Having relationships with others is essential to experiencing an abundant life. For many of us, marriage is the most important relationship in our lives. Feeling connected to someone who shares our beliefs, values, and goals can bring us so much joy and fulfillment. Marriage can be beautiful, fun, adventurous, comforting, challenging, and so much more. But what stages do you go through as a couple to build up to something as serious as marriage?
Renowned psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, has contributed a lot of research in the counseling field to better understand and help couples navigate successful and healthy relationships. He has noted several stages a relationship goes through.
The first stage of a relationship is falling in love. During this part of the relationship, we are putting on our best selves to impress our partner by dressing nice, being polite, and showing interest in getting to know them. Pheromones are flying that create feelings of giddiness and excitement with each date. Our feelings are strong, intense, and passionate. There is little to no fighting. It all feels very surreal, almost too good to be true.
The second stage of a relationship is building trust. At this point in the relationship, we are much more comfortable with our partners, leading us to show the other who we really are. We become vulnerable letting our guard down and reveal our true and authentic selves with the good, bad, and the ugly. This is typically when couples begin to have their first encounters of conflict with one another.
Gottman believes that if the ratio of positivity to negativity exceeds 5:1 during conflict discussion, the couple is likely to stay together. This means that for every one negative feeling or interaction there should be five positive feelings or interactions between partners. Positive feelings and interactions can be accomplished when we listen to and understand our partner’s pain. Intently listening with empathy communicates to our partner that we are a secure, safe, and trustworthy person for them. Ultimately, it answers the question each partner is asking, “can we do this?”
Lastly, is the building commitment and loyalty stage. You’ve decided to be committed to your partner and are in it for the long haul. You are grateful for what you have and cherish your partner. Both of you explore ways to build a deeper love that can last forever. Gottman says that a key to a long and lasting relationship involves having a fair symmetry of power in the relationship. In other words, power feels fairly distributed in the relationship.
No matter the stage of your current relationship, remember that it is a unique and important part of creating and building a healthy, loving, and lasting relationship. It takes time, effort, and dedication but a successful relationship is possible for those who desire it.
By Dr. Austin Shugart, LPC
Gottman, J. (2021, February 3). The 3 phases of Love. The Gottman Institute. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-3-phases-of-love/