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Published on April 3, 2020

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

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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 October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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