Every relationship goes through phases. What you’re feeling and experiencing in the first few weeks is starkly different from what it’s like at the five-year mark. And even the best relationships change and evolve. If you’re the type to examine and analyze your relationship — which, FYI, isn’t always a good thing — you may be too focused on the minutiae to notice what’s really happening. Here are the stages all successful relationships go through at some point.
- The awkward chase stage The very beginning of a relationship is filled with awkwardness and confusion. You wonder, “Should I text him?” or “Am I doing too much?” While these aren’t all that comfortable in the beginning, it’s also often the most exciting time. Everything feels new. It also doesn’t hurt that this phase is filled with first kisses and passionate nights in bed. If you’re having a good time at this stage, it’s a great sign for the future. FYI: if you’re only still just “talking,” and you’re confused if you’re even dating, then you haven’t gotten to this stage yet. No one likes the talking phase.
- The getting-to-know-you stage It’s time to move away from the superficial and get a little deeper. Here, you’ll learn all the little things that take a relationship to the next level, from preferred coffee order to the names and professions of all their siblings. Hopes and dreams, funny childhood moments — it all adds up to a more colorful picture of the one you’re with. When you hit this stage, you’re starting to feel more comfortable with each other. Your place in each other’s lives isn’t as much of a question mark as it is in the awkward chase stage.
- The honeymoon phase There comes a point in every healthy relationship when you think, “Everything is perfect.” The sex is great and you love everything about your partner. You see yourselves as the rare unicorns that are 100% perfect for each other. Nothing could ever go wrong! While this stage is great, remember that it doesn’t last forever. Some people feel disappointed when they move on from the honeymoon phase, assuming it’s the end of the relationship. But hold up — it’s about to get so much better.
- The step before DTR There’ll come a time when your euphoria gets replaced with worry. You’ve decided that you want to take things to the next level. It’s time to make it official! But before you actually Define the Relationship, you’re likely going to be worried that you were mistaken and your partner doesn’t see you as anything serious. Keep this stage as short as possible so you can move on to knowing that you’re both on the same page.
- The deal-breakers discussion phase You’ve defined your relationship, but you’re not exactly on the same page yet. The healthiest couples make sure to have discussions about relationship deal-breakers once they know they’re both serious. Discuss things like finances, whether you want children (and what you would do if you had an unwanted pregnancy), and where you see your life going for the future. These questions are important! You want to be on the same page as you get more serious.
- The next step phase It’s one thing to say you’re dating or even to say that you’re partners/boyfriend/girlfriend. We’re talking next steps like moving in together, getting a pet, or even getting engaged. You’re not only meeting each other’s families but you’re being considered one of them. You’ve gone from pretty serious to very serious, and this phase feels so completely different.
- The “oh my god, we’re fighting” stage This stage can come at any time. The honeymoon stage is over and you’re no longer telling people, “yeah, we’re perfect for each other. We never fight!” Truth is, healthy couples fight, and it can be truly jarring when it finally starts. What sets you apart from past failed relationships is how you handle disagreements as a couple. Watch how you speak to each other, how long a fight lasts, and how you feel about each other when it’s over.
- The comfortable companion stage Once you hit a comfortable level of companionship, you know you’ve made it. This stage is often the one that lasts the longest. You’ve made the commitment, you communicate well even in a fight, and you still feel a deep love for each other. Sure, you might have far fewer surprises or intense moments, but this comfort stage shows that you were right all along: You’re truly right for each other.