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What Is a Relationship Timeline and Should You Follow It?

What Is a Relationship Timeline and Should You Follow It?

Everyone wants to be normal, right? I mean, it’s never fun to be the odd person out. Most people want to “fit in” and be a part of the crowd.

Why? Well, it’s because we all want to know that we’re accepted and/or loved by other people. We think that if we conform to the norms of society, then others will look favorably on us.

But is that really true? What is wrong with walking to the beat of a different drummer? Nothing, really. It’s just that most people have the perception that it’s not acceptable, which is really too bad.

Most of us are relatively “normal” and follow societal rules – even in relationships. But, of course, you have the outliers. For example, I had a friend who was married and he and his wife were swingers. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but it worked for them.

I think you get my point.

So, what is “normal” for a relationship in terms of when things should be happening in the relationship? Should you follow a relationship timeline or not?

The problem is, there really is no normal. Sure, there are averages, but generally speaking, what works for one couple doesn’t work for another couple.

For example, I’m the kind of person who, if on a first date I’m not feeling excited about the person, I don’t go out with them again. I need that instant spark to stay interested. But I have a friend who wasn’t sure about her now-husband even months before they got married. So, she takes a long time for someone to grow on her. I don’t have the patience for that.

But neither of us is wrong. It’s simply what is best for us.

With that said, let’s look at some of the “normal” timelines for relationships, and discuss whether you should measure your relationship up against it or not.

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How a Typical Relationship Timeline Looks Like

Again, let me reiterate that if you don’t follow these typical timelines, there’s nothing wrong with you – or the relationship. It’s just simply YOUR timeline. So, don’t get all worried if you don’t see yourself in these phases.

1. First “Date”

Obviously, in order to have a relationship you have to have a first “date.” I put the word date in quotations, because sometimes in romantic relationships, people start out as friends. So, there may not be an official “first date.” But for many of us, that’s how it works.

2. First Kiss

If you started out as friends, you might have your first kiss before your first date. Or, you might have it on your first date if perhaps you met online or on a dating app.

But should you really kiss on a first date? That’s totally up to you. There’s nothing wrong with it if you’re feeling like you want to. But some people prefer to hold off on any kind of intimacy when first meeting someone.

3. First Few Dates

Most people go out a few times to see if they want to keep seeing each other. I think I am not the norm. As I said, I have to feel very excited about someone to go out on a second date. But a lot of people just keep going out to see how it goes and to see if they want to progress further.

4. Dating

As you keep going out on more dates, you could probably consider that the two of you are now “dating.” This is a tricky phase, because one person might assume it, while the other person does not.

But whether it’s talked about explicitly or not, you can pretty safely assume that this is a dating phase.

5. Honeymoon Phase

If you keep going out, that probably means you like each other quite a bit. So, you’re probably entering the “honeymoon phase.”

This is basically where you are infatuated with who you are dating, and you can’t get enough of them. You kind of overlook any flaws and see them through rose-colored glasses.

6. See Each Other’s Homes

This is a pretty big step, mostly because it makes you more vulnerable. If you met online or a dating app, you have probably met out in public up until now because it’s safer.

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Once you get more comfortable with each other, then you will probably start hanging out at each other’s homes.

7. Dating Exclusively

As I said above, this stage is tricky. Some think that as time goes by, it is just assumed that you are exclusively dating each other. However, that might not be the case.

One or both people could be dating others. So, ideally, a conversation should take place where you are “defining the relationship.”

8. Meet Friends

Once you know that you are only seeing each other, then it’s a pretty good time to meet each other’s friends. It’s a good time to see how well you both fit in with the other person’s friend group.

9. Committed Relationship

Some people confuse dating exclusively with commitment. Just because you are only going out with one person doesn’t mean you are committed to them long-term.

I know people who were dating someone for six months and made it clear that it wasn’t a committed relationship. But then again, every couple is different.

10. Honeymoon Phase Ends

It’s really too bad that this phase has to end. It might not – there are probably some little old couples who have been together over 50 years who are still madly in love.

For most people, the infatuation wears off after a while. It’s different for everyone, but typically probably happens around six months to a year.

11. Meet Family

After you have been together for a while and think the relationship could last, then it’s a good time to meet each other’s families.

You might want to introduce them to your siblings and parents before you introduce them to your children (if you have them). That’s because children will be the most affected by your new relationship, for better or for worse.

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12. Have Sex

This is one area where people are wildly different with their timelines. Some people have sex on the first date and live happily ever after. Others wait until marriage.

So, you really need to do whatever feels right to you. Typically, most adults tend to wait probably 3-5 dates. But again, everyone has their own timeline with this.

13. Sleeping Over

Just like with sex, when you start sleeping over at each other’s houses is a very individual choice. Some people do it right away, and others wait months or even years to do this.

14. Travel Together

Not everyone travels a lot, but if you do, this is a challenging time for most couples – especially if they aren’t spending a lot of time together “living together” at each other’s houses.

Traveling with someone exposes who they really are, again, for better or for worse.

15. Living Together

Some people don’t believe in living together before marriage. Others think it is a must. But how long should you wait? Again, it’s all up to you.

I would think waiting at least a year would be a good estimate. After a year, you know each other pretty well and you can see whether or not you’d be compatible living together long term.

16. Engaged

Some people get engaged within months, while others wait years, decades, or they never do. Any of this is okay.

It’s even okay to never get married if you don’t want to. But the average timeline for getting engaged is somewhere around the 1 ½ to 2-year mark.

17. Married

Obviously, the next step is to get married. That usually occurs probably around six months to a year after getting engaged. The kind of wedding that a couple has is also highly individual.

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18. Kids and Beyond

First comes love, then comes marriage, then come the kids in the baby carriage. I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before.

Having children is difficult on a lot of couples because it completely changes your life. It’s not just about the two of you anymore. You can’t be as selfish as you once were.

19. Empty Nest

After years and years go by, finally you’ll find yourself in the empty nest years. It’s important to remember that you really need to put effort into staying connected as a couple throughout the time when your children are at home.

If not, then you will look at each other during the empty next phase and wonder who you are as a couple. You might have to re-discover your love.

20. Retirement Years

Not every couple makes it this far, but if you do, then that’s quite an accomplishment!

Hopefully these years will be filled with travel, grandchildren, and everything else enjoyable.

Should You Follow a Relationship Timeline?

So, should you have a relationship timeline or not? And the answer is that it doesn’t really matter.

What works for one couple doesn’t work for another one. So, don’t feel like you are pressured to follow the normal timeline like everyone else if you don’t want to.

Be yourself and negotiate your way through these phases as a couple, because that is what will make you truly happy in the long run.

Featured photo credit: Tiko Giorgadze via unsplash.com

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Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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