Everyone dreams of the perfect long-term relationship, but the truth is it doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes hard work and a lot of time going through each relationship stage, dealing with the normal obstacles that appear along the way, and learning to adapt to the other person’s life and needs.
There are a few key stages all long-term couples go through when dating, and at each stage, there’s a decision to be made: do you move forward or do you end the relationship?
Some stages take longer for some couples than others, and of course, if you split up, the recovery process can be really tough and long because of how serious things were at different stages.
There are always exceptions to the rule, as well as skipping a stage, or jumping from one stage to another extremely quickly. No two relationships are the same, and no relationship is as linear as we might be made to believe.
Here’s what to expect at each of the 6 stages of a long-term relationship.
1. Initial Meeting/Attraction
All relationships have to start somewhere, and the most natural first stage is meeting one another. This can be through a multitude of ways – through friends, school, work, the internet, dating apps, social groups, speed dating, arranged through family, etc.
Once you meet, you might not feel attraction to one another initially or one party might be more attracted to the other. As long as there’s some curiosity or interest, you’ll probably decide whether or not to meet again.
We all know of couples who fell in love with each other at first sight. It’s rare, but it does happen. Sometimes that initial attraction is so strong that it’s undeniable. Just don’t mix it up with love. There’s a difference between love and lust. Love takes considerably longer to develop, and you never truly love someone until you know them well.
This stage is all about texting, flirting, and wooing. You don’t know how far it’s going to go with this guy, but you’re intrigued and curious. It’s when you might start to feel butterflies in your stomach.
2. Interest and Infatuation
During the second stage, infatuation and attraction are more obvious. Early attraction to one another can be highly physical. That’s when you pretty much decide whether you want to take things further with this person and reach the next base. Here are some important aspects of this stage:
- This is probably the stage when you tell your friends that you really like someone.
- It’s common that you try putting your best foot forward to impress the other person. You might spend more time on your outfit when you know you’re going to see them and you might tell the occasional white lie when you talk to them in order to impress them.
- At this stage, it’s common not to notice differences or get annoyed by that person’s peculiarities. As they say, love is blind – and this couldn’t be truer about the infatuation stage of dating.
- You find yourself wanting to text this person all the time, you overthink things, you want to accidentally bump into them, and you can’t stop thinking about them.
- This is also the stage when you’re probably trying to find out everything there is to know about them, so you might be doing a fair bit of social media stalking. You want to spot any red flags in case they aren’t who they say they are.
- You may be wondering if they’re seeing someone else, if they recently split up, what their ex looks like, and so on. You’ll want to make sure that you have a chance with this person and that they find you attractive.
You are probably asking yourself things like:
What can I do to make him like me?
Is he being honest with me?
Why won’t he text me right back?
This stage in a long-term relationship usually lasts between 2-4 months depending on your age, emotional maturity, experience, and other social factors like work, commitments, and family.
For most women, towards the end of this stage, there will be a big decision to make – namely, where is this relationship headed, and do you want to call this person my boyfriend?
3. Becoming Official
Taking things from casual to serious is the most natural next stage in a long-term relationship. At this stage, couples go deeper in their connection, build trust and intimacy, and allow themselves to be a lot more open, authentic, and relaxed around each other.
This is the stage that you might change your relationship status on Facebook, start to tell your friends that you’ve got a boyfriend, and start to develop some new habits together.
It’s the honeymoon stage everyone talks about and so many movies depict. You literally start to act like newlyweds, and no one else is more important than him.
Naturally, you’d want to spend a lot of time with this person to get to know them better. As a result, you’ll start to notice your differences more.
You might naturally, at this stage, find some of your boyfriend’s flaws really cute. But it’s also natural to start to get a little annoyed at little things like:
- How loudly he chews when in public
- How long he takes to text you back
- How he always jokes when you want to talk about a serious topic
- How he checks out other girls on the street
At this stage, it’s also normal to have more serious conversations about:
- The relationship
- Each other’s life viewpoints
- Past experiences
- Family and friends
This stage will define your relationship – so you shouldn’t be rushing through it. Most couples choose to take their time and really get to know each other during this stage. It can last between a few months to a year.
