The 10 Stages Of Love (And How They Transform Over Time)

How time shapes and changes love.

Love transforming over time, couple dancing in kitchens years apart Hero Images, Jacob Lund | Canva

A lifelong relationship can be distilled down into 10 stages. Unfortunately, many relationships do not make it past the fifth or sixth stage, but the universal factor necessary to reach "the end" is communication. Without it, there's no chance of sustaining a dynamic and fruitful partnership. Without it, relationships turn stale and resentment grows like ivy until all of the light in your house or relationship is shut out. The good thing is that if both members of the couple are willing to work, relationships are always changing and improving over time. Yes, we are creatures of habit, but even the most entrenched and detrimental habits can be broken — in any phase of love.


Here are the 10 stages of love (and how they transform over time):

1. The honeymoon

Hormones are raging and everything is seen through rose-colored lenses. It seems like "love is all you need," and everything else in your life takes a back seat. It is easy to overlook fundamental differences in personality or values in the honeymoon stage. This phase is often defined as a fusion of the couple. Intimacy is exciting and new, and the oxytocin is flowing. Of course, not every relationship begins in perfect harmony like this. Sometimes, one person becomes infatuated and the other feels more distant.


We talk about schema chemistry as a powerful magnetic force between people that serves to perpetuate unhealthy thought patterns that were formed early on in development. In other words, it is common to unconsciously lay the groundwork for the repetition of painful dynamics, even though this is not something anyone would rationally or consciously choose. These dynamics can be compelling and drug-like in their power; that is one reason why therapy can be so useful. Understanding and learning about one's schemas and triggers will help new partners to be more aware of these interpersonal impulses.

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2. Reality strikes back

The honeymoon is over and your feet are back on the ground. A year or two or three have passed. Quirks that were cute before are sources of annoyance now. The routine is setting in... you're not closing the bathroom door anymore. In this stage, your worlds are starting to mix in terms of families and friends, and all of these interactions can have a powerful effect on the relationship. You start talking about moving in with each other and fantasizing about a life together. Much of the chemical high has subsided and it is an opportunity to get to know each other and establish friendship and trust.


3. Make your move or move on

You have been together for a few years, and pressure is mounting to take the plunge. The reality of monogamy is front and center as you contemplate the possibility of spending your lives together. It is common for one member of the couple to be more enthused about this, and for tension to ensue regarding feelings of rejection or pressure. Family and friends are all weighing in with their (mostly unsolicited) opinions. It is exciting, confusing, and terrifying.

4. Wedding bells

An entire year is often dedicated to planning the big event — it's just that important. The wedding takes on a life of its own and everyone involved can easily morph into a monster. It's an exciting time, but certainly not without its stressors. Still, if you're marrying someone you truly love, the anticipation and joy are tangible.

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5. The stork has landed

Going from a twosome to a threesome is a monumental shift in the relationship. Attention and energy are completely diverted from each other to the little creature. Sleep is a luxury and intimacy is a memory. Having a baby can break a couple if the foundation and communication aren't strong. Of course, not every couple chooses to have children; some cement their partnership in different ways, such as with pets, travel, or home improvement projects. All of these things can be time-consuming and enormously stressful.


6. Intimate miscommunication

Intimacy is a distant memory. Much time has passed, and work, childrearing, and sleep deprivation have taken their toll. The diverted attention that began when the baby was born has manifested itself in differing drives, leaving one or both partners feeling rejected or deprived. Sometimes, the desire is strong to look elsewhere to meet needs that aren't being addressed. If these thought patterns continue unaddressed, the distance between partners will keep growing. It's imperative to communicate and be kind to one another during this period. 

7. Off to the suburbs

The family outgrows the two-bedroom apartment, and suburban public schools beckon you. Whether you stay in the city, move to the suburbs, or are already there, this is a time of consolidating family and parenting, establishing financial security, and making memories with each other. One of the biggest dangers to relationships during these stages is complacency, or not prioritizing each other. Make time to spend with each other, to connect, and to be intimate during this period of family togetherness. It will reinforce your bond.

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8. Mid-life changes or crisis

This can happen if you thoughtlessly entered into a career that was not fulfilling and spent years going through the motions, letting life live you instead of the other way around. You are middle-aged, possibly feeling less attractive and alive. Suddenly your mortality hits you and you panic, rushing to re-establish the passion that once was, sometimes in harmful or dangerous ways. This is, however, by no means inevitable. Working on yourself, your positive and negative qualities, and staying connected to your partner and to others mitigates the pains of aging and mortality.


9. Just the two of us ... part two

The kids are gone (or the traveling is done) and it's back to two once again. Years have passed since things were this way, and that is why it is so crucial to always make space for your relationship even when your children are wearing you ragged. Ignoring the relationship and focusing solely on the kids will leave you feeling like a stranger when the nest is empty. All of the things you ignored about each other could come back with a vengeance. If this is the case, it’s never too late to recommit and work on the relationship.

10. Del Boca Vista: The twilight years

If you made it this far, congratulations! The pressure is off and it's time to relax. Relationships are more vulnerable in times of stress and conflict, and as you can see, there are many opportunities for that during a shared life. The only ways to survive and thrive are to prioritize your relationship, never stop communicating, and seek help when you need it. Remember that every day that you are together, you are both choosing to do so, and this choice should never be taken for granted.


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David Younger is a licensed psychologist, trained couples therapist, researcher, and creator of Love After Kids, who has been researching and working with couples for over 17 years.