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5 Stages Of Dating: How To Pass Your Journey To a Happy Relationship

by Eharmony Editorial Team - September 12, 2011

Just as no runner goes from the couch to running marathons overnight, dating takes time, too. In fact, most relationships go through a series stages of dating beforehand. From the initial attraction to long-term commitment, each stage is an important step along the dating timeline until you’re in a relationship. There’s no set time limit or duration for these stages as each couple is different. That said, it’s good to know which of the phases of dating you’re in, and what some of their characteristics are, so you can adjust your behavior and expectations accordingly.

Stage 1: Initial attraction, or the honeymoon stage

One of the best parts of dating is the delight and joy of that initial whirlwind, when you first start to get to know each other. What separates the honeymoon stage from the other stages of dating is its intensity – everything feels fresh and new, your partner seems utterly perfect, and your life feels like something out of a movie or a fairy tale. You can’t get enough of your new bae – you want to spend all your time together, and the chemistry between you is electric. You either ignore or wave off each other’s flaws, and it feels like you’ll never fight.

Rational thought falls by the wayside – in fact, people’s brain chemistry actually changes during the honeymoon phase. When you first fall in love, your brain increases its production of dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins, all hormones that affect pleasure and joy. This initial phase can last anywhere from a few weeks to even a year or more, although the average is three months.

Tip to strengthen your first dating stage:

While it’s important to enjoy this stage – it’s a whole lot of fun, after all – do take care that your rose-colored glasses mean that you’re not ignoring any turn offs.

Stage 2: Reality sets in

If the honeymoon stage is like floating on a cloud of endorphin-induced joy, stage two is when you come crashing back down to Earth. The kind of increased endorphin production that characterizes the honeymoon phase isn’t sustainable over the other stages of dating, which means that a few months in, the rose-colored glasses come off.

Without the initial haze of attraction and novelty clouding your judgement, you begin to see flaws in your partner – why is he so obsessed with football? Why can she never be on time? – that you ignored or found charming before. And as you get a more accurate picture of your partner and vice versa, the time is also ripe for conflicts to start popping up. Naturally, as friction increases, so do fights.

Tip to improve your second dating stage

The most important thing you can do at this point in the dating timeline is to brush up on your communication skills. Learning how to communicate properly can save a relationship that might otherwise have failed just because neither of you was speaking the other’s language.

Stage 3: Disappointment and uncertainty

Sadly, what goes up, must come down, even when it comes to you and your partner. By this point in the relationship, the initial glow has faded and reality has set in. In addition, the pressures of everyday life can wear on your relationship, making what would otherwise have been minor disagreements snowball into major conflicts.

This stage of dating lasts about a year. Couples in the middle of this stage spend their time working out their differences and seeing whether they are compatible long-term. This is one of the most important stages of a relationship, as it’s when couples decide whether they’re going to stay together or split up. This stage tends to be characterized by conflict, both external (you and your partner) and internal (you’re not certain staying together is the right choice.)

Tip to strengthen your third dating stage

The best thing you can do for your love at this stage is to read up on conflict management. We’re told that fights don’t happen in a good relationship, which isn’t true. What is true is that couples know how to fight fair, and let things go and give each other space as necessary. Additionally, you’ll know whether your disagreements are normal arguments, or dating red flags for controlling partners or even abusive relationships.

Stage 4: Getting to stability

The good news is, once you’re past the choppy waters of the previous stage of dating, your relationship will settle down into something much more stable and solid. While you will still have disagreements, by this point you trust your partner and have a bedrock of history and trust between you two. Not only that, by this time, you know each other well and are generally accepting of each other’s faults. Couples generally spend about two years in this dating timeline.

However, it does come with some danger zones that you should watch out for. You might, after all this time together, feel a little bored in your relationship and wonder whether it might not be time for something new. You might also miss the excitement of the chase even though you’re generally happy with your partner.

Tip to strengthen your fourth dating stage

Don’t let your relationship get into a rut. If you feel like there’s no excitement any more, inject some with a date somewhere unexpected, a trip with just the two of you, or even a sexy romantic evening together. Human brains are wired to look for novelty, so adding some to your relationship will help keep it alive.

Stage 5: Commitment and partnership

This is the final stage, and the one couples aspire to but only rarely manage to achieve. This stage of dating is characterized by a love that is mature. You don’t have that initial rush of hormone-fueled affection, but you don’t feel the lack, as you are content with your partner. This kind of love is also sustainable in the long term – in fact, if you and your partner aren’t married already, it’s definitely something to consider.

That’s not to say that everything will be perfect once you stage five. You and your partner are still human, after all, and you never know what kind of curveballs life will throw at one or both of you. But the difference between Stage Five and the other stages of dating is that you’re a team. Even more importantly, thanks to the years of history and trust between you two, you’ll be able to make hard decisions and have uncomfortable conversations without them torpedoing your relationship – in fact, they might even make you stronger.

Tip to strengthen your fiifth dating stage:

Remember that as much as you’re part of a couple, you’re also a person in and of yourself. Make sure to take time for yourself and work on having your own life and hobbies. By investing in yourself, you’ll be able to be a better partner to your SO and your relationship will be stronger for it.

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Make the most of where you are in your relationship

It’s important to remember that the stages of dating are all different, and each stage is special in its own way. Rather than racing to reach step five, take the time to enjoy the different stages of love. Work on strengthening the bond between you and your partner in a way that works for where you are in your dating timeline. Not in a relationship, or haven’t managed to reach the later phases of dating with any of your previous partners? eharmony is a great place to find compatible matches, no matter your personality or interest. So, sign up and get started on your journey to Stage Five today!

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