Every couple’s love story is unique – from how they met to their first steps toward romance. Even so, a study has seemingly shown that most relationships actually mirror one another by all going through five specific stages. And, unfortunately, many pairs may not be able to survive past the third of these phases.
Nowadays, it seems that couples meet in a myriad of ways. Some hook up online through dating websites and apps, for instance, while others manage to come across their future mates while out on the town. And there there are the pairs who first become acquainted through friends.
A 2015 Mic survey found, in fact, that 39 percent of the 18- to 34-year-old respondents had found love after being introduced to people who their buddies knew. Meanwhile, another 22 percent revealed that their respective relationships had begun following encounters “in a social setting.”
By contrast, only 10 percent of the Mic study participants had initially got to know their partners through a website or app. That’s despite the findings of a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, which revealed that more than half of the Americans consulted believe in online dating options as great resources for finding love.
Regardless of where couples first meet, though, an eHarmony study suggests that most cycle through the same set of five milestones during the course of their time together. According to a 2017 report in The Independent, Jacqui Manning, one of the dating website’s relationship experts, has explained, “There are a lot of commonalities [between people when it comes to their romances].”
In order to discern said stages, then, eHarmony put the study’s more than 1,000 Australian subjects through psychological tests. During the process, those surveyed were quizzed about their lifestyles and how they act in certain situations – ostensibly in a bid to determine what, if any, changes love makes.
This data then gave the eHarmony team the chance to define the main phases of romantic relationships. And of the findings, Dr. Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist who helped complete the study, told the Daily Mail, “It’s fascinating to note that [love] can be broken down into such distinct stages.”
But Manning told The Independent in 2017 that couples should take all the important parts of a dating journey in their stride. “While some are more fun than others, it’s crucial not to rush through any phase. Take the time to actually be single and enjoy the dating experience – not just the final destination,” she added.
Truly embracing each step may act as a great resource to pairs in the future, too. Of this, Papadopoulos explained to the Daily Mail, “Each stage may be relived and recaptured as couples grow into a relationship and face different life challenges together.”
And many people would probably love to relive the first stage of a romance: the one the eHarmony experts have called “Butterflies.” It’s pretty much what you may think as well – a period of both overwhelming infatuation with and sexual attraction to another.
“First comes butterflies. We have all felt it, it’s visceral – you just feel it. Butterflies is a great way to describe it,” Papadopoulos told the Daily Mail. That’s not all, though, for some people, who reported experiencing certain physical effects at this time too.
In particular, 30 percent of the study subjects said that they had dropped some weight during stage one of their respective relationships. Papadopoulos revealed more about this phenomenon, saying, “We found people almost forget to eat. There is a sense [that] people are full on love.”
On top of that, 39 percent of respondents revealed that their ability to actually accomplish tasks had taken a dive as love crept in. Again, to Papadopoulos, this made plenty of sense. “Productivity is not great at this stage, as people’s minds constantly wander,” she said.
Meanwhile, the final side effect can be traced back to an increase in hormones as a pair falls in love. Papadopoulos continued, “People tend to get pimples in the early stages of a relationship. This is because increases in testosterone cause a rise in sebum, which can block pores and cause a breakout.”
Others, too, have described the first stage of love. And while the sensations experienced may be conveyed in less scientific terms, they nevertheless boil down to much the same thing. For instance, at the start of a romance, an individual may check their phone all the time to see if they’ve received a text from their new lover.
Of course, though, the butterflies don’t last forever. And the eHarmony team has pinpointed what stage comes next: “Building.” This phase sees walls start to come down; a person also begins to find out more about the one they’ve fallen for.
“Love changes. It moves slightly further to the point where you are building your relationship [and] getting to know your partner,” Papadopoulos continued to the Daily Mail. And although this stage marks the point at which the sheen of a new romance wears off a little, there are still some physical effects during this period.
For example, 29 percent of eHarmony’s subjects reported experiencing what Papadopoulos has dubbed “happy anxiety.” In short, loved-up people can barely focus on anything that’s not relationship-related. “You may find your attention span is really awful, and you’re not able to focus,” the psychologist has said.
“It can also be difficult sleeping. You’re literally kept awake thinking about the other person. And there is a sense of happy anxiety, where you feel drunk on love,” Papadopoulos went on. Indeed, 44 percent of the eHarmony study respondents said that they had trouble sleeping during the building phase.
Stage two also ushers in a feeling of routine rather than the abandon that comes with the butterflies period. It’s the time when couples begin to find out who they are in the relationship. And, as such, partners start to trust each other more and let their guards down as things feel more comfortable.
