This article outlines the stages that a romantic relationship typically goes through. The patterns for both people who fall in love and those that go in for an arranged marriage remain the same.
Connection and Romantic Love
This is the first stage of any relationship. You have just met someone - perhaps at work, in a social gathering or briefly in college, at a shop, or through the internet (a great source of connections today) or have been introduced to someone who your parents think maybe a good marriage partner for you.
In a little while initial judgments are made, and you'd like to know a little more about the person. Statements like " She was just fabulous, like a breath of fresh air" "I just have to get to speak with him" may be common when you relate your experience to friends. There is an initial attraction - that sets your heartbeat going.
Something clicks and sets in motion the process of discovery wherein both of you want to spend more time together. Here commonalities are found, and communication occurs at great lengths. Phone bills may rise and sms exchanges could occur all through the day. If the connection is over the net then you tend to stay glued to the computer. You have no time for food or sleep and feel you could spend the entire day talking and still not have enough time with each other.
Foundations for a more solid long-term relationship are being laid as you learn more about the other person. The relationship intensifies, boundaries are lowered, and more self-disclosure occurs, there is intense passion between the two and feelings are exchanged freely.
You feel refreshed, connected and wholesome in the presence of this person who brings out the best in you. You feel you have found your life partner and soul mate and there could be no better match for you. You want this to last a lifetime. Letters, cards, flowers, presents and promises are exchanged. Everything seems beautiful, you see the best in your partner often giving them qualities and aspects which may not be completely true for that person like "She is very caring and knows my needs without me having to say it" or "With him I feel as if I can come to no harm, I can trust him with all my secrets".
Research indicates that at this stage of the relationship your body is flooded with an endorphin, a chemical responsible for these good feelings and thus this person in front of you seems to meet all your ideals of a good life partner for you. Both people are at their best behaviour and really stretch out to do that extra bit. As you both reinforce these positive feelings the relationship grows and moves on.
Slowly your lives begin to revolve around each other. You start sharing time, space and social networks and are seen as a couple. The amount of commitment and the kind of arrangement you share depends on your outlook and the way your family views the association. The more conservative may seek marriage or engagement and the ones with a modern view may even choose to live in with each other before making that final plunge of marriage.
Today in India the situation is changing, and more and more couples are forming bonds outside their communities, crossing lines of religion and class to choose their life partners. At this stage parental resistance forces some couples to run away and get married. They are ready to do anything to be with this one person they immensely love. However they need to go through the tough second phase in order to reach a deeper life-long bond.
Discovery and Strains
The second stage comes so fast after the beautiful first phase that it is often very shocking. The initial euphoria dies down and slowly you settle down to discover your partner's true self. You uncover aspects, which are not always very pleasant. You suddenly see the differences more than the commonalities. Each of you tries to mould the other according to his or her ways, views and values. Your opinions and views may not be in tune with your partner's. Slowly your partner may seem to lose the unique qualities that first attracted you.
Differences become more apparent, and criticism, blame, arguments and daily struggles become commonplace. You find your partner drains you of energy and the relationship loses the charm it first held for you.
You may increase physical distance and spend more time doing things alone, and when together you may have less to say to each other. You wonder where the magic has gone and feel cheated and hurt at how the person has changed. He /she has the same complaints against you. An atmosphere of hurt, anger, and resentment prevails.
Some couples cannot keep going and move away after this phase, so break-ups and divorces may occur. Other couples survive and in spite of everything find something that still connects them. It is as if the couple have bared themselves and still felt a deeper love. This brings in the next phase of the relationship process.
Self-awareness and Growth
This deeper love is different from the heady infatuation part of the first stage. It is love based on appreciation of each other's uniqueness. You establish with open eyes and mind the good and the bad in your partner and accept the whole person. You recognize with a lot of deep thinking and reflection the drawbacks and aspects in yourself that contributed to the strains in the second phase. Through open communication and a willingness to make it work you arrive at this phase.
Relations are redefined and modified. New mutual understanding sets the foundation for deeper respect and you cherish what you share together. You are both willing to compromise and give in. Issues are still discussed but with a more open mind and healthier fashion, you are more forgiving and flexible. Tensions disappear and you relax in each other's company. You once again enjoy your time together.
You are able to supplement each other and support and empower each other. It is a more mature realistic bond and is a foundation for expansion of the relationship. You may decide to marry at this point or if already married, plan a family. There is immense trust and security in the bond you share. You share a common goal and focus and work on the future together. You are ready to face life together as a couple and deal with the realities and challenges it may offer along the way.
This is a general framework. The intensity and length of each stage varies from couple to couple. It is even possible to move from one stage to another and then retreat to a former stage. Identifying the stages and knowing where you are headed can prepare you for what you are going to experience and can help you make the most of each stage.
If you are in a relationship and are facing questions, then do feel free to access our counsellors through the counselling page. They will provide tips, guidance and enhance your skills to move through these stages.