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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 January 24, 2021

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

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At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

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1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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