That phase segues couples into stage three, which the eHarmony experts have labeled as “Assimilation”. And the name itself is a hint that this period may not be as exciting as the two that have preceded it. In fact, a couple may not even last this spell in their relationship.
“The third stage is when it becomes more serious. You start thinking, ‘This is more serious than I thought’ and ‘I know you, but where are you at in your life? Do we want the same things?’” Papadopoulos told the Daily Mail. And this internal reckoning can cause some to crack.
Indeed, as couples question the seriousness of their relationships, they may also notice how different they are to one another. And this process often causes problems – especially after the highs of the butterflies and building stages. Some people may even romanticize the more thrilling phases they have experienced to the point where they resent where they have ended up.
The website Higher Perspective explains of this time, “The little annoyances you used to tolerate now feel large and intrusive. You might dream about other things you could be doing with your life and feel tied down and trapped. At stage three, you might wonder: did I make the right decision?”
However, the end of the assimilation phase doesn’t always lead to heartbreak. As the name suggests, a couple could end up meshing perfectly together, too. And if that’s the end result of stage three, then it should be somewhat easier to handle what comes next.
In fact, the discontent that may come with stage three can actually serve partners well by the time the fourth phase – known as “Honesty” – rolls around. After a pair reveal their true feelings and their relationship has become less of a fairytale, they can continue in a more down-to-earth manner.
Of course, this level of openness can be tough to deal with, too. In the eHarmony study, 15 percent of respondents revealed that stage four left them feeling doubtful and vulnerable. “Stages three and four see an increase in stress levels,” Papadopoulos told the Daily Mail.
“This stage deals with the concept behind how we all put on our best faces. Through social media we edit our lives as well as our pictures to make it appear as though everything is fine,” Papadopoulos continued. But honesty gives couples a way to evaluate their bond beyond the highs at the beginning of their courtship and their more recent struggle for assimilation.
“The more serious the relationship becomes, the more people worry, ‘Is it what I think it is?’ Vulnerability and stress can manifest [themselves] in various ways, causing unease and obsessiveness about the relationship,” Papadopoulos said.
Beyond that, though, the honesty period can be a blessing. This is because each half of the pair will begin to see their partner’s true colors. Professional and personal challenges are likely to have changed both of them since the start of their romance, too. And yet, surviving stage four suggests you’ve both dealt with them and moved forward in spite of these flaws.
With that, partners move into the last and final stage as defined by eHarmony – ”Stability.” As the name implies, this is the feeling that couples search for throughout the butterflies, building, assimilation and honesty stages that precede this final period.
That’s because stability arrives along with boosted levels of both intimacy and trust. Indeed, of the respondents to the eHarmony survey who had reached stage five, 23 percent said they were happier because of it.
There’s a partly scientific reason for this. When a partner sexually climaxes, their bodies release a strong hormone called vasopressin. After it makes an appearance, the hormone fortifies the bond shared between partners.
On top of that, the body releases oxytocin during stage five – the same hormone present during childbirth – which also bolsters attachment, too. “The body releases wonderful hormones which helps couples bond,” Papadopoulos said to the Daily Mail.
With the presence of hormones comes a serious connection, Papadopoulos further explained. “We noted a real sense of attachment, and a sense of, ‘You have got my back and I’ve got yours,’” she said.
And, while the bond will be fortified during the honesty stage, it’s up to the couples themselves to maintain their connection for the rest of their time together. Indeed, in order to do so, it’s important to always remain open and honest.
According to Higher Perspective, much relationship discord comes from one person being unhappy not with the relationship but with their own achievements or lack thereof. Pairs who share their feelings, passions and dreams with one another, though, will be able to find fulfillment side by side.
And when both parties are content, couples will do their best to steer clear of the fate that most relationships face. But even single life often doesn’t last long. Indeed, according to the Independent, 67 percent of people that split up begin dating someone new within a year.
Meanwhile, with couples always forming, these stages of a relationship will continue to apply to pairs as they meet, start dating and begin to settle down with one another. Once they commit, the honesty and stability they’ve achieved will help to see them through to a bright future.
And, as far as eHarmony is concerned, that’s what the study – and their online dating service – is all about. Spokesperson Jemima Wade said, “We’re responsible for tens of thousands of relationships and millions of ‘butterfly’ moments every year as a result of getting to know both the heads and hearts of our members.” Now, all there’s left to do is chase that butterfly – then the building, assimilation, honesty and stability stages – of your own.