Hello, my loves. Today is going to be a good one: we’re going to be talking all about how we fall in love, and what that “timeline” looks like. I’m going to cover the four stages of falling in love and building a relationship, from the glowing beginning to the (let’s be honest) kind of shitty middle to the beauty you can achieve if you make it all the way to Stage 4. Let’s go through the stages of falling in love.
The first stage of relationships is the honeymoon phase. We’re all intimately familiar with the first of the stages of falling in love, right? This can last up to two years, and the whole time, you’re basically on the fucking longest trip of your entire life. It literally feels like you are addicted to drugs, because, well…you are. The chemicals in our brain are going fucking haywire in this phase. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other chemicals are all going nuts. These things are basically responsible for us creating bonds with people being sexually attracted to one another.
When you end a relationship still in this stage of falling in love, it feels like withdrawal. No matter how long or short that relationship was, the comedown from all those chemicals? Fucking. AWFUL. I was seeing a guy for only a couple of weeks, but when he ended it, it still felt so debilitating!
Here’s the problem with the honeymoon phase: it feels fucking great. But what happens in this phase is that we see this person through rose-colored glasses, so we only see their light side. This drug-induced haze only allows us to see where we are similar, and makes us overlook all the shit that might be a potential problem in the future. In my current relationship, we’ve both done a lot of work, and I’m conscious enough to identify areas that might become causes of tension later on. But in the past, I know that there have been major red flags I’ve ignored thanks to the rosy honeymoon hue.
The other issue with this phase? It can make you say and do whatever’s necessary to please the other person. The biggest trap of this stage of falling in love is that we aren’t actually entirely truthful about who we are. We’re not necessarily lying, but we’re unconsciously trying to hide the parts of ourselves that we don’t particularly like or we think won’t be accepted by the other person. So we play the cool girl. We play the people pleaser. And this is why a lot of people aren’t on the same page about what they want in a relationship; a lot of women say that they haven’t talked to him about whether they want a relationship or not, and I’m like, “Okay, well, do you?” And they say, “Yeah, of course.” I’m like, “How long have you been seeing each other?” “Four months.”
I’m sorry, WHAT? Four months and you’ve never talked about whether or not you want a relationship? Just a tip, loves: that should probably be talked about on the first date. Or even before. Just saying. You should be well BEFORE the stages of falling in love when you sit and compare desires in that department!
And here’s a disclaimer: with all of these stages of falling in love, it’s not that any of the stages are bad or wrong. But we need to be conscious of the beautiful parts of these phases, and the potential pitfalls that come with those beautiful things.
It can take anywhere from two months to two years for you to come out of the first stage of falling in love. And what comes next is something I like to call a “love hangover.” This is when you just wake up one day and you think, “Something’s wrong with this relationship.” This usually happens when you perceive some sort of permanence; when you commit to being in a relationship or moving in together or getting engaged or getting pregnant or something like that. It triggers the setting-in of reality…and the ending of the honeymoon.
Why does that fallout happen? Because society has really glorified the honeymoon stage. It makes it seem like if you’re not experiencing fucking perfection and bliss all the time that something is wrong with your relationship and you should leave. Hence why a lot of people jump from relationship to relationship. So this is the next stage of falling in love is called the power struggle stage. The highest percentages of first-marriage divorces happen here, usually around the three-to-four year mark. And even if they’re not married, lots of couples break up in this stage, because it’s a big wake-up call for the couples who believe that the honeymoon stage will last forever.
In this stage of falling in love, you start to notice all the ways in which you are not similar. And you only start to see their flaws. Now, this isn’t to say there aren’t relationships that are actually dysfunctional. Of course there are. What I am saying, though, it that there’s going to be a point when you realize that your partner isn’t perfect. Feelings of anger and disappointment can really run rampant at this point, because you really thought you’d made it, right? After this fallout, one partner usually withdraws, pulling away to get some space and perspective. And then the other partner starts to pursue them, demanding their attention whilst feeling desperately afraid that they’re being emotionally abandoned.
Even so, this stage of falling in love still has an important role! The purpose of this stage is to actually help you stand strong in your autonomy whilst maintaining the bond that you have created with your partner. It’s not co-dependency, and it’s not full independence—it’s learning how to work with interdependence. Keeping your autonomy and sovereignty whilst also knowing that you’re a couple and you’re in this together.
