselves, they are afraid to face confront.

You need to overcome this Power Struggle Stage to have a happy and healthy relationship.

The stage comes to an end when you:

  • accept and appreciate each other's differences
  • learn to make win/win situation
  • realize using force will never get what you want
  • recognize who you are and what you do have
  • give up being perfectionist
  • give up fantasies of harmony without struggle
  • understand this is the world

These seem easy, but in fact there are a lot of work to do, it's not easy to overcome the stage. 

The Stability Stage

When comes to this stage, you already become very clear that changing your partner is not the way to resolve the differences and you give up the desire to. You are OK if you partner is different from you, that's her uniqueness. You already realized there's no way going to meet all needs of you two. You have clear boundaries and you respect her boundaries as well. 

You accept her as an individual person and learn mutual respect. You won't be emotional because of the conflicts, instead you learn things from them. You both have evolved a set of role expectations and a set of rules for negotiating the differences. 

However, if you become too attached to the peace and stability you will get side effects - there will be no novelty and change in your relationship. Since there's nothing interesting in your love life, your love life will become boring very soon. The worse is, there is no growth in your relationship. All growth involves risk, pain, and uncertainty, it requires a change and step outside your comfort zone.

The Commitment Stage

When comes to this stage you already fully surrender to the reality that there's no neither ideal partner nor ideal relationship. We all are human, and it's inevitable that all relationships have shortcomings. You both give up trying to “remodel” each other to be an ideal partner.

You both love each other, but not necessarily like each other at all times. For instance, you love her, but you may dislike her certain behaviors. 

You are free to challenge and question her without worrying get into a Power Struggle. You are freedom in the act of choosing, you can honestly tell her you dislike what about her, you can let her know you love her and you choose her, but you don't need her. You choose her because you know her, all good and bad.

You both don't take heavy weight on apparent dichotomies such as “living in the now” vs. “commitment to a future together”. Such dichotomies don't take you both into argument. You begin to experience a beautiful of balance of love, belonging, fun, power, and freedom.

There's a pitfall can occur at this stage with couples, which is thinking that their work is complete. It's true on an individual level, but the work in the world of the couple is just beginning.

This is the stage where you both are ready to be married. However, not all couple married at this stage, most people get married in Romance stage when they are blind with love, most of them haven't learned how to deal with differentness and difficulty. Therefore, they struggle in Power Struggle stage afterward.

The Bliss / Co-Creation Stage

In this stage, you both move beyond the partnership to the world with applying what you have learned during the previous four stages. Your relationship becomes a gift to the world.

Couples in this stage often engage in shared creative project that is intended in making a contribution to the world.

However, you want to be careful not to invest so much energy in the relationship to "the world" and forget to nurture your relationship. 

Final words

You grow as you learn from these stages. And the learning is not a linear process, it's more like a spiral and circling upwards. You bring forward the lessons learned at each stage and become better at dealing with relationship.

You stuck at Power Struggle stage if you don't accept the fact that each person is different and learn how to fight in a way that achieves mutually acceptable outcome. You will keep arguing with your partner about the same things again and again until you overcome the Power Struggle Stage. After that, you want to put into efforts to move on to the following stages, so you will have a happy and healthy relationship.


Adapted from the book The Couple’s Journey: Intimacy as a Path to Wholeness by Susan M. Campbell, 1987

About the author


Rio Yee is the Founder of WealthyLoveLife and is super passionate about helping people change their mind and take action to improve your important areas in life such as dating & relationships, personal finance and productivity.


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