4. Settling-in Stage
This is the stage when reality kicks in, and you start to realize and (hopefully) accept who this person truly is. You start to go through highs and lows together, learning to accept one another and learning to practice conflict.
This is the stage when you might be ready to introduce him to your parents unless you’ve done it earlier – and you might be ready to bring him to your work Christmas party.
This is a tricky stage for some couples because they start to wonder what happened to the honeymoon stage. They miss the excitement, the flirting, the surprises, and the physical intimacy of the honeymoon stage.
In this stage, you might not feel butterflies anymore and fight with him more often. This is also the point when you might realize you are actually dating a commitment-phobe, and it may come as a shock to you. Not every guy is ready for commitment, and his eyes may start to wander.
You might feel jealous and paranoid if he speaks to other women because you want to make sure he’s all yours and that you’re spending your precious time with someone who deserves it. You are keen to protect the relationship, but you can’t tell what the future holds.
A breakup is also a lot more painful in this stage because it can be harder to get closure. You may think things are going smoothly, but then he ghosts you or says he isn’t feeling the same way anymore. It’s hard to tell what happens sometimes in this stage – did he get cold feet, did he meet someone else?
You wonder: what if?
By the time you reach this stage in your relationship, both of you should have a pretty good understanding of each other’s values, lifestyles, needs, and interests. You should know enough about each other and whether you want to take the next step.
To outsiders, you may look like you’ve merged your lives and are spending all of your time together. You may be finishing each other’s sentences and be incapable of deciding without checking in with each other first.
You’d probably be more selective of who you hang out with and may naturally find yourself surrounded by a lot more couples, rather than single friends.
During this stage, it’s normal to move in together, to talk about children, engagement, marriage, and lifetime commitment to one another. This is probably the stage in a long-term relationship that might look a little different to men versus women.
While a woman might feel ready to commit for life, get engaged, and get married, a guy might feel like there really is no rush at all. Therefore, it’s normal to have some tensions at this stage in the relationship, especially if you aren’t on the same page yet.
This is the right moment to have an open and honest conversation about expectations, where you see each other in 2-5 years, how best to support each other’s careers, where you want to live, etc. Check out 13 Things That Prove Your Relationship is Ready for Marriage for some important things to discuss.
It’s important to acknowledge whether you do want to be with each other for the rest of your lives. Just because you’ve been in a committed long-term relationship for a few years doesn’t mean that you have to get engaged and get married.
Sometimes couples realize that they actually don’t have that much in common, and the idea of being married to each other scares them. It’s easier to break an engagement than it is to get a divorce. Don’t feel like you have to get married just because all your friends and family expect you to. Millions of couples live together until old age without being married. There really is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to committed relationships.
Remember that this is the perfect stage to learn how to handle conflict, how to support one another, how to give each other feedback, and have truly important conversations.
If you do decide to get married, then congratulations! You’ve reached the ultimate stage of a long-term relationship! Marriage is a big commitment; it’s really not all just about having a big party and an amazing honeymoon.
Marriage will define your life and status in society no matter how long you’re married, so you better be ready for that and really be certain that this is the right person for you.
During a marriage, you’ll be preoccupied with so many other things – like choosing a new home, sorting out a mortgage, renovations, helping family, or raising children. It’s normal for the spark to die a little, and it’s normal not to have butterflies in your stomach every time you see your husband.
The beauty of marriage is that you’ve found your partner in life and your support system. You never have to worry about being alone, not having someone close to talk to, or having someone to take care of you when you are sick.
Marriage is a beautiful commitment for life that will make you feel protected, safe, and hopeful for your future.
The Bottom Line
The above 6 stages of a long-term relationship will look different for different couples. No two relationships start the same or end the same. However, if you’re ready for a lifelong commitment, arm yourself with knowledge, patience, and trust – and be ready to hop from one stage to another with the confidence that you know what to expect.