The Stages of Relationship Development

The Stages of Relationship Development

Posted By: Kelly Seal Date: 09-27-2019 Comments: 0

A relationship isn’t a destination, it’s a constantly changing dynamic – a living force. It grows and transforms, as do the people in the relationship.

While most of us know the type of person we feel attracted to in the dating process, when we decide to form a relationship, it gets a little more complicated. Relationship trajectories are hard to predict. Some couples are more impulsive, and rush toward commitment without really knowing each other. Others are much more cautious because they are afraid to be vulnerable and really let their guards down with a partner. But no matter how you begin, it’s hard to know what to expect from yourself and your partner until you go on the journey and face challenges together. As you stumble along, both you and your partner discover more about yourselves and each other. And that’s the point.

Relationships can act like a mirror, making you face your own shortcomings, faults and weaknesses – a scary prospect for many people. But they also provide companionship, passion, comfort and support when you most need it. 

It’s important to recognize that your relationship will change over time, just as you and your partner will inevitably change. But this is part of being in a relationship. When you are both finding your way and reaching out to each other for support, it’s incredibly fulfilling. 

A good way to think about the evolution of a relationship is understanding its various stages. I’m not talking about a timeline, such as when to get married and whether or not to have kids. I’m talking about the emotional and psychological side. Here’s the thing: some people get stuck in the preliminary stages, even though they might already be married or have a family together! The actual development happens when you are both caring for your relationship and giving it the attention it needs to help you both thrive.

Here are the stages of relationship development:

Attraction and Romance. 

This is the fun part! When you first meet your partner, there’s a heady mixture of lust, excitement, and adventure. You are curious about each other. You have dreams that you share. You have a rosy picture of what your partner is like, usually in line with what you want! Savor this time and enjoy it. It’s the time to discover who your partner is and embark on new adventures.

Reality Check.

At some point, real life enters the picture and the initial euphoria you felt starts to wane. You start to see your partner’s weaknesses and shortcomings, and you might get frustrated that he isn’t exactly the person you’d pictured. While you still love many qualities, you two have your differences. Your relationship dynamic comes into play here – how you respond to your partner if he lets you down, or how you navigate a setback together. This is still a discovery phase, so take it slow and don’t get impatient. Trust takes time to build.  

Recognizing and Negotiating Your Needs.

At some point in your relationship, you will have to ask for what you want, even if you thought your partner knew everything about you and should be able to read your mind! (Hint: nobody is a mind reader.) Instead of making assumptions or becoming passive-aggressive because your needs aren’t being met, step up to the plate. Communicate with your partner. Whether it’s something small, like helping out with chores, or something bigger like tackling a communication issue, it’s important to not fall into victim mode and get resentful. Express your needs, and let your partner know that it’s important. In most cases, our partners will want to please us, but they don’t always know what to do. Maybe it’s a difference of what’s important to each of you, but there is a way to navigate through it. 


This has nothing to do with whether or not you are married. In fact, a significant number of couples who have been married for years have a hard time making it to this phase of relationship development, because they are caught in the struggles of stage three. They look outside of the relationship to get their needs met instead of asking for what they want or making the decision to leave. The commitment stage means you’ve gotten through the stickiest part of a developing relationship, and you are ready to go through life with your partner knowing the risks and how each of you responds to setbacks. This is a very comforting stage, because you both are in it together, so take heart!  

True Partnership.

This is where you as a couple are most powerful, because you are each grounded in your own truth and supporting each other in fulfilling your needs. This is the time where you can collaborate effectively – whether it’s to raise children, build a business or work on a project together, or simply support each other in your individual pursuits. Your investment in the relationship is solid, and you aren’t fantasizing about how it would be with someone new. You want to explore and experiment with new ideas and projects together. Best of all, you know when to give each other space, and you are more forgiving with each other when you aren’t at your best. 

Building a relationship is not for the faint of heart – it takes time, effort, and patience. But ultimately the benefits are amazing when you embark on a partnership with the right person.

Kelly Seal is a freelance writer, dating expert, and author of the book “Date Expectations: A Guide to Changing Your Dating Life and Finding Real Love.” She got her start in the dating industry by hosting speed dating events around southern California and offering advice and encouragement to attendees. She now lives in L.A. and spends her free time hiking in the Santa Monica mountains and blogging at