Four Stages Of Romance In Life

There’s more to love after the initial rush of infatuation fades, you know. Here’s what experts say you have to look forward to (sometimes more than once!) in a healthy, long-term relationship.

By Laura Schaefer

o you idealize the romances you had when you were younger? In the age of Facebook — which makes looking up exes is a little too easy — it can be tempting to remember our first love as being perfect. There’s just something about puppy love… it was all a blur of uncomplicated hormones and very little responsibility. But what if our cultural obsession with young love misses the heart of the
Communication and patience are the keys to maneuvering through these changes.
story? There are many more stages of romance that occur throughout life, and they’re all equally intriguing and worthwhile.

“Understanding the phases of love throughout our lifespan allows couples to have realistic expectations,” says Nancy B. Irwin, Psy.D., C.Ht. “Just like there is a special beauty at every age, there is a uniqueness in each phase of love. Priorities, roles and needs shift over time, yet a couple can keep an adventuresome spirit and experience fulfilling sexuality. These can even be enhanced by the depth and wisdom of the history each couple shares. Communication and patience are the keys to maneuvering through these changes.”

So, couples can experience these stages at any age — and certainly more than once in a relationship. With that in mind, let’s explore the four stages of love throughout life. Which one are you in right now?

Stage #1: Romantic exploration/infatuation
“This is a phase that revolves around finding one’s identity, broken hearts, sweeping romances, teddy bears and flowers, and sexual exploration,” explains Dr. Ramani Durvasula, licensed clinical psychologist, professor of psychology, and author of You Are WHY You Eat. “It’s during this time that we often try out different partners and start to see what works and what doesn’t for us romantically.” Though this stage serves as plot fodder for many a Hollywood rom-com, it isn’t necessarily all fun all the time. “It’s usually pretty tumultuous, because [young people] are just learning who they are and what love is,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley). “There is normally a lot of changing partners here, because it’s a learning process.”

But just because a person isn’t exactly young anymore doesn’t mean this phase can’t pop up again in someone’s life. In fact, any new romance can trigger a return to this giddy, early romantic stage. “This is the illogical, googly-eyed, mushy phase where everyone is wearing rose-colored glasses and enjoying each other’s company,” says wedding expert Dawn Nash from Honolulu, HI. “This usually occurs during the first one to six months of dating someone.”

Stage #2: Blossoming and settling down
“This is a time to understand yourself well — i.e., your values and goals — such that you can best assess how well someone may fit with you as a long-term partner,” says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S., LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage. “It’s important to trust your gut, to be able to ask the difficult questions of anyone you become seriously involved with, and not assume that love will take care of any differences that arise between the two of you.” This stage can be
This stage of romance can be incredibly satisfying.
challenging, as partners seriously debate melding their lives together. It’s important to be somewhat cautious during this evaluation stage, but also be willing to embrace the joy of building a true partnership once your rose-colored glasses finally come off.

“The solidifying stage of a relationship comes after the initial erotic passion has quieted down and couples face ‘real life’ together,” says Leil Lowndes, author of How to Create Chemistry with Anyone. “It’s important for people to recognize that this is all according to nature’s plan. And just because erotic desire for a partner has lessened, it doesn’t mean that love has died; in fact, it could mean the opposite! When children enter the picture, the sense that this relationship has become permanent gives solidity to your union. Feeling this sense of security and peacefulness is the key to real happiness.”

Stage #3: Companionship/thriving as a couple
“Eventually, if the relationship survives, the couple develops a style of intimacy that works for them,” asserts Tessina. “A couple who made it this far together feels more secure, more settled. Now the ‘settled partnership’ issues come up: how to keep love alive over a long period of time; how not to take each other for granted; how to set goals beyond just being together — and how to handle any changes.” Good communication is essential, because partners have to make sure they regularly break through the day-to-day minutiae of their lives and be able to discuss bigger issues that affect them both. They also have to guard against taking each other for granted.

“As a man, I learned one of the toughest lessons that anyone can learn — and that is how to open up and communicate my feelings to my wife,” says Will Hooks, a relationship/business coach and author in Douglasville, GA. “We have now achieved 21 years of marriage together, and it’s been time well spent. We don’t take each other for granted by adopting the attitude of: ‘Oh, he or she will understand.’” This stage of romance can be incredibly satisfying, as two people learn to function as a unit and complement each other’s strengths. Wise couples cultivate their own individual interests and pursuits as well.

“The thriving couple has a free-flow of expressing their emotions without making judgments; they feel a sense of fulfillment apart from their relationship, and they have a good sense of their roles in the relationship as well as their own individual identities,” says Clay Andrews, a dating and relationship coach in Portland, OR. “The thriving couple can also commit to working out an issue with a partner in a respectful and loving way — all while sticking to their own individual values and integrity.”

Stage #4: Alternating caregiving roles between partners
“Research shows the palliative benefits of marriage, and it often seems most compelling later in life,” says Dr. Durvasula. “Having another person around to spend quiet time with, someone who shares life’s responsibilities and who keeps a mindful eye while also reminding us to take care of ourselves — e.g, to take a medication, go to the doctor, etc. — is ideal,” she explains. The important thing to remember at this stage is to stay balanced. “Each partner will in some way become a caregiver within the marriage,” adds Gilchrest O’Neill. “Both of you need to be certain that a balance is kept in regards to completing tasks, scheduling free/down time, etc. Most importantly, when one partner becomes a primary caregiver, he or she needs some outside help in order to not have resentments build up toward the other partner.”

“Caregiving is not easy, but couples who have shared a lifetime of caring about each other do not hesitate to care for each other when it becomes necessary,” sums up Tessina. “The love between these partners can feel very precious as it becomes more evident that they don’t have forever to be together anymore.”

Laura Schaefer is the author of Why We Fall Out of Love and Planet Explorers New York City: A Travel Guide for Kids. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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