happy couple after marriage counseling

The Three Phases of Relationship. Where is Yours?

There are three predictable relationship stages, each building on the last.  Understanding these phases can help you navigate them to a successful, contented relationship.

Here are the three:

Romance Phase

Power Struggle Phase

Stability and Contentment


Nature forces us to fall in love, but not just with anyone.  Nature’s bias is toward the survival of the species.  The real reason you fell in love… to adapt and grow.  Let me explain.  Nature makes us fall in love with an incompatible person – the person the least likely to meet all our needs and the most capable of pushing all of our buttons.  Yet, they are the perfect person to force us out of our comfort zone to ADAPT and GROW.

Of course, when we fell in love, we did not see all of our partner’s weaknesses, or we would have run in the opposite direction, which is why nature has to drug us.  Yes, there is a “Chemistry of Love.”

When you fall in love, the brain releases chemicals (oxytocin, dopamine, and phenylethylamine).  These chemicals make you feel good and help you to ignore anything bad.  You feel so good that you will do anything to get along with and please your partner.  Until the high wears off, which takes anywhere from 2 months to 2 years.  At that point, the brain stops producing those chemicals and you wake up with the “Love Hangover.”

When the Romance Phase ends the Power Struggle Phase begins.  Some people may end a relationship when the high wears off hoping to meet a more compatible mate, only to find that the same thing happens in their next relationship.


Many relationships end at the 3 -5 year mark when the illusion of “romantic love” falls away and is replaced with feelings of disappointment and anger.  At this point, you begin focusing on your partner’s flaws.  One partner will often pull away or withdraw, needing space.  And the other partner needily chases them feeling emotionally deserted. This phase can last anywhere from a few months to many, many years depending on your willingness to grow.

FACT: Without the skills to navigate this phase and resolve differences, you will keep returning to this phase over and over again in your relationship.  There are three ways out of this phase:

Break up

Survive through the pain and frustration, remaining unhappy

Overcome the power struggle – either on your own or with professional guidance.

You graduate from the Power Struggle phase when you:

Accept and appreciate each other’s differences

Learn to share power, and realize that using force or manipulation will never get you what you want

Realize with gratitude who you are and what you have as a couple

Give up your fantasies about harmony without conflict

Surrender to life just the way it is

Getting through this phase is not easy, it is much easier for one person to quit the relationship midway through the power struggle.  The people who quit are often unwilling to face aspects of themselves that feel too scary to confront.  

If you feel like your relationship is stuck in this phase, it is important that you get guidance form someone who can help you navigate through.



Once you have learned to fight fair and resolve conflict, you move into stability and love returns.  But this time it is a deeper more mature love than the romance phase.

At this point, you realize that you will never ever succeed in changing your partner and you have given up the desire to do so.

You are OK with your partner’s flaws.  You both have clear boundaries and mutual respect.  If you don’t, you will return to the power struggle.