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The 10 Stages of a Relationship That Every Couple Should Understand

The 10 Stages of a Relationship That Every Couple Should Understand

When you meet someone and fall in love, you probably think that you will ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. At least that’s what all the Disney movies and romantic comedies tell us, right?

Well, as we all know, it doesn’t always work out that way.

If you are wondering what stage your relationship is in, and if it’s “normal” or headed for disaster, then there is some research to help you determine what to do. There are10 main stages of a relationship that you may end up experiencing.

With that said, let me start by saying there are many different types of relationship stage models out there, but I am going to focus on just one by Dr. Mark Knapp because it is a classic, well-accepted theory.[1]

What Are the Stages of a Relationship?

According to Dr. Knapp, there are ten different stages to a relationship. That being said, there are certain things that happen during these phases.[2]

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While there are ten different stages, they are divided up into two different phases: the coming together and the coming apart phases.

Let’s start with the Coming Together phase:

The Coming Together Phase

Relationships have to start somewhere, right? Obviously not every relationship starts out the same way. Some couples may meet on a dating app, while others meet through friends or at work.

Regardless of how a couple starts out, there are some distinct stages in the coming together phase.

1. The Initiation Stage

This stage occurs when you first meet someone. It’s exchanging pleasantries and facts about yourselves. It’s the brand-new “getting to know you” stage. At this point, your focus is mostly on superficial attributes like appearance and how the person presents themselves.

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2. The Experimentation Stage

If you make it past the initiation stage (and many people don’t), then you will enter the experimentation stage. Some people don’t make it this far because they find something in the first stage that they don’t like so much. During experimentation, you dig deeper into the interests and values of the other.

3. Intensifying Stage

This stage is sometimes called the “bliss” stage. The reason for this is because things are starting to become more serious and intense. You have found out enough about each other that you now want to share more deep and intimate information about yourself with the other person. Feelings start to develop and there is excitement about being in the relationship.

4. Integration Stage

Now that you are officially a couple and have feelings for each other, in the integration stage, you will start to blend your lives together. You develop routines and habits as a couple. Your family and friends also start to recognize you as a unit. In other words, you have gone from “me and you” to “us.”

5. The Bonding Stage

Since you now view yourselves as a unit instead of two individuals, the bonding stage is when real commitment tends to happen. Both of you are very sure of the bond you share, so you will either move in together or get married. Everyone has their own way of showing bonding, but regardless, this stage involves some formal commitment in the eyes of society.

The Coming Apart Phase

We all want to be happy and live happily ever after, but that’s simply not the case for many couples. Whether you are married, living together, or just dating, the coming apart phase happens to most of us at one time or another.

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Here are the stages of the coming apart phase:

6. The Differentiating Stage

Being crazy in love and walking on Cloud 9 doesn’t last. Even in the happiest of relationships, life is not always perfect. But if you have entered the differentiating stage, then you are probably headed toward a breakup. This is the time when you start seeing differences, incompatibilities, and start to see cracks in your unit.

7. The Circumscribing Stage

This stage is just a continuation of the differentiating stage. You pull further away from each other, you set boundaries for yourself, communication falters, and you become less and less intimate (in all ways – emotionally, mentally, and physically). You start to see yourself as an individual now more than you did before. The unit is unraveling even more. There will be a lot of blaming, defensiveness, and resentment.

8. The Stagnation Stage

In this phase, you are no longer going anywhere in the relationship. You are at a standstill. Think about a pond with algae on it. It doesn’t move; the water just sits there and grows more gross stuff on it. That’s pretty much what is happening during this stage. The coming apart is almost complete. Apathy may have even set in as well – on one or both people’s parts.

9. The Avoidance Stage

This stage involves avoidance – either physically, mentally, emotionally, or all of the above. One of you may move out of the house, leading to a true separation. Or perhaps you are still living under the same roof, but you don’t really talk or interact anymore. You’re like two roommates who don’t really get along, so you try to avoid each other as much as possible.

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10. The Termination Stage

In the termination stage, a relationship formally ends. If the couple is married, then the divorce is started or finalized. If you are just living together, then one or both of your physically moves out and makes the separation final. In a nutshell, this is when the relationship is emotionally and/or legally over.

Why Is It Important to Understand the Stages of a Relationship?

Relationships are difficult for many people, but they don’t have to be. Most of the time, it’s the people who make them difficult because of their negative emotions and behaviors.

A lot of the problems happen because people are not very familiar with these different phases of relationships. The more awareness we have, the easier it is to repair a relationship when problems start to appear.

Final Thoughts

An important thing to note here is that if you find your relationship in the Coming Apart phase, you don’t have to give up hope. You can always bounce back into the Coming Together phase. It takes work and commitment on both people’s parts, but you can resurrect a relationship that seems to be headed for disaster.

Knowing what stage your relationship is in allows you to be more proactive with fixing the relationship. However, some relationships can’t be fixed and should be let go. It’s up to you and your partner to decide where yours is so that you can both find the happiness you deserve – either with or without each other.

More Tips on Relationships

Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

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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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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