So how long the power struggle lasts comes down to a couple of things: your willingness to confront and heal your childhood history, whether or not you’re willing to seek support, and the quality of that support. And of course, having a partner who’s willing to do their work as well. It’s one of my favorite things about my current relationship: we’re both deeply devoted to our own individual work and doing work together.
Unfortunately, the way most couples deal with this stage is to either break up and go find someone more compatible (only to find themselves back in the exact same fucking shit with someone else five years later), or they survive it, but they get stuck in this stage forever.
If you’re willing to do the work and you start to accept and appreciate each other’s differences, committing to seeing someone for who they are versus the projection that you’ve put on them, you can make it through. But you can’t do it alone; your partner has to be willing to do the work, too. And oftentimes, it’s hard to get them on board. It’s scary to have to face these parts of yourself. But there’s actually a lot of beauty that happens if we can get through this phase!
If you make it through the power struggle stage of falling in love, then you move to the stability stage. Number three on the list of stages of falling in love—now we’re getting real far along. This stage feels really safe. It feels calm. It feels reliable. Feelings of love start to return, but it’s not in an infatuated, lusty kind of way. It’s a much deeper, more grounded, more mature sort of way. You start to really appreciate each other for your differences rather than seeing them as the things that will cause the demise of your relationship. And you do have to be careful, because if you start thinking along those lines, it can be very easy to fall back into the power struggle. It’s a choice to do the work and get out of it, but you also have to choose to actively continue that work.
Anyway, in the stability stage, your biggest focus needs to be keeping novelty in your relationship. Otherwise, I’ll be so real, guys…this stage can become really boring. You need to have that balance of making sure that you’re actively working on your relationship all the time. That doesn’t mean you have to be in therapy all the time, but you still need to make a fucking effort for this person. If you want to be there, show them that you want to be there! It’s so easy to get complacent and think that once you’re committed, whether that’s through marriage or whatever, your partner isn’t going anywhere. That’s not true. They could wake up any day and realize they aren’t happy.
Make an effort in your relationships. Make an effort to work on yourself. Show this person that you care about them. That’s how you move into the final member of the stages of falling in love…
The commitment stage has nothing to do with marriage. I want to say that right off the bat. This stage of falling in love is about realizing the humanity of yourself and your partner and still choosing to love them. Love is not something that just happens to you. It is something you choose. You consciously choose your partner even knowing all of their flaws, and it’s truly beautiful how deeply you can fall into love at this point. Again, though, just like the stability stage, the trap of this stage is believing that your work’s done together and you can just kick back and relax. It’s important that you continue making an effort with this person and with yourself because another trap in this stage of falling in love is spending so much fucking time together that you sacrifice your own personal goals, desires, and needs. And that can breed resentment, which can drop you right back down into power struggle.
There you have it—all four stages of falling in love. The biggest thing to remember is that no matter what stage you’re in, you need to consciously keep an eye out for the pitfalls and the risks. And no matter what, make sure you’re with a partner who’s committed to choosing you every day, and that you’re committed to choosing them.
Be sure to connect with me over on Instagram. I’d love to hear what you thought of this post and what your major takeaways were. Or head over to my website to learn more about how we can work through your relationship journey together.
And don’t forget to join my signature 12-week program, The Connected Woman, if you’re ready to go from anxious & insecure in your relationships to setting boundaries, healing yourself, and living your dream life!
Or maybe you want some one-on-one action? Try out The Intimate Woman for some private coaching realness: https://michellepanning.com/the-intimate-woman if you’re ready to go deep. Go hard. And dive into creating the life you’ve always wanted, with me by your side with calls, motivations, and most importantly, calls on your bullshit. Stop getting in your own way, and let’s do this.
See you back here in the next one!
I get it, girl. I’ve been there too. For years, I was going through the same experiences with men over and over again that left me feeling confused, anxious and pissed off.
I silenced myself in dating and relationships because I was terrified of being judged, rejected and abandoned. It all changed when I went through a break-up and thought “enough is enough. I cannot continue to repeat the same relationships with different men! Something HAS to